news aggregator

Israeli far-right party surges in election poll

Haaretz - Sat, 2020-08-08 06:37
The right-wing block would have a ruling majority and the Labor Party wouldn't even make it to the Knesset

The real history behind Seth Rogen’s ‘An American Pickle’

JTA - Fri, 2020-08-07 23:12

(JTA) — Seth Rogen’s “An American Pickle” is one of the most Jewish Hollywood films ever.

In it, Rogen plays two Jewish family members separated by a century: Ben Greenbaum, a young app developer who lives in Brooklyn, and Herschel Greenbaum, his great-grandfather from the old country who falls into a vat of pickles and stays perfectly preserved in brine for 100 years. Call it a pickle coma.

It’s all based on a New Yorker novella called “Sell Out,” published by Jewish writer Simon Rich in 2013.

The comedy is at heart a tale about Jewish legacy and identity — but its far-fetched premise also lets it play fast and loose with historical facts.

So how does the film compare to history, and to its source material? Let’s break it down.

Are Herschel and Ben Greenbaum based on real people?

Yes… and no. Simon Rich’s story is semi-autobiographical magical realism (even sci-fi?) — the main characters of the story are Rich himself and a fictionalized version of his own great-grandfather. (Rich’s father Frank is a prominent journalist who wrote for The New York Times for years and now writes for New York Magazine. Simon’s brother Nathaniel is a novelist.)

How does the movie compare to the original New Yorker story?

It’s pretty different in a lot of major ways. For one, in “Sell Out,” there aren’t many details of Herschel’s pre-U.S. life — he meets his wife Sarah in America. In the film, the viewer meets Herschel in a town named Schlupsk (more on that below), where he has the glamorous occupation of “ditch digger.”

In “Sell Out,” Simon is not an app developer, like Ben, but a screenwriter. (The real-life Jewish actor B.J. Novak even makes an appearance in the piece.) Rich’s dating life is also explored in the story in the way that Ben’s love life is not — Simon is dating a non-Jewish woman named Claire.

Nevertheless, fans of “An American Pickle” will highly enjoy “Sell Out.”

Is Schlupsk, the shtetl-type town in the movie, a real place?

There is a real town named Slupsk in the Pomeranian region of Poland — though there isn’t one called Schlupsk, with that “ch.” Back in Herschel’s time, the early 1900s, the real Slupsk was actually part of Prussia, which would become Germany. According to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Jews of Slupsk lived a fairly peaceful life until the rise of Nazism in Germany. 

In the short story, Simon Rich’s great-grandfather is also from Slupsk (no “ch”), which, as Simon proudly announces, is “near the Poland-Lithuania border.” That’s not where the real Slupsk is, and it becomes a joke — when Simon tells Claire where his great-grandfather is from, Herschel thinks to himself: “he is wrong, but I do not contradict him. He seems very proud of knowing this one fact about me.”

So it’s not clear that Slupsk and the town of Schlupsk in this movie are the same.

Who are these Cossacks that keep attacking Hershel’s village?

To Jews, the Cossacks are real-life villains.

Technically, the term refers to an ethnicity of Slavic Orthodox Christians that traces its roots to early Ukraine and Russia, although there were some Jewish Cossacks. 

But Herschel’s aversion to them, which is played for laughs, isn’t that funny. The Cossacks formed their own autonomous states and are known for being militant — especially against Jews in the region. They enacted pogroms against their Jewish neighbors for centuries.

In 1919, when Herschel’s wedding to Sarah (which Cossacks attack) takes place, many pogroms took place across the lands of what are now Poland and Ukraine, as part of the Russian Civil War. 

Herschel settles in Brooklyn. Did a lot of other Jews settle there during his time?

Yes. There were two big waves of Jewish immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s, mostly those escaping the pogroms of Eastern Europe. By 1914, there were 1.5 million Jews in New York. 

While originally many Jews settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 made it possible to live in Brooklyn yet work in Manhattan. Many Orthodox Jews moved to the borough, specifically to Williamsburg and Borough Park. 

Herschel is surprised about cars and skyscrapers. Is that realistic?

As this New Yorker review points out, that is not likely — both cars and skyscrapers existed in the 1920s. While the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, New York’s two most iconic skyscrapers, were built in the 1930s, other skyscrapers already filled the New York skyline by 1920. 

As for taxis, the New York Taxicab Company already had 700 vehicles driving passengers around the city by 1908.

Were there big pickle factories in 1920s New York?

Yes, pickles were huge in 1920s New York. The culinary tradition was largely brought over by Jewish immigrants from the old country, and they were sold all over Essex and Ludlow street in the Lower East Side — nicknamed the pickle district. The United Pickles Factory was founded in the city in the late 1800s. Guss’ Pickles, a famed Jewish pickle producer that still exists to this day but has since moved from the Lower East Side to Brooklyn, was started in 1920.

What about seltzer?

Seltzer was also big in New York of the early 20th century, and it was also brought by Jews. It was especially popular among the Jewish immigrants to the city and was nicknamed “Jewish champagne.” It was available at pharmacies and soda fountains, and through seltzer carts that filled the streets of the Lower East Side. The carbonated drink became especially popular during Prohibition.

The seltzer bottles in the movie are indeed realistic to the time period — but the way seltzer is otherwise treated is a little odd. Before Herschel is trapped in the pickle barrel, he longs for seltzer but can’t afford it. According to Haaretz, seltzer was actually the cheapest drink next to water. In fact, it had an apt nickname: “2 cents plain” — because if you bought it without any flavoring or additions, it was that cheap.

The post The real history behind Seth Rogen’s ‘An American Pickle’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

For six years officials warned of explosive chemicals at Beirut port but failed to act

Haaretz - Fri, 2020-08-07 21:55
Officials and politicians knew tons of ammonium nitrate were improperly stored and of the significant danger but corruption and inaction left the city and it residents unprotected

17% of American Jews attended a virtual prayer service last month, compared to half of Christians

JTA - Fri, 2020-08-07 20:19

(JTA) — During the pandemic, Jews have attended virtual services, read scripture or prayed less often than other Americans, and they have given charity and volunteered at higher rates.

Eighty percent of American Jews don’t want special exemptions for houses of worship to reopen — essentially the same percentage as Americans as a whole (79%) and American Christians (74%).

Those figures come from a new survey by the Pew Research Center, published Friday. It found that 17% of American Jews had attended virtual prayer services in the last month, as opposed to 33% of all Americans and 49% of Christians.

Before the pandemic, 61% of American Jews attended services in person with at least some regularity, as opposed to 57% of all Americans and 78% of American Christians.

Many American congregations, including many synagogues, have transitioned to virtual services. But Orthodox Jews, who attend services at the highest rates regularly, cannot hold services on Shabbat online because of prohibitions on the use of technology.

The survey found that 57% of Jews have donated to or volunteered with a charity during the pandemic, as opposed to 38% of all Americans. Over a third of Jews have helped friends and neighbors with errands and childcare, essentially the same rate as Americans overall.

In addition, 36% of American Jews have prayed at least weekly during the pandemic and 20% have read scripture, as opposed to 55% of Americans overall who have prayed weekly and 29% who have read scripture weekly. Like Americans as a whole, large majorities of Jews have gotten through the pandemic by watching movies and TV, going outdoors or talking to friends and family on the phone or via video.

The study was conducted July 13 to 19, and surveyed 10,211 U.S. adults, including 250 Jews. The overall margin of error was 1.5%, while the margin of error for Jews was 8.8%.

The post 17% of American Jews attended a virtual prayer service last month, compared to half of Christians appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Seth Rogen’s ‘An American Pickle’ is the uplifting Jewish movie we need right now

JTA - Fri, 2020-08-07 19:50

This article first appeared on Kveller.

What would our Jewish ancestors think of us? I’ve spent many hours transfixed by black and white photos of my relatives, many of whom perished during the Holocaust, thinking just that. What would they think of me, wasting my hours scrolling through Twitter, lazily sitting at my computer all day, especially when they fought so hard to survive, to thrive, to will me — their progeny, their Jewish legacy — into this world?

But somehow, I never seemed to wonder — if I could meet them, talk to them — what would I think of them?

Seth Rogen’s new HBO Max film, “An American Pickle”whose poster is reminiscent of those old photos adorning my parents’ walls — explores these dynamics between the generations before us and us present-day, assimilated American souls. At its core, it’s a Jewish family movie, both literally and figuratively. (It’s rated PG-13 and would definitely make a fun movie night with older children.)

“An American Pickle” is a sweet, winning film — and an extremely Jewish one. Based on a short story by screenwriter Simon Rich, its yiddishkeit is felt everywhere from its music, which is a transcendent klezmer-y treat from the Israeli-Dutch composer Nami Melumad; to its sights, the city of Pittsburgh somewhat successfully masquerading as Brooklyn, as well as scenes in the Old Country; and its flavors — it is, as its name suggests, a movie about pickles. Then, of course, there’s the movie’s Jewish protagonist: Seth Rogen plays Ben Greenbaum, a present-day New Yorker, and he also plays his Jewish great-grandfather, Herschel Greenbaum, who, in 1920, fell into a vat of pickles and reemerges after 100 years later perfectly brined, healthy, and the spitting image of his great-grandson.

Rogen playing both these characters is not just a fun shtick but an apt filmmaking choice. In my family’s old, reprinted photos, I often found my nose and my eyes in my great-grandmother, who was killed by the Nazis. A big black and white print of my grandfather, a survivor, bears an almost uncanny resemblance to my brother. In “An American Pickle,” these ghosts are conjured and made flesh in a way that is visually powerful, funny, and evocative.

(HBO Max)

Yet, aside from their looks, Ben and Herschel are, at least at first, different as can be. Herschel is entirely reliant on his faith and religion — all his accomplishments are connected to Hashem’s blessings. He’s also hardened man, used to a life of physical labor, and his rugged face is covered with a full beard. He’s loud, brash, demanding — which is not surprising, given he has had to fight for everything in his life.

Ben, by contrast, is soft, bespectacled, and clean-shaven. (Rogen did not use a prosthetic beard for the film, which means he shot each character’s scenes completely separately.) He’s a freelance app developer, a kombucha drinker, and he’s addicted to the endless scroll on his phone. (There is one very relatable moment in which Ben and Herschel are at a Jewish cemetery and Ben can’t help but read a listicle about cute animals.)

At first, these two get along, but when they fall out over Herschel’s desire to purchase his family’s cemetery plot — values clashing, pride wounded — the Greenbaum vs. Greenbaum fight gets pretty gruesome. Herschel unwittingly uses modern culture — namely, the popularity of blogs and free internships — to create a popular artisanal pickle business, while Ben very wittingly using the same culture — specifically, its love for internet outrage — to sabotage his descendant in pretty vicious ways. (Basically, he tells Herschel to get on Twitter and broadcast his 1920s political opinions — which have not aged well, as you might imagine.)

The movie can be brutal in these scenes of familial strife, but in one aspect, it seems always tender: “An American Pickle” celebrates the beauty of Judaism in our everyday life, including the pride we feel when we see another Jew accomplish something great (like invent the vaccine for polio!). And there’s also the beauty of Jewish religion, the comfort of its texts and rituals, a comfort that even Ben, who is secular and reticent, grows to rely upon when he ends up at a synagogue in Poland and is invited to be part of a minyan and say the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Jewish mourning rituals are, for me, and for so many Jews, a source of great comfort. Even if you are completely secular, like me, you can see in their design, which was passed through generations, a holistic, compassionate approach to grief — one that we make space for every week in synagogue services.

As Jews, we love to go there, to acknowledge and probe the painful parts. To argue. To air out our disagreements, and through tears and frustration build a closer bond to one another — even if it isn’t a perfect understanding. It’s by tearing at each other that Ben and Herschel discover what unites them.

The humor of “An American Pickle” is refreshingly not self-deprecating. While Ben has a softness and an insecurity to him, he isn’t a caricature of the nebbishy Jewish man. Perhaps that’s because there is no romance in the movie — aside from the love story between Herschel and his wife, Sarah (played by the wonderful Sarah Snook from “Succession”), which is wonderfully endearing.

(HBO Max)

Here, the love story is between a man and his family, because, ultimately, Herschel and Ben grow to love and understand each other. Whereas the younger Greenbaum shuns the old ways, trying to disentangle himself from his Jewish identity, Herschel meanwhile tries hard to hold on to the ideas of the past and of what his descendants should be. But when the two let go of their rigidities they finally come together. The two men realize that they are united — if not by religion then by pickles, using the delicacy as way to honor those who came before them and those who will come after. That desire — to make our parents and our grandparents proud, to make give our children a better future — it is something that unites us all.

If I have some reservations about this movie, it’s that it doesn’t push hard enough at the painful parts of Jewish existence. The Holocaust isn’t mentioned, and anti-Semitism and its continued pervasiveness in the Jewish experience aren’t really addressed. It also doesn’t delve deep enough as to why Ben, whose Jewish ancestors fought for survival and to continue their Jewish lineage, feels so uncomfortable about his Jewish identity.

Sure enough, as Jews, many of us will find flaws in Rogen’s movie. Two Jews, three opinions, right? But at the end of the day, “An American Pickle” is a loving Jewish film, and discussing it (or arguing about it!) is sure to enrich your Jewish family dinners or Zoom Shabbats. It’s the perfect Jewish summer movie and is worthy of becoming a new Jewish American classic.

The post Seth Rogen’s ‘An American Pickle’ is the uplifting Jewish movie we need right now appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Joe Lieberman’s son Matt, who’s a Senate candidate in Georgia, is under fire for novel NAACP says contains ‘racist tropes’

JTA - Fri, 2020-08-07 19:23

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Georgia head of the NAACP called on Matt Lieberman, son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman and one of the candidates for a Senate seat in Georgia, to drop out of the race because of a novel the younger Lieberman wrote that contains “racist tropes.”

HuffPost on Friday wrote about Matt Lieberman’s 2018 self-published novel “Lucius.” One of the book’s characters, Benno, believes he once owned an imaginary slave, routinely uses the N-word, and invokes racist stereotypes about Black servility.

“In my personal opinion, this would just exacerbate a tough time for us as a state,” James Woodall, the president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told HuffPost. “He should drop out of the race.”

Lieberman, a Democrat, is a lawyer and a former principal of a Jewish day school. His father was the first Jew to appear on a major party presidential ticket when he was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000.

He told HuffPost that he wrote the novel after the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville as a means of grappling with the persistence of racism.

“However my book is dissected, let me be clear: my heart’s aim was to get people thinking about the centuries-long scourge of slavery and racism and its impact in modern America,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman is running to fill the seat left open by Johnny Isakson, a Republican who retired last year due to illness. The election, to take place on the date of the general election, Nov. 3, is a “jungle primary,” meaning that if no one secures more than 50 percent of the vote, it will advance to a runoff between the top two vote-getters even if they belong to the same party.

Lieberman has at times led in polling but more recent polling has shown two Republicans in the lead: Sen. Kelly Loeffler, named to the interim post by the state’s governor, and Rep. Doug Collins, a favorite of President Donald Trump.

Georgia, traditionally Republican, is seen as moving toward being a swing state. Jon Ossoff, another Jewish Democrat, is the nominee in a separate Senate race against incumbent David Perdue, who got in trouble last month for running an ad that appeared to exaggerate the size of Ossoff’s nose. Perdue met privately this week with Republican Jewish leaders organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The post Joe Lieberman’s son Matt, who’s a Senate candidate in Georgia, is under fire for novel NAACP says contains ‘racist tropes’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jewish veteran who had Democratic party backing loses Tennessee Senate primary to progressive activist

JTA - Fri, 2020-08-07 18:58

WASHINGTON (JTA) — James Mackler, a Jewish veteran who raised millions and had the backing of the Democratic Party establishment, lost Tennesee’s Senate primary to a little known environmental activist who raised less than $10,000.

Mackler, a lawyer who flew Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, and who is married to Rabbi Shana Goldstein of The Temple in Nashville, had the endorsements of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a former Tennessee governor, and had raised more than $2 million. He was focusing his campaign on the Trump-backed Republican who became the party’s nominee in the primary Tuesday, Bill Hagerty.

Mackler was bested in the primary by Marquita Bradshaw, who won 35.5 percent of the vote to his 23.8 percent of the vote, placing him third out of five candidates. In second place was an activist lawyer Robin Kimbrough, who won 26.6 percent of the vote.

“The progressive movement is undeniable!” Bradshaw said on Twitter after the results were in on Thursday night. Before the announcement, she had just 8,000 Twitter followers.

Bradshaw is an activist with the Sierra Club environmental group and has focused on how environmental policy can exacerbate disparities in the treatment of racial minorities. Her most recent Federal Election Commission filing shows her raising $8,420.

Bradshaw and Hagerty will face off in November to replace Lamar Alexander, a Republican who is retiring. Republicans are generally favored in statewide races in Tennessee.

The post Jewish veteran who had Democratic party backing loses Tennessee Senate primary to progressive activist appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

To shrink classes amid COVID-19, Israel needs to hire 15,000 teachers. It won’t be easy.

JTA - Fri, 2020-08-07 18:47

TEL AVIV (JTA) – To pull off its plan to reopen schools safely this fall, Israel needs to hire 15,000 new teachers. But the hiring spree will begin in earnest only next week, in hopes of delivering half of the needed educators to classrooms by January — five months into the school year.

“This is a national effort,” Yoav Gallant, the country’s education minister, said Thursday. “It won’t happen in a day.”

When school opens Sept. 1, “it will not be possible to enable full education for everyone,” Gallant said.

Smaller-scale efforts to steer Israelis into the classroom are underway already. But emerging tensions suggest that the road ahead may be anything but smooth for the country’s school system, which is already reeling from a rocky reopening this spring that was characterized by dozens of outbreaks connected to schools.

Among the looming challenges: potential resistance among some Israeli educators to fast-track training programs that may leave new teachers ill-equipped to handle the job at a particularly difficult time.

“Teachers are not babysitters,” Ruti Anzel, director of the Tel Aviv Department of Elementary Education, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Their work can’t be taught in an instant.”

Israel reopened schools for all students in all grades in May. But last month, officials said they would not repeat that approach this fall and instead would reduce class sizes for younger children while allowing older students to attend class in person only part-time. Both decisions would require additional teachers.

On Thursday, Gallant revealed new details about the plan: Kindergarten through second grade will open as usual, with around 30 to 35 children per class, on the belief that they are the group with the lowest risk of contagion. Third and fourth grades will open in pods of up to 18 students, about half a regular class size. Students older than that will learn on Zoom most of the time but meet in person in some form two days a week.

Next week, Gallant said, the government will begin working on programs to recruit and train the thousands of new teachers needed to make all of that happen. Israel plans to spend 4.2 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) on reopening schools, including on the new teacher hiring.

The centralized effort joins many others that are already underway to address Israel’s dual crises of unemployment and teacher shortages, which long predated the pandemic but have been exacerbated by the need to reduce the number of students gathering at any one time.

Rishon Letzion, a city in central Israel, has announced plans to provide teaching training in the coming year for unemployed residents. The Israeli Airline Pilots Association has announced plans to train some of the almost 950 member pilots who are furloughed or out of work while the skies remain virtually closed. A free teachers’ course is under consideration for new immigrants who were educators in their home countries but have been deterred by the bureaucracy required to convert their degrees for Israeli schools.

The national government also launched a modest effort this spring to retrain workers whose jobs disappeared during the pandemic to become teachers.

After Dana Yadlin became one of Israel’s nearly 1 million “coronavirus unemployed” last spring when her job at a nonprofit became irrelevant, she decided to pursue a long-held dream to become a teacher. In May, she joined some 400 students who were accepted to a government-backed program to fast-track the teaching certification process through three months of intensive Zoom classes.

Cleaning workers disinfect the entrance to a high school in Jerusalem, June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

By the end of August, Yadlin and the other students in her training program will have fulfilled about 80 percent of the credits needed for certification. They’ll get further training, including a mentor, during the school year, while they teach in their own classrooms. They’ll also get a grant of up to 14,000 shekels ($4,100).

“I had always wanted to pivot to teaching, but life had never made it possible,” said Yadlin, who has two children and whose husband has been furloughed from his job since the outbreak of the virus. “I want to find a job that’s stable, but I’m also coming from a place of feeling that this is a mission. That if we want to see an Israeli society that’s more tolerant, more compassionate, more loving of others, we have to do something about it.”

Not everyone participating in the fast-track training program appears to have come into it with the same intentions. Shirli Bithan, who lost her managerial position in a large hotel chain this spring, drew sharp criticism after she told Israel’s Channel 12 in June that she felt she had no choice as she tried to replace her income, which had been twice what Israeli teachers typically earn.

“What’s the alternative? At the moment, the income from the hotel industry is zero,” Bithan told the TV channel. “It’s either zero [income], or going to teach.”

Facebook groups with Israeli educators erupted in anger. “I guess the status of teachers wasn’t low and worthless enough that the Education Minister decided he needed to lower it and trample upon it even more,” Saar Zemach, a teacher in Ramat Gan, replied in one of them.

Israeli teachers’ starting salaries — around 6,000 shekels ($1,760) monthly before taxes — can be lower than the typical wage for waiters or cleaning staff. The 2018 Global Teacher Status Index found that Israeli teachers rank among the least respected worldwide. According to a survey published by The Marker, one in five Israeli teachers drops out of the profession within the first three years.

Teachers have long bristled at education administrators being drawn from outside the country’s education corps. Gallant, who became education minister in May, was formerly a high-ranking commander in the Israel Defense Forces.

“This very militaristic style, it’s not suited for this crisis,” said Tammy Hoffman, the director of education policy at the Israel Democracy Institute. “We’re not in combat now, it’s not a hierarchy like in the military, or in a factory. There are a lot of players in the field: civil society, parents, teachers … A lot of principals and teachers feel a lack of trust.”

The pandemic has deepened those dynamics. This spring, teachers were asked to figure out how to reach both students who are in the classroom and who decided to learn from home; work with students whose families may not have computers or internet access to allow them to work remotely; and address swelling needs among families. The nonprofit organization Elem reported that as budget cuts led to the closing of educational and social programs for at-risk youth, that population experienced a 57% spike in homelessness.

Some educators say they would prefer to tackle the new challenges presented by the pandemic with the people and resources already present in their schools. Anzel, the Tel Aviv schools official, said teachers this fall will be better prepared to handle the logistics and demands of teaching during the pandemic than they were this spring.

Liron Filos, a first-grade teacher at the Pa’amonim School in Raanana, said that in May, when elementary schools moved to pod learning, teachers’ schedules were shuffled around to make room for the halved class sizes. That might work again this fall, she said.

Government recruitment programs, Filos said, “can’t be some kind of Band Aid, and it can’t just be made available to everyone. It needs to be something that’s very, very supervised.”

The new program that Yadlin is participating in can be a model, said Rony Ramot, the head of teachers’ training at Seminar Hakibbutzim in Tel Aviv, which has accepted 120 students as part of the government program. She noted that, though expedited, the training requires students to participate for roughly seven-hour days, five days a week.

Ramot said the coronavirus situation demands creative solutions to staffing Israel’s schools and noted that it’s hard to be a new teacher under any circumstances.

“The acclimation process into a new school is always really difficult, it’s a chaotic place,” Ramot said. “But we chose people who we saw would have enough knowledge, would be able to integrate into a system in a very short period of time.”

The post To shrink classes amid COVID-19, Israel needs to hire 15,000 teachers. It won’t be easy. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Syndicate content