Author Archives: Mandy Katz

Donor’s Woes Inducing Breach Birth(right)?


By Mandy Katz

Birthright may have to cut back on the inspirational Israel tours it hosts for Jewish American teens, the Forward reports. A drop in the fortunes of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation threatens the financial viability of its majority stockholder, Sheldon Adelson, a major Birthright donor who last year was the world’s richest Jew, according to Forbes. (His ranking has since slipped.)

Birthright’s officers contend Adelson will come through on his outstanding $20-million pledge to support this summer’s tours. But if he doesn’t, insiders told the Forward, participant numbers could fall from 25,000 to 5,000.

Fertilizing not just the fields of Israel advocacy, Adelson in recent years has also spread his wealth in GOP funding circles, most notably by sinking at least $30 million into a now-collapsing advocacy group called Freedom’s Watch. (That’s where Ari Fleischer hung his hat after resigning as President Bush’s  White House Press Secretary, a move Joan Walsh says he may not want at the top of his resume.)

Bookmark and Share

Impresario for the Lost Voices of Theresienstadt

In Czech, "Z" denotes Jewish.

In Czech, the "Z" denotes "Jew."

By Mandy Katz

Perhaps an apt follow-up to my post Monday about a journey from the Holocaust to the Ivy League? Yesterday’s Washington Post carries an inspiring obituary for 82-year-old violinist Joza Karas, one of the Christian righteous. If not already officially recognized at Yad Vashem, he should be, for dedicating much of his life to preserving the music of Theresienstadt.

Many musicians and composers were among the 140,000 Jews interned at the the Nazi camp in Czech territory, where prisoners defied the machinery of death by forming orchestras and choirs, and staging plays and concerts and art exhibitions. Most of them eventually died, though: 33,000 on site, from starvation and illness, and another 90,000 after being deported to Auschwitz and elsewhere.

Karas was born in Warsaw, the son of a Czech official who fought with the resistance only to be executed under Soviet rule. After fleeing to the United States, Joza made a career as a teacher and performer in Connecticut. In the 1970s, he began seeking out the trove of music written by Jews trapped in the Nazis’ notorious “model” camp. His finds included the Hans Krasa children’s opera, Brundibar, a story of innocents triumphing over evil, of which Karas conducted the American premiere.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

College Admissions? Of Buchenwald and Princeton

By Mandy Katz

princeton-u-by-mahlon-lovittSome of his Frankfurt gymnasium teachers ended up in Buchenwald, my Tel Aviv correspondent Ernest Stock writes, but he ended up graduating from Princeton in 1949. God bless the G.I. Bill.

Now a retired journalist, Ernie offers this unconventional college memoir on the website of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Having escaped the Nazis at 14 by trekking with his little sister into Spain from occupied France, Ernie was drafted into the U.S. military in 1943. On demobilizing, he scored high enough on the Army’s college entrance exam to matriculate as a sophomore at Princeton in ’46, at a time when that august institution admitted roughly 25 Jews each year under an unspoken “no-quota” quota system.

Ernie played a central role in engineering the first meetings between Princeton’s tweedy Jewish undergrads and local notable Albert Einstein. (Meg Ryan was not involved.) I described the scene in “Was Einstein a Jewish Saint?”, a Moment profile. Ernie also appears—I discovered while cooking one day last year—in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America, rhapsodizing about New York’s late lamented German bakeries.

Photo of Pyne archway by Mahlon Lovett, courtesy of Princeton University.

Bookmark and Share

Israel Phil and Zippity Dudamel

By Mandy Katz

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

The Israel Philharmonic must be the most relaxed symphony orchestra in the world. Really, some of these musicians literally lean back in their chairs while they play. Others sway, and I caught a trombone player whispering with the timpani guy at one point. (Those guys in the back have some really loooooong rests.) And the resulting sound? Gorgeous.

So in sync was the ensemble — performing Mendelssohn and Brahms for a packed house Tuesday night at Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts — that they gave the impression of playing just for the joy of it in somebody’s (very large) living room. In the familiar “Italian” symphony by Mendelssohn, especially, it seemed the conductor could have walked off stage and the orchestra contentedly continued on their own.

That’s not to discount the influence of this very special conductor. Venezuelan wunderkind Gustavo Dudamel, 27, commanded the podium all evening (sans score) in his D.C. debut. Zippity Dudamel, whose new home base is the Los Angeles Philharmonic, lived up to his reputation for warmth and a certain kinetic genius on stage. So expressive are his body and his hands, so impish his smile and so floppy his wild ringlets, he could be the dark-haired reincarnation of Harpo Marx. His gestural repertoire was endless: He tiptoes; he lunges; he jumps, he practically waltzes with the orchestra. To draw out their amazing sound, he  also performs the jumping-jack wave, the stagger, the upright shoulder-jerk, the scoop-and-shovel, and the curtain-draw. Then there’s the “We’re #1” finger poke, the toddler-tantrum stomp, the bear hug, the plunger and the leaning tower. Continue reading

An Interest in Hanukkah? Jon Stewart Sings!

By Mandy Katz

Hanukah caroler Jon Stewart

Hanukkah caroler Jon Stewart

“Can I Interest You in Hanukkah?” may be the first ever TV ditty sung a due by Jon Stewart and fellow faux-newsie Stephen Colbert. It’s part of Colbert’s upcoming TV special, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All, airing Sunday on Comedy Central. Audio of the duet aired yesterday on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air — you can hear it on the show’s website (click “Listen Now” and skip to minute 7:07). Sample lyric: “Yes, indeed, 8 days of presents, which means one nice one, then a week of dreck.”

Colbert, the show’s host and selfdescribed “broadcasting legend,” also sings his own original carols. After all, the crusty newsman explains, perched on a piano bench in a cozy cardigan sweater, every time we hear one of those other, familiar, Yuletide standards, “someone else gets the royalty check. That doesn’t sound like Christmas to me.”

Colbert’s got some stage chops you would never have guessed at: a little soft-shoe, a cozy baritone. Stewart’s voice, too, isn’t half-bad. But he’s no Joseph Shlisky.

Photo by ninjapoodles.

Bookmark and Share

Israel’s Donald Trump? Reality Show to Feature “The Arcadi”


Mayoral also-ran Gaydamak

By Mandy Katz

Jerusalem voters may have told Arcadi Gaydamak, “You’re fired” last week, as Nir Barkat edged him for the Jerusalem mayoralty. But don’t imagine the oligarch just sitting at home counting his shekels, or making prank phone calls to those méchants prosecutors in France trying him for arms trading.

The Russian-reared Gaydamak, one of Israel’s richest citizens, plans to star in a reality-TV show along the lines of Donald Trump’s Apprentice series, but devoted to snack stands and other small businesses, Ynet reports:

[Gaydamak] will accompany and advise businesses with especially small turnover rates, such as Falafel stands, clothing stores and factories in the periphery, until their profit margin rises significantly.

If he boosts those felafel profits high enough, maybe we could import him for a future season devoted to slightly larger businesses. I can think of three in Detroit that could use the help.

Photo by LisaG in Tel Aviv

Bookmark and Share

A B’racha for Barack? The Obama Kiddush

L'Chaim. L'Axelrod. L'Plouffe. Etc.

L'Plouffe. L'Axelrod. L'Chaim.

By Mandy Katz

Raise a glass tonight and every night through January 20. You don’t have to know Hebrew to intone this one (though it helps if you daven in a leftward direction):

Barack atah Illinois,
Eloheinu melech ha’olam,
Hoo-ray p’ri ha-electoral landslide.


Photo by blackbirdboy.

Post-Obama Fix: Jerusalem’s Mayoral Election

A "smoking" election in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem: a "smoking" election?

In a haze of post-Obamania deflation this week, I turned for a political fix to Jerusalem and the hotly contested mayoral election taking place tomorrow. For a city beset by race wars, poverty and a middle class exodus, it can be a grim business, but not without flashes of color. Today’s Washington Post offers a sober rundown of how the contest reflects the city’s ortho-secular culture wars. But, for more local analysis and also a whiff of fringe politics circa 1973, inhale the latest on

If London can elect offbeat politicos like “Red Ken” Livingstone and blustering Boris Johnson, why shouldn’t Jerusalem enjoy its rainbow-hued candidates? Jerusalemite offers a Q&A with Dan Birron, long-locked pub owner and Green Leaf Party candidate (you read that right: not “Green,” but “Green Leaf“)—sort of Ralph Nader meets Richard Branson meets Jerry Brown.

Birron’s not the only candidate with noteworthy hair. A front-runner, the extremely bearded Meir Porush, a Knesset member from the Haredi United Torah Judaism party, recently assured followers that it will take only 10 years to eliminate secular candidates from all Israeli mayoral contests, not just Jerusalem’s. When questioned about it afterward, Porush at first denied the remarks, which had been delivered in Yiddishand secretly tapedat a black-hat rally, reports Jpost. For me, the story evoked flashbacks to Obama’s notoriously riffing about bitter Pennsylvania gun lovers at a private fundraiser in San Francisco. But, when it comes to “clinging” to religion, even the most conservative Pennsylvanians take a back pew to Jerusalemites.  Continue reading

Finding the “Real (Jewish) Americans”

More than 200 professors of Jewish studies have joined to form the latest Jews-for-Obama group, reports The Jewish Daily Forward. But the Republican Jewish Coalition poo-poos the new alliance’s potential impact. Jews won’t listen to eggheads, reasons RJC executive director Matt Brooks. “[T]hese elites in many regards just speak for themselves,” he explained to The Forward.

Brooks hits the nail on the head (if you’ll permit a workingman’s metaphor those ivory tower types probably wouldn’t understand): Anyone knows that, say, Jewish seniors in Florida wouldn’t hold much truck with woolly-headed, four-eyed academics. Jews’ disdain for the university sort is legend.

No, as Brooks implies, undecided Jewish voters are much more likely to take political guidance from “real” Americans like Moshe the Plumber and all his buddies at the Nuremberg Sarah Palin rallies. You’ve probably seen them on YouTube—they’re the ones going nuts and shouting “Trotskyist!” when talk turns to Obama’s tax plan.

Granted, no matter whose bubbe or zayde they are, few oldsters worried about Obama are likely to be swayed by comedian Sarah Silverman’s “Great Schlep”, a stunt my (strongly pro-Obama) father found patently insulting. And certainly the Obama campaign would gladly sacrifice a chunk of its record-breaking cash haul (at least, as much as the McCain campaign spent on Sarah Palin’s make-up artist) to anyone who could divine exactly how to reach those elusive Jewish holdouts. But I sense Brooks doesn’t have the answer, either.

Photo by Mike Licht.

Mandy Katz

Bookmark and Share

Get Wigged Out Like Palin

A mere day after John McCain named his vice-presidential choice, I hatched a clever plan to dress as Sarah Palin for Halloween. Soon after, though, the whole country stole my idea − I even know of one sister-brother pair, still in middle school, planning to trick-or-treat as Palin and a moose. (Speaking of moose, remember this great Woody Allen stand-up bit?)

So, okay, I need some other scary get-up for Halloween and will consider all reasonable proposals offered here. For the record, I ruled out going as the McCain Supreme Court—didn’t want to freak out the kiddies.

In the meantime, even women who wouldn’t dream of observing pagan rituals may be “doing themselves up” like Alaska’s governor, albeit without guns or miniskirts: Sarah Palin wigs are now on offer to the Orthodox community, Haaretz reports, just $695 from If you read the article carefully, you’ll note that this is already the second markdown.

As for me, I’m holding out hope for a post-election-day fire sale.

Mandy Katz

Bookmark and Share