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Updated: 37 min 2 sec ago

From McConnell to McCarthy, Republican leaders criticize Trump’s dinner with Holocaust denier

9 hours 27 min ago

(JTA) — A week after former President Donald Trump dined with two men who are known for their outspoken antisemitism, Republican leaders are beginning to speak out — though some are sparing Trump direct criticism.

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader in the Senate, said Trump’s Nov. 20 dinner with Kanye West, the rapper and designer who in recent weeks has come out as antisemitic, and Nick Fuentes, a white supremacist who has denied the Holocaust and said he wants all Jews out of the United States, was a blow to Trump’s bid to be reelected in 2024.

“First, let me just say that there is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy,” McConnell said Tuesday when he met with a gaggle of reporters in the Senate. “And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the likely next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, did not directly criticize Trump, echoing a number of other Republicans who have spoken out.

Referring to Fuentes, McCarthy said, “I condemn his ideology; it has no place in society at all.”

About Trump, he said, “The president can have meetings with who he wants; I don’t think anybody, though, should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes.” McCarthy said Trump condemned Fuentes “four times.” Trump has not done so, although he has said multiple times that he did not know who Fuentes was and that he was an unexpected guest of West, who now goes by Ye.

Trump responded to the mounting criticism late Tuesday, saying again that he hadn’t known Fuentes, an organizer of rallies on his behalf, before the meeting, and for the first time indicating disapproval of his views.

“I had never heard of the man — I had no idea what his views were, and they weren’t expressed at the table in our very quick dinner, or it wouldn’t have been accepted,” Trump told Fox News.

The varying responses — McConnell outspoken and McCarthy evasive — reflected where each leader stands in the party. McConnell, who has tangled with Trump since the former president spread lies about winning the 2020 election that led to a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, handily headed off a Trump-backed leadership challenge earlier this month, even as Republicans failed to recapture the Senate in midterm elections.

McCarthy, on the other hand, leads a caucus that wrested the House from Democrats but by a bare majority. If he wants to be elected speaker on Jan. 3, the first day of the new Congress, he needs the vote of a small but powerful faction of House Republicans who remain loyal to Trump.

Meanwhile, Mike Pence, Trump’s vice president, has called on Trump to apologize — an action Trump has always been loath to take.

“President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist., an antisemite, and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize for it,” Pence said Monday on NewsNation, a cable network.

Pence, unfailingly loyal to Trump during the presidency, has broken with the former president since refusing to heed Trump’s pleas to illegally rig the electoral vote count on Jan. 6. The vice president, in a ceremonial role, supervises the count. A number of the rioters who breached the Capitol said they hoped to kill Pence.

A number of GOP senators, confronted by reporters in the halls of Congress as they returned from Thanksgiving break, also spoke out. “I think it’s ridiculous that he had that meeting,” said Joni Ernst of Iowa. “Just it’s ridiculous. And that’s, that’s all I’m gonna say about it. Just crazy.”

A handful of Republicans, including several who have for years criticized Trump, spoke out as soon as the meeting with Fuentes was confirmed last Friday. A few others who were close to Trump, including David Friedman, his ambassador to Israel, also spoke out to denounce the meeting.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

The post From McConnell to McCarthy, Republican leaders criticize Trump’s dinner with Holocaust denier appeared first on The Forward.

Jewish passengers booted off Lufthansa flight in May are getting $20,000 payouts

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:48

(JTA) — Nearly seven months after they were denied boarding in Frankfurt, a group of more than 100 Hasidic Lufthansa passengers are getting paid for their troubles.

The airline is paying each passenger $20,000 plus giving them $1,000 to reimburse them for expenses incurred during the May incident, according to Dan’s Deals, the discount travel website that first reported the incident at the time. After legal fees and some other expenses, each passenger will net approximately $17,400, the site is reporting.

Lufthansa would not confirm the dollar figures but told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it is seeking to settle with each of the affected passengers, capping a series of conciliatory responses to the incident.

“Although we are not commenting on the details, we can confirm that Lufthansa endeavors to settle the claims with all of the passengers denied boarding on May 4th, 2022,” the company said in a statement.

That date was when airline agents in Frankfurt barred many Jewish travelers coming from New York City from boarding their connecting flight to Budapest, citing the fact that some of the passengers were not wearing masks, as was required at the time. But that rule was applied inconsistently, passengers said at the time, and a Lufthansa supervisor was caught on video speaking disparagingly about Jewish passengers as a group.

“It’s Jews coming from JFK. Jewish people who were the mess, who made the problems,” the supervisor said on the video, which Dan’s Deals shared shortly after the incident.

Amid intense media coverage, Lufthansa publicly apologized, saying in a statement that the company “regrets the circumstances surrounding the decision to exclude the affected passengers from the flight.”

The company added, “What transpired is not consistent with Lufthansa’s policies or values. We have zero tolerance for racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination of any type.”

In late July, Lufthansa announced the creation of a senior management role to combat discrimination and antisemitism, even as an independent investigation commissioned by the airline concluded that there was no evidence of institutional antisemitism that led to the incident.

And in September, the American Jewish Committee announced a new program to train Lufthansa employees how to identify and respond to antisemitism.

Many of the Jewish passengers bound for Budapest were headed there for an annual pilgrimage to visit the grave of Rabbi Yeshayah Steiner, a miracle-working rabbi who died in 1925.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

The post Jewish passengers booted off Lufthansa flight in May are getting $20,000 payouts appeared first on The Forward.

Searching what happened to my grandfather and other Belgian Jews under the Nazis

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:44

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The post Searching what happened to my grandfather and other Belgian Jews under the Nazis appeared first on The Forward.

Walmart pulls $40 ‘elegant sunscreen scarves’ that were actually Jewish prayer shawls

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:38

(JTA) — “Why wear a tallis to shul when you can wear a very real product from Walmart?” Ilan Kogan, an Orthodox rabbinical student, asked on TikTok late Monday.

Kogan was talking about “Elegant Sunscreen Scarves Sun Block Shawl Scarf Beach Shawl Towel Clothing Accessories for Women Judaism (Blue),” the search engine-optimized title for a product that looked a lot like a tallit, the shawl worn by Jews during morning prayers.

His post was one of several to call attention to the product listed on Walmart’s website, with reactions ranging from curiosity (“I have so many questions,” tweeted Atlantic columnist Yair Rosenberg) to outrage (from the watchdog group Stop Antisemitism). By Tuesday afternoon, Walmart had removed the item, which had been listed for $40.99, as well as a second with a similar name from a different seller that had been available for the cut-rate price of $14.49.

“Walmart has a robust trust and safety program, which actively works to prevent items such as these from being sold on the site,” a spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “After reviewing, these items have been removed.”

Like other products that have drawn criticism from Jewish consumers — such as “Schindler’s List” leggings printed with scenes from the iconic Holocaust film — the “elegant sunscreen scarves” reflect the oddities of contemporary merchandising.

In this case, the products were sold by third-party vendors using Walmart’s online marketplace, where shoppers can browse up to 60 million items. Those products are not subject to the same practices as those that Walmart sells directly, and many of them have names that are more a list of keywords than an accurate description of what a customer might receive.

Additionally, the tallit for sale were not actually intended for use by Jews. The printed Bible verses on the corners and the fish imagery visible in some of the product photos are giveaways that the items are made for Messianic Jews, who pray using the trappings of Jewish tradition while also believing in the divinity of Jesus.

Messianics and others who appropriate Jewish practices, including, increasingly, right-wing Christian activists, represent a growing market for ritual items. A search for “tallit” returned 286 items on Walmart’s website on Tuesday afternoon; some were clearly marked as Messianic but many others lacked language indicating that they are not traditional Jewish ritual items.

A search on Amazon, home to the internet’s largest storefront, turns up even more results, some coming from reputable Judaica brands but many others from brands seeking to appeal to Messianics and traditional Christians.

@notarabbiyet I hate everything about this #walmart #jewish #jewishtiktok #tallis #sale #terrible #fyp #fyp? #greenscreen ? Sunset Lover - Petit Biscuit

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

The post Walmart pulls $40 ‘elegant sunscreen scarves’ that were actually Jewish prayer shawls appeared first on The Forward.

Deeply Jewish comedy is having a moment, even as antisemitism rocks pop culture

Tue, 2022-11-29 23:14

(JTA) — Two weeks after a Trump-supporting heckler threw a beer can at Ariel Elias at a club in New Jersey over her politics, the Jewish comedian’s fortunes took a turn for the better. A video of the incident went viral and she made her network television debut on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show.

She spent most of her five-minute set talking about her Jewish identity and how it clashed with parts of her upbringing in Kentucky.

“I’m Jewish from Kentucky, which is insane, it’s an insane origin story,” she said last month before getting to jokes about how Southerners mispronounce her name and how badly her parents want her to date Jews.

Even though the crowd found it funny, Elias’ tight five wasn’t particularly groundbreaking. In the world of standup comedy, discussing one’s Jewish identity in a deep way has become increasingly common on the mainstream stage over the past several years. Jewish comedians are going beyond the bagel and anxiety jokes, discussing everything from religiosity and traditions (and breaking with those traditions) to how their Jewishness has left them prone to awkward situations and even antisemitism.

Ari Shaffir calls his most recent special, which was released earlier this month and titled “Jew” — and racked up close to four million views on YouTube in two weeks — “a love letter to the culture and religion that raised [him].” In his recent one man show “Just For Us” — which drew widespread acclaim and a slew of celebrity audience members, from Jerry Seinfeld to Stephen Colbert to Drew Barrymore — Alex Edelman discussed the details of growing up Modern Orthodox (and infiltrating a group of white nationalists). In 2019, Tiffany Haddish released a Netflix special called “Black Mitzvah,” in which she talks about learning about her Jewish heritage.

At the same time, the current uptick in public displays of antisemitism — punctuated by a series of celebrity antisemitism scandals and comedian Dave Chappelle’s controversial response to them — is complicating the moment for comedians who get into Jewish topics. Jewish comics are even debating what kinds of jokes about Jews are acceptable and which cross a line.

“I find it ironic that at a time where more Jewish comedians feel comfortable expressing their Judaism (i.e. wearing a yarmulke, making Jewish-oriented content) and not hiding it (by changing their name for example), we also see an up-swelling of outright antisemitism,” said Jacob Scheer, a New York-based comedian. “I don’t think — and hope — those two things are not related, but I find it really interesting and sad.”

The two phenomena could be related. Antisemitic incidents nationwide reached an all-time high in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents, according to an April 2022 audit from the Anti-Defamation League. Those incidents range from vandalism of buildings to harassment and assault against individuals.

“Now that [antisemitism is] a headline, it actually helps me to do what I need to do, which is just be extra out and loud and proud,” said Dinah Leffert, a comic based in Los Angeles. “I was hiding who I am just so I can survive in this environment. But this environment is not worth it if I have to hide.”

Scheer said that “people who are Jewish with an emphasis on the ‘Jew’ are having a moment.”

“[The] ‘Jew-ish’ world I wouldn’t say is dead, but I don’t think the ‘Jew-ish’ world is producing that much,” he said.

By “Jew-ish,” Scheer clarified that he means comics like Seinfeld and Larry David, who often infuse secular, culturally Jewish material into their comedy. Their apex of fame came during a time when Jewish comedy was not nearly as mainstreamed — the “Seinfeld” sitcom team was famously told that their idea was “too New York, too Jewish.”

Some of Seinfeld and David’s Jewish comedic successors, such as Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, sprinkled in more explicitly Jewish jokes before 2010. But today, “you see more Alex Edelmans coming out,” Scheer said, referencing the increase in visibility for comedians with more observant upbringings.

Things have progressed to the level of “Jews doing comedy for other Jews about Jewish things,” Scheer added. In August, the first-ever Chosen Comedy Festival at the Coney Island Amphitheater in Brooklyn featured a lineup of mostly Jewish comics whose repertoires ranged from impressions of old Jewish women (who sound like bees) to breakdowns of the differences between how Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews say “Shabbat shalom.” Leah Forster, who also performed at the festival, uses her Hasidic upbringing as source material for her standup routines, creating characters and using accents and impressions. (In her early days as a comedian, Forster performed for women-only audiences while she was a teacher at a Bais Yaakov Orthodox school in Brooklyn.)

The festival, which was hosted by Stand Up NY (an Upper West Side club that Scheer says is known for being “the Jewish one”) welcomed a packed audience of about 4,000 guests, many of whom were Orthodox. A second Chosen Comedy Festival will take place in downtown Miami in December.

(The New York Jewish Week, a 70 Faces Media brand, was the media partner for the Chosen Comedy Festival but had no say in its lineup.)

The festival’s co-hosts, Modi Rosenfeld and Elon Gold, who frequently collaborate, both grew their audiences in the early days of the pandemic: Rosenfeld with his camera-facing comedic characters, like the esoteric Yoely who delivers news updates with a Hasidic Yiddish twist; and Gold with his Instagram Live show “My Funny Quarantine,” which featured guest appearances from other comedians. Both Gold and Rosenfeld work antisemitism into their material.

Some are finding the moment difficult to navigate. In late October, at the standup show she runs in Los Angeles, the comic two slots ahead of Dinah Leffert asked the room, “Is anyone still even supporting Kanye at this point?” The crowd responded with resounding whoops, claps and cheers, leading Leffert to feel like they did support Kanye West, the rapper who spent much of last month in the news for his multiple antisemitic rants.

Just a few jokes into her own 10-minute set, Leffert walked offstage.

“My body wouldn’t let me keep being inauthentic about what I was really feeling,” she said. “I don’t want to give laughter to people who are anti-Jewish.”

Leffert, who is openly Zionist, said she also observes a level of anti-Zionism in comedy clubs these days that feels to her like antisemitism.

“They’re not criticizing Israel,” she said. “It slips into antisemitism very quickly. And it’s just a really hostile environment.”

During the last large-scale military flare-up of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in May 2021, she felt inundated with Palestinian flag comments on posts about Jewish holidays, not Israel.

“You just get Palestinian flags underneath your Hanukkah posts,” she said.

Also in October, at a club in Omaha, comedian Sam Morril told a joke about how he hopes Jeffrey Epstein won’t be honored during Jewish Awareness Month.

“Can I ask why you chose to yell out ‘free Palestine’ after a Jeffrey Epstein joke?” he responded. When the heckler said she was making a “public statement” and was looking for “justice,” Morril answered: “A public statement? At the Omaha Funny Bone?”

Eitan Levine, a New York-based comedian known for his TikTok show “Jewish or Antisemitic” — on which he asks people to vote on whether objects like ketchup and mayonnaise, for example, are Jewish or antisemitic (in a loose comic version of the word) — said he receives similar comments online.

“This is a TikTok video about bagels,” Levine said. “What do you mean, you want me to take a stance?”

Though the response to his show has been largely positive and he has gone viral several times, Levine still receives all kinds of white supremacist comments on his videos — with backwards swastika, money bag or mustachioed man emojis evocative of Hitler, along with comments that say “jas the gews” as a spoonerism for “gas the Jews,” as a way to avoid TikTok censorship. Levine said he manually deletes these kinds of comments, but sometimes that’s not enough; one of the guests on his show had to cancel an in-person show due to online threats made against her.

“This stuff is clearly happening and it is dangerous and it is scary,” Levine told JTA.

Writer and comedian Jon Savitt, whose writing has been featured on College Humor and Funny or Die, and says he has often been “the first Jew that people have ever met,” recently launched an experimental web page called Meet A Jew, where users can connect with a Jewish person, much like a pen pal. His 2016-2018 standup show “Carrot Cake & Other Things That Don’t Make Sense” largely dealt with antisemitism — and its audience, he was surprised to see, was largely non-Jewish.

“Not only did I have people come up to me after the show, but I had non-Jews come up to me months later when they saw me and say ‘tikkun olam‘ [Hebrew for the Jewish principle of repairing the world] to me, or recite Hebrew,” Savitt said. “And to me that was the coolest use case because not only were they there, but they kind of retained something.”

Savitt says he isn’t trying to change any extremists’ minds with Meet A Jew, but he sees it as one step that could engage people who may be ignorant or unaware and give them a place to ask questions.

“Although it shouldn’t be on us to educate everyone or to have to constantly be standing up for ourselves, I think there are ways that we can bring other people into the conversation as well,” he said.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

The post Deeply Jewish comedy is having a moment, even as antisemitism rocks pop culture appeared first on The Forward.

Guitar hero, defender of Dylan, leftist, Trumpist, a good friend and his own worst enemy — Danny Kalb was one of a kind

Tue, 2022-11-29 22:12

If you were into the New York folk music scene in the ’60s, you know how important and influential the blues-rock group The Blues Project was. Created in 1964 by its lead guitarist Danny Kalb, its famous gigs at the Café Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village in Manhattan attracted a large and enthusiastic audience, mesmerized by their blending of traditional folk blues, electric blues, and new folk-rock versions of acoustic songs like Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” and Eric Andersen’s “Violets of Dawn.”

Danny was one of my oldest and closest friends. I met him when he was in high school and I was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; he later joined me there. When we both had returned to New York our friendship continued and deepened over the decades. After a long and hard three-year illness fighting cancer, Danny died at the age of 80 in a Brooklyn hospice home on the afternoon of Nov. 19.

There are numerous places one can read of his musical accomplishments, especially those with The Blues Project, and the scores of records and CDs he made. There’s the workmanlike and thorough obituary by The New York Times’ rock critic Jon Pareles. Ultimateclassicrock.com features links to his music and the major rock site, bestclassicbands.com rightfully notes that Danny was one of the first American “guitar-heroes” whose “lead lines, whether high-velocity and stinging or slow and measured, were never less than dazzling, and always packed with emotion; he never sacrificed tastefulness for flash.”

In the mid-1960s, The Blues Project was known for their gigs at the Café Au Go-Go in Greenwich Village. Courtesy of Steve Katz

Danny said his life changed when he attended a concert by the great John Lee Hooker. He had musical aspirations, but he was a Westchester suburban New York Jewish kid, whose life revolved around high school friends and a weekly “Marxist study group.” His parents were members of the Old Left communist crowd, and he rightfully called himself “a bona fide Red Diaper Baby.” Thus Danny came into his new musical orbit as a rigid, familiar kind of old leftist — a man who knew he was on the right side of history and that his country wasn’t. As he put it in a quip at a concert, “I’m just a suburban Stalinist.”

Indeed, I first met Danny at a New York City downtown SANE Nuclear Policy rally chaired by the patriarch of social democracy, the six-time Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas. As Thomas spoke from the sound truck stage, he saw a group of young people with signs arriving at the event. They were led by Danny, who headed the Westchester peaceniks who had marched all the way into the city from the suburbs. Thomas called him up on stage to let the crowd hear what motivated them to attend. I knew his cousin and others in the group. I was introduced to him and made a connection that would quickly evolve into a friendship.

The author met Danny Kalb at a rally chaired by six-time Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas. Photo by Getty Images

Already in this leftist cultural milieu, Danny soon discovered the Village and Washington Square Park, where every Sunday afternoon, folksingers, bluegrass pickers and blues devotees met to jam. These “protestor-mavens and long-haired young girls,” he wrote in Fretboards magazine back in 2015, proved to him that “some powerful change was a-borning.” There, he met and became influenced by the blind Reverend Gary Davis. It was “like hearing God himself, if God was a blind street singer playing for tips,” he quipped. Davis’s “If I Had My Way” became Danny’s signature song, and he usually concluded his shows with it.

To learn blues technique, Danny first turned for lessons to the one guitar player from the Old Left scene who could play the blues, Jerry Silverman. He knew the fundamentals, but unlike Danny, Silverman had no passion or soul. He performed regularly at People’s Artists hootenannys in the ’50s, but outside of these small circles in left-wing New York City, his impact came not from performing, but in the over 200 books he wrote on music and guitar.

At the Square, Danny met Dave Van Ronk, who helped to move him away from his parents’ leftist traditions. He described Van Ronk as an “anarcho-syndicalist wise in the ways of the outré left.” Before long, Danny developed his own style, which, he wrote, “drew on the folk music I played with guys like Dylan, Phil Ochs and Dave Van Ronk, the acoustic blues of Gary Davis, the electric blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and the rock ’n’ roll of Chuck Berry.” Years later, Danny and the Blues Project would be Berry’s backup band for a New York City gig. This all led in ’65 to the formation of The Blues Project.

Before he created the group, Danny played and sang everywhere for small bits of change. One of his regular gigs was with a duo they called Marshall and Dan — that would be Danny and Marshall Brickman, later of The New Journeymen and the Tarriers. Marshall is now better known as a screenwriter, director and author of the Broadway hit Jersey Boys.

“I was honored to be one half of the act revered throughout the Jewish mountains as ‘Marshall and Dan,’ dinner entertainment providing background music as our fans crammed dinner rolls into their pocketbooks,” Marshall emailed me after Danny passed. “You may smile, but remember: no contribution is too small.”

Danny and The Blues Project revealed how many NYC Jewish kids were drawn to this new music, which brought a rock ’n’ roll sensibility to folk music. For a short time, many thought The Blues Project would become the American equivalent of The Rolling Stones, especially since their one non-Jewish member, Tommy Flanders, was compared in his style and his power to Mick Jagger. Flanders, in a self-defeating move, suddenly quit the group literally before they were going on stage for a major music industry showcase, leaving them with no vocalist. The dream of their becoming “the Jewish Beatles” (as they were dubbed by many at the time) was not to be, although at first, like the Beatles, their original producer was Sid Bernstein.

In later years, the onetime self-proclaimed socialist drifted rightward. Courtesy of Ronald Radosh

The Blues Project’s influence spread far and wide. The effect that The Blues Project had on the future Jewish intellectual and author Leon Wieseltier in what he calls “deepest darkest Brooklyn” was profound.

“Nothing,” Wieseltier wrote me, “made an aspiringly hip young man at a yeshiva high school feel hipper than The Blues Project. Kalb, Katz, Kooper, Blumenfield: It seemed also like the Jews Project. (What was Tommy Flanders doing there?)” It was “decades later,” he notes, “I regaled Danny, who had become a cherished friend, and Al, who had become a cherished acquaintance, with these stories of my happy provincial youth, and we laughed, but my gratitude was lifelong and deep.”

Danny’s guitar playing inspired other musicians As New York Times music critic Jon Pareles writes in his obit, “his wiry, keening lead guitar lines infused the band’s arrangements with a hectic intensity.” Pareles quotes guitarist, record producer and leader of The Patti Smith Band Lenny Kaye as saying that Kalb was one of his very first guitar-heroes, “his fleet fingers bridging acoustic folk as it metamorphosized into electricity.”

Then, suddenly, it appeared that Danny dropped out of the scene. “What ever happened to Danny Kalb?” a fan once wrote to the letters page in Rolling Stone, a query that went unanswered. The truth was that after taking a “bad acid” trip in San Francisco, his descent to hell came quickly. Danny had had emotional problems before and the LSD accelerated a deep negativity, a quick decline, and many episodes of him becoming his own worst enemy. Sadly, I don’t think there are any of his friends — and I include myself — whom he did not viciously turn against, considering them to be enemies out to hurt him. There are two I know, both of whom were musical partners as well as friends, who never spoke to him again after he attacked their character.

Sadly, Danny revealed a regular self-defeating streak that prevented him from achieving the success he craved and which most fans assumed he would reach. There were scores of gigs canceled at the last moment, without good reason. One of Danny’s great fans was John Belushi, who showed up regularly at their NYC gigs. When he and Dan Ackroyd formed The Blues Brothers, he asked Danny to be lead guitarist. Danny came to the very first rehearsal, where the two leads handed out the uniforms the band members would wear. Danny stormed out, saying he would not desecrate the Black blues in such a fashion. When Danny came to his senses a short time later and said he would join, it was too late — they had already hired Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn to take the parts that Danny was meant to have.

Hamilton Camp and Bob Gibson perform together in 1978. Photo by Getty Images

During a short break at a recording session in which he was accompanying the famous Chicago folk duo Hamilton Camp and Bob Gibson, Danny suddenly threw himself out of the window from the third floor, hoping that would put an end to his misery. God, as he would later put it, must have been with him, because he came out with no physical scars, but mentally unable to function. He landed first on a canopy which broke his fall. From there, it was straight to a year or two rehab in a facility for those with severe psychological problems.

His politics took a sudden turn. A man of the solid left, Danny drifted more and more in a rather unexpected direction. In recent years, he would phone and regularly hector me about my failure to comprehend America, sounding like a repeat of the previous night’s prime-time lineup on Fox News. When I sought to argue with him, he would reply that people like me were “simply professors or self-proclaimed intellectuals, while I am a musician who gets the real America.”

And God forbid if one would say anything critical of his hero and old friend, Bob Dylan. When Dylan arrived by bus from Minnesota to Madison, Wisconsin, in January 1961, Bobby phoned me from the bus station asking if I could put him up. Since I didn’t have any room, I got in touch with Danny who willingly set him up on a spare couch. From that moment on, Dylan became his hero and his role model, as well as a fellow folkie and blues enthusiast. Dylan, he said to me many decades later, was “brought to us by God as his Prophet,” and Danny was not kidding. My wife once made the mistake of telling him she didn’t like Dylan’s Christmas album, which led to a blow-up and a temporary halt in friendship that lasted a few years.

Danny’s problem was that he countenanced no disagreement. I admonished him many times and suggested that he had to understand that some people saw things differently, and he could challenge them with words but that anger would do little. He said he could not stay friends with people whose outlook he abhorred, and added that if I did not take him seriously and eventually agree with one or another tirade, he would not be able to talk to me anymore.

After weeks or sometimes months, and even a year or more, he would call and tell me that friendship transcended deep political differences. How sad that near the end, he seemed to have forgotten that lesson. When we talked the past six years, he would lecture me about why Trumpism was the right turn for America’s future.

Some of Danny’s friends stopped taking his phone calls. But one had to look past his quirks and problems to see how he revealed his soul in his music. He was, as historian and musicologist Sean Wilentz wrote me, “always at heart the tenderest of souls. Long after he touched with his music, he touched with that tenderness.” Mark Ambrosino, Danny’s producer and drummer for his band at Sojourn Records, said that his playing and singing was “powerful, soulful and honest.” He could move from playing something intimate that “would bring you to tears, and then erupt into what felt like the jagged edge of broken glass that would cut right through you.”

As news of Danny’s death spread, more and more tributes and remembrances began to pour out, including one in an unexpected venue, National Review, written by editor and writer Richard Brookhiser. In past years, he too stopped taking Danny’s phone calls, thus he thought that Danny still considered him a leftist who, as Brookhiser writes, was still “trying to integrate radicalism somehow with patriotism.”

So long, old friend, may your final resting place give you the peace and calm you sought, as you will see from above how new generations will find and come to love your music and your contribution.

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The post Guitar hero, defender of Dylan, leftist, Trumpist, a good friend and his own worst enemy — Danny Kalb was one of a kind appeared first on The Forward.

Kanye West’s antisemitism is playing right into white supremacists’ hands

Tue, 2022-11-29 21:49

Not 20 minutes into the interview, Kanye West marched out, and two white supremacists followed him.

On a recent episode of Timcast, a video podcast by YouTuber Tim Pool, West — who has legally changed his name to Ye — was flanked by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolos and wannabe Nazi Nick Fuentes. They were ostensibly there to discuss West and Fuentes’ recent dinner with former President Trump and West’s own presidential aspirations. But within minutes, West once again began ranting about the Jews.

“I’ve just got to go right to the heart of this antisemite claim that’s happening,” West said, unprompted.

“This is something, if you read the definition, it says you can’t claim that there’s multiple people inside of banks or in media that are all Jewish or you’re antisemitic. And that’s the truth.”

“What library? What do you mean?” asked Pool.

Not answering the question, West rambled about various antisemitic conspiracies for several minutes. But as soon as the host pushed back hard enough, West was out of there for good.

It was not a good look for him. But more than that, it played right into white supremacists’ hands.

“I think the construct of race has really been forced upon us as just something for us to be woke about, and just constantly talk about, and use it as these, like, walls,” said West.

He is right: Race is a construct, and one often used to divide us. What he misses is that this is precisely the world in which his strange bedfellows want to live.

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Most white supremacists not only would prefer to live in a white Christian society, but believe that one can be achieved through winning a race war, an imagined zero-sum existential struggle that pits whites, Jews, Blacks, Latinos, Asians and other groups against one another. Many white supremacists also believe in the great replacement theory, at once racist and antisemitic, that imagines Jews, by manipulating communities of color, are knowingly waging such a race war against whites.

It’s unfortunate that West seems to only buy the part of the conspiracy in which Jews are manipulating Blacks. It’s catastrophic that he doesn’t realize it is neo-Nazis who are ultimately yanking his strings.

“I found out that they were trying to put me in prison,” said West, meaning the Jews. He made this claim multiple times during his short appearance, describing it as “like a dog was biting my arm.”

Sure, he noted that Adidas and Gap have hurt him financially. But he reserved his ire for “they”: the Jewish bankers at J.P. Morgan, a supposed “Zionist plant” in the fashion industry, his personal trainer Harley Pasternak, artificial intelligence expert Lex Fridman, and politicians Rahm Emanuel and Jared Kushner.

“It was like American History X,” lamented West. “Like my head was on the side of the curb, and the exact people that I called out kicked my head.”

Of course, in that film, the man doing the kicking is a neo-Nazi.

“I am literally going to walk the f off the show,” said West, “if I’m sitting up here having to, you know, talk about, ‘you can’t say that it was Jewish people that did it,’ when every sensible person knows that.”

Walk the f off the show, he did. Fuentes and Yiannopolos soon followed, and none of them returned to the show.

It really was a perfect metaphor. Antisemites can never win with their words, and antisemitic conspiracy theories crumble under the slightest amount of pressure. If a Black man can be the one to unwittingly advance a white supremacist conspiracy, all the better for the bigots; each attempt to advance antisemitic conspiracies further empowers those who seek to oppress all minorities, not just Jews.

How did West, the child of a professor and a former Black Panther, end up falling prey to this? Rather than deeply examine the very real oppressive systems that make life more difficult for so many Americans, why did West take aim at the most proximate vulnerable minority community he’s seen claw its way to relative success?

As the critic Dorothy Parker wrote in 1941 of the unsuspecting person who goes Nazi, West “loathes everything that reminds him of his origins and his humiliations. He is bitterly antisemitic because the social insecurity of the Jews reminds him of his own psychological insecurity.”

Though he is (or was) a billionaire, West “is the product of a democracy hypocritically preaching social equality and practicing a carelessly brutal snobbery,” as Parker wrote. Even wealth and fame can’t insulate you from mockery, or the accompanying pain. West, like so many now filled with hate, “is a sensitive, gifted man who has been humiliated into nihilism. He would laugh to see heads roll.”

There are plenty of powerful gentiles — Bill Gates, for example, as the host of Timcast pointed out — at which West could take aim. But instead, West’s myopic focus on successful Jews is exactly what the white supremacists want.

If Black supremacists join white supremacists in focusing their ire on the Jews, it keeps the focus off of those with the actual power to oppress and disenfranchise wide swaths of society.

If you can turn neighbors against one another, convince them that success is a zero-sum game, then you can avoid the messy business of actually making society better for us all.

The more attention West draws to fellow Black supremacist antisemites with his antics, the less attention is paid to white supremacists who advance a different version of the same deadly ideology.

It’s not Jews making life tougher for West, but West himself — and he’s playing right into the white supremacists’ hands.

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He taught us all Yiddish: Sharing memories of Mordkhe Schaechter at a conference for his 15th yortsayt

Tue, 2022-11-29 19:04

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??? ????? ????? ????????? ?? ?????? ??? ??????, ??? ??? ?????? ?? ??? ????, ???? ?? ???????? ??? ???? ?????? ??????????? ??? ????? ??? ????? ?????. ??????????? ???? ??????, ???? ?? ??? ???????? ?? ???. „???? ???? ?????? ??? ??? ??? ???? ??? ?? ????? ?????? ???? ??? ???? ???????? ?? ?? ??? ??? ?? ?? ???? ???? ????.“

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„?? ??? ????? ?????? ????,“ ???? ?????? ??? ????????.

????? ???? ????????? ???? ??? ?????????????? ???? ???? ??????, ?? ????? ???? ??????????, ??? ??? ??????? ??????? ??????? ??????????? ??? ????? ???? ????? ?????? ?? ?????.

?? ???????????, ??? ??? ??????? ????? ???????? ??? ??????? ???????, ???? ??? ??????????? ??? ??????? ??? ??? ?? ??????? ??????????? ???? ???? ??????? ????????. ?????? ???? ???????!

The post He taught us all Yiddish: Sharing memories of Mordkhe Schaechter at a conference for his 15th yortsayt appeared first on The Forward.

Critic of yeshiva education promises ‘independent’ coverage of Haredi issues in new publication

Tue, 2022-11-29 18:38

Decrying the existing Haredi press, a Jewish activist plans to launch a Jewish multimedia publication that he promises will offer more rigorous coverage of the community. Shtetl: Haredi Free Press, will launch early next year, according to an announcement posted on its website Monday.

The current Haredi press has a dedicated readership, both in English and Yiddish — the first language of many in the community — and the Shtetl announcement was met with some skepticism among those who don’t trust it to fairly report on the community.

But the post introducing Shtetl assails the existing Haredi media landscape as lacking reliable news sources.

“Inhabiting an insular, highly regulated subculture, they are limited to Rabbinically endorsed and tightly censored media outlets that often work to preserve existing power structures and systems,” the announcement stated.

Copies of Mishpacha, a Haredi weekly magazine, come off the printing press in Israel. A new publication called Shtetl seeks to offer more independent coverage of the community, where news sources often answer to rabbinic councils. Photo by Getty Images

In contrast, Shtetl pledged to be “100% independent from leaders and institutions” and offer news “for, by and about Haredi Jews.”

Shtetl is the creation of Naftuli Moster, who has clashed with many leaders in the Haredi community. Moster recently stepped down in June as the director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, or Yaffed, which advocates for improvements to the yeshiva school system in New York.

Moster, who was raised in a Haredi family and has built a career as a reformer, declined an interview request about Shtetl.

“I am focusing on building a top-notch team, so we can be up and running in early 2023,” he said in a brief message. He also said Shtetl would publish Haredi news in English, but that he hopes to add a Yiddish section six months after it begins publishing.

Elad Nehorai, a columnist who has written for the Forward, praised the launch of Shtetl on Twitter.

“The Haredi press is by definition limited and censored,” Nehorai said. “Having an actual independent investigative team focusing on the issues in the community will be essential work.”

An upstart among Haredi media

There are currently at least four major English-language Haredi news publications — Hamodia, Yated Ne’eman, Mispacha and Ami Magazine — in addition to online outlets like Yeshiva World News, Vos Iz Neias, Boro Park 24 and The Lakewood Scoop.

The community also supports three major Haredi Yiddish newspapers: Di Tzeitung, Der Yid and Der Blatt.

Those outlets often limit what they cover to avoid offending the religious sensibilities of their readers.

A woman holds a copy of Hamodia, a Haredi newspaper, at a New York City vigil for victims of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. Shtetl, which will launch early next year, plans to offer “independent” Haredi news. Photo by Getty Images

“A crucial part of our mission is protecting our readers’ right ‘not to know,’” Ruth Lichtenstein, the publisher of Hamodia, wrote in 2013. “Far more difficult a task than providing you with newsworthy and ethical reading material is ensuring that you, our loyal reader, aren’t exposed to material you would find unfit to enter your home, your mind and your heart.”

While they vary in style and content, Haredi publications typically do not publish images of women and most are overseen by a rabbinic council.

Pinchos Lipschutz, the publisher of Yated Ne’eman, told Ha’aretz in 2015 that in “any home that has the Yated, their fear of heaven goes up 10 percent.”

Skepticism on social media

But the existing Haredi publications also seek to provide news and a voice for a population that often feels as though secular media — including the non-Orthodox Jewish press — misunderstands and looks down on them.

“The secular Jewish media, no offense, is locked into the mindset that religious people are all bad,” Lipschutz said. “They hate religion.”

The announcement of Shtetl comes two months after The New York Times published an exposé of the Hasidic yeshiva system that drew praise for its depth but was criticized by many Haredi — and some secular Jewish — leaders as unfairly targeting the Jewish community.

Related

Some on social media greeted Shtetl with skepticism.

“Do you find that outlets like The New York Times and Ha’aretz are way too favorable in their coverage of Haredi Jews? Do you dream of hard-hitting coverage from journalists whose ‘vast knowledge’ of our community comes from Netflix and a trip to the Kosher aisle at Trader Joe’s?” Dovi Safier, who writes about Jewish history for Mispacha, said in a sarcastic post reacting to Shtetl.

Shtetl said it had secured funding for two years of operation and is currently hiring one full-time reporter to cover Haredi news and one full-time editor for roughly $180,000 in combined salary, in addition to a number of part-time positions.

The job listing for the reporter seeks someone with “the ultra-Orthodox/Haredi Jewish community” and fluent in Yiddish, although neither are firm requirements.

The announcement said that founding board members included Larry Cohler-Esses, a former longtime editor for the Forward, Ari Goldman, a journalism professor at Columbia University, and Adelle Goldenberg, who won Yaffed’s 2021 Haredi Changemaker Award.

The post Critic of yeshiva education promises ‘independent’ coverage of Haredi issues in new publication appeared first on The Forward.

Haredi Jews won a legal battle against conversion therapy — a new film shows the fight’s not over

Tue, 2022-11-29 17:02

Chaim Levin’s bar mitzvah Torah portion was from Leviticus 18:22 and 19, which spell out God’s prohibitions on gay sex.

“It was just fate that I ended up having the Torah portion, that I would read to hundreds of people, that was condemning me,” Levin says in the short documentary Queer and Frum, playing Dec. 4 as part of the Dances With Films New York film festival.

The film’s director, Miki Katoni, was raised Reform, and became interested in the subject of LGBTQ people in the Orthodox world after reading an article about queer boys expelled from  yeshivas in Israel. 

As he continued to research the subject, Katoni discovered a 2012 lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against the New Jersey-based gay conversion therapy group Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (or JONAH). Levin, who grew up in Crown Heights in the Chabad-Lubavitch community, was one of the plaintiffs, and, in the trial, detailed patterns of abuse experienced as part of the therapy. It was the first-of-its-kind case challenging conversion therapy on the basis of consumer protection laws. (The jury decided against JONAH in 2015, awarding $72,000 to the victims and shutting down its operations.)

“I had always heard of conversion therapy in the context of Christian groups,” said Katoni, who recently graduated with a master’s from UC Berkeley’s journalism school. “I was like, ‘Oh, I had no idea this was part of my larger community as well.’”

Katoni’s film uses home videos, diary entries and trial testimony to explain how Levin’s case shifted the landscape around conversion therapy for some in the Orthodox world. But it didn’t resolve every issue that queer Haredi people face. Mordechai Levovitz, the founder of the support group Jewish Queer Youth (JQY), likens the situation to a house on fire — after the JONAH decision, now just certain rooms are on fire, rather than a whole conflagration.

Related

While mostly featuring queer voices, Katoni also spoke with Rabbi Avi Shafran, an Orthodox columnist and author. Shafran calls conversion therapy “harmful” but also suggests cognitive behavioral therapy, aimed at controlling urges, may be a viable treatment.


Queer and Frum Teaser from Miki Katoni on Vimeo.

While somewhat limited in scope and perspectives — the film mostly stays in Crown Heights, primarily features members of the Chabad community, doesn’t cover the trans experience or delve deeply into the consequences of going off the derech — the 30-minute short illustrates the support systems developed by young frum Jews who, while leaving behind their community, retain much of their Jewish life.

A woman, Leiba, who joined the Orthodox community, is shown finding great joy in her chosen family and even an affirmation of her faith in her queer identity.

The film, shot in early 2020, arrives at a time when conversations around being queer in Orthodox spaces are particularly timely. This year, a Pride Club at Yeshiva University fought to be recognized by their school — the case even reached the Supreme Court, which, for now, is declining to hear it. It will also screen at a moment where a self-described Orthodox Jew, Chaya Raichik, aka Libs of TikTok, is antagonizing trans youth, queer people and even Jewish summer camps — and recently joking about her alleged role as a “stochastic terrorist” implicated in the Club Q shooting.

 “A huge hope for the film is to just allow dialogue to come from it,” Katoni said.

More information and tickets for Queer and Frum can be found here.

Related

The post Haredi Jews won a legal battle against conversion therapy — a new film shows the fight’s not over appeared first on The Forward.

‘We enjoy being in shul together’: Tony Kushner talks about his friendship with Steven Spielberg

Tue, 2022-11-29 16:30

As Tony Kushner remembers it, Steven Spielberg’s largely autobiographical film, The Fabelmans, had its genesis about 17 years ago.

“It was a night shoot on the island of Malta and we were blowing up a hotel room” for a scene in the film Munich, Kushner told me. “It was late at night and we were waiting for the explosives team to set up, and I asked him about his early years. We’d been spending a good deal of time together with each other before that while we were preparing the film.”

That was when Spielberg told Kushner the story about the discovery he made on a family camping trip that changed his life — and is at the very center of the new film.

“I told him it was an amazing story and he has to make a movie about it.” The thought had already occurred to Spielberg himself, but he wasn’t ready.

“We joked about it for a long time,” Kushner said.

Over the years since, their personal and professional relationship continued to grow. After Munich, they collaborated on Lincoln and then West Side Story.

In many ways, Kushner was the perfect partner for The Fabelmans. Kushner was nominated for Academy Awards for his scripts for both Munich and Lincoln. But he’d also won a Pulitzer, a Tony and an Emmy for Angels in America, and had mined his own upbringing for Caroline, or Change.

The following conversation between Curt Schleier and Tony Kushner has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you and Steven meet?

Tony Kushner: Right after Angels in America came out, I started getting calls from movie people just asking to take meetings. One of them was from Kathy Kennedy, who produced many of Steven’s films. Kathy called and asked if I’d be interested in having breakfast with her.

Tony Kushner observes a scene in Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical film The Fabelmans. Courtesy of NBCUniversal

We met at a hotel in New York and talked about what each of us were up to. I asked about Steven and she told me about Munich and Lincoln, which is based on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin called Team of Rivals. I’d just published a book, Wrestling with Zion. I said maybe it will help you and Steven in terms of the politics of the situation. Kathy said she’d love to read the book so I sent her a copy and through her, a copy to Steven.

Not long afterwards, I got a note from Steven saying he‘d just read the book and was really intrigued by it. We got on the phone. He sent me a copy of the existing script for what would eventually become Munich. I read it and he asked if I’d take a whack at doing my own version.

You obviously have developed a great rapport with Steven since then. Did that take time?

Not really. We liked each other almost immediately. We had a certain amount in common politically, and a lot of overlapping interests. He’s really fond of my husband, Mark [Harris] and I’m really fond of Kate [Capshaw] and his entire family. We became friends. We don’t go on vacation together, but over 19 years we’ve built a serious degree of trust, which I think was kind of a requirement for this film.

Otherwise I don’t think we would have been able to do it. He was letting me in on a very complicated project: We were turning the lives of his parents and siblings, and some very painful experiences into fiction. That requires a lot of interpretation, lots of discussions about various things. I think it was essential that we were really already very good at fighting and quarreling.

Did you argue a great deal?

We did argue. Probably less than on West Side Story and Lincoln. I also said to myself, it’s his story. I can’t be as violent in my opinions as I have been in our other projects. But Steven is really a great guy and very respectful. He listens to me and my 800 opinions. The bottom line of our relationship is that not one of us wins until we arrive at a place where we both understand what the other is after. Very often we discover a third way neither of us started out proposing.

I read a review that suggested that you were likely a key to keeping the production “from becoming too self-indulgent.” Also, your close ties allowed him to unpack even more baggage to a friend.

I think Steven would be the first to say that in order to make the movie it was useful to have an objective eye the whole time we worked. When we started, we kept writing only because we we’re enjoying ourselves. This was a nice way to spend time with each other. But if this was going to turn into an actual film, it would have to work for people who didn’t know him and didn’t know his movies. So I think it was helpful to have someone deeply caught up in it. As I was working with him, I wrote an 81-page novella based on his memory. We refer to it as the ganse megillah (entire story) outline that Steven went back and forth to when thinking about the characters and the situations.

Tony Kushner, seen here in 2012, mined his own autobiography for Caroline, or Change. Photo by Getty Images

After all this time, what do you think prompted Steven to give the go-ahead to the project?

It really turned the corner when his mother [Leah] died [in 2017]. By the time we were working on West Side Story, his father was 103 and beginning to go into serious decline. That’s when we started really talking about possibly making the movie. We were pulled away by the demands of West Side Story, but committed to coming back to it when we were done.

Did the fact that you were both Jewish play a role in your relationship?

Steve and I came back [to New York] from Europe where we’d almost finished filming Munich. We still had one more scene to film. But it was September and I remember we went to High Holy Day services together. We’ve done that a few times. We enjoy being in shul together. Being Jewish is important to him and it’s certainly important to me. We talk a lot about what it means to be Jewish and Jewish history. It’s a very, very significant part of our relationship.

The Fabelmans deals with the antisemitism Steven faced. Did you have similar experiences?

Like Steven, my life was never in danger. I wasn’t in a pogrom. But similar to Steven, there was a lot of bullying. I’ve mentioned this before, but when my mother was dying in a hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana, this very nice nurse who took great care of her shyly came over to my sister and I and said, “Are you Jewish? Can I see your horns?” She actually believed we had horns.

Any final thoughts?

I just very happy we met. I think he’s a genius. I feel unbelievably fortunate to work with him. After four films, it seems we have some kind of chemistry. It feels like this is bashert.

Related

The post ‘We enjoy being in shul together’: Tony Kushner talks about his friendship with Steven Spielberg appeared first on The Forward.

Flanked by white nationalists, Kanye West claims in podcast that Jews want to ‘lock me up’

Tue, 2022-11-29 15:43

Rapper Kanye West complained that former President Donald Trump was being controlled by Jews and invoked the Holocaust in a podcast interview Monday evening with the two white nationalists he brought to a dinner with Trump last week, Milo Yiannopoulos and Nick Fuentes, one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists. The gathering at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home, was widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans, including Trump’s Jewish allies

In an interview with political commentator Timothy Tooler on his podcast, Timcast, that was livestreamed on YouTube, West said he “would have never wanted to do anything that hurt Trump” but said Jews controlled him and past presidents, invoking the longstanding and false antisemitic trope. “Rahm Emanuel was next to Obama and Jared Kushner was right next to Trump,” West said. Emanuel, the Jewish former mayor of Chicago, was former President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, while Kushner, who is Jewish, was a senior adviser to his father-in-law. 

West, who legally changed his name to Ye, has made antisemitic comments since 2013 and lost major sponsorships following recent anti-Jewish tirades. 

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During the 20-minute interview, West said Jews want to lock him up over tax evasion. “Jewish people say, it’s the Holocaust — this happened and you can’t say anything about it,” he said. “We can’t take their pain away. No one’s going to denounce the fact that they tried to lock me up.” He added: “When I found out that they tried to put me in jail, it was like a dog was biting my arm and I almost shed a tear, almost, but I still walked in stride through it.” 

West abruptly left the studio — followed by Fuentes and Yiannopoulos, who claims to have arranged the Mar-a-Lago dinner — when the podcast host gently challenged his antisemitic views that “they” — meaning Jews — aim to silence him. “We can’t say who ‘they’ is, can we?” West asked. 

Related

“You don’t believe in my truths,” West said to one of the podcast’s co-hosts, Luke Rudkowski, who tried to convince him to return. “You guys are denying it and I don’t want to have this conversation.” 

West, who recently announced he would run for president in 2024, said he’s “the only American that we know that really deserves to run the country” because he lost money for the freedom of speech. Trump has also announced he plans to run.

Related

The post Flanked by white nationalists, Kanye West claims in podcast that Jews want to ‘lock me up’ appeared first on The Forward.

This might just be the unlikeliest Jewish couple you’ve ever seen in a movie

Tue, 2022-11-29 15:34

Barry Rosenthal’s documentary, The Jewish Jail Lady and the Holy Thief, is a mind-blowing character study. It casts its lens on addiction therapy, religion and how personal interactions are culturally informed. It touches on boardroom dynamics. Oh, and by the way, it’s a love story.

Its centerpiece is Rabbi Mark Borovitz, a 70-ish, counterculture ex-con and recovering alcoholic, and his wife, Harriet Rossetto, a self-admitted sexually promiscuous Jewish intellectual, now in her mid-80s. Together they have saved thousands of lives through Beit T’Shuvah, an LA-based addiction recovery and treatment center, which she founded.

The film opens with Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, introducing Borovitz to his congregation, dubbing him “irreverent, inappropriate, cantankerous, ill-tempered, crude, filthy mouthed, a common thief, a con artist, a flimflam man, difficult, really, really difficult, a pain in the ass and my best friend.”

Sporting a jaunty hat with a small feather and a slightly shiny black striped suit, Borovitz addresses the temple-goers, “Hiya doin’? I’m the lunatic rabbi, also known as the holy thief.”

He’s also, improbably, the husband of social worker Harriet Rossetto who is 14 years his senior. Nonetheless, they share much in common.

Both Rossetto and Borovitz lost their fathers at 14, and early on, were conversant in loss, grief, guilt and duplicity. A dutiful son and brother, Borovitz was also a heavy drinker and a petty criminal, mostly hustling stolen goods on consignment for low-level Mafioso types and later forging checks.

He still celebrates being a misfit. Nails painted purple in one snippet, turquoise in another,  his language is joyously foul mouthed. Rosetto, the more introspective of the two, recalls a lonely girlhood in New York, desperate to please a controlled and controlling mother who put on her girdle each morning before breakfast. When she was attending college at Tufts, her mother advised her to land a husband, ideally a Harvard law student. When she was near 50, Rossetto, who felt lost, rootless and devoid of purpose, found her calling. Photo by Barry Rosenthal

By her sophomore year, Harriet dutifully found a Jewish, Harvard-trained lawyer, lived the suburban, well-appointed home life and within short order was sleeping all over town. She liked bad boys, Italians more than Jews, and so while vacationing in Italy, she married an Italian with whom she had a daughter. That marriage was short-lived too, and parenting was alien to her. More ill-fated affairs followed, culminating in a tumultuous romance with an elevator man who toted a gun and chased her down the street with a broken bottle threatening to kill her.

Rossetto and Borovitz came of age in an era where transparency was paramount. Euphemism and amenities were shunned. Our protagonists undoubtedly live out loud. It’s easy to envision them seated on chairs facing an audience in an Off-Broadway theater, playing themselves. The line between personal revelation and performance is blurred.

Turning points

Spirituality and religion played a part in Borovitz and Rossetto’s epiphanies. Though he had eschewed religion for decades, after he was incarcerated in 1986, he had a religious reawakening and began to study the work of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leading Jewish theologian-philosopher of the 20th century and a leader in the civil rights movement. While still serving his time, Borovitz became the clerk for the prison rabbi.

Like the proverbial wandering Jew and the mythic American seeking her fortune, in the early ’80s and veering close to her 50th birthday, Rossetto landed in Los Angeles, lost, rootless and devoid of purpose.

She was on the verge of suicide when a friend introduced her to a psychic of sorts who asked if she prayed.

“Of course I don’t pray,” Rossetto said. “I’m an intellectual Jew. I don’t pray.”

The psychic responded that she would pray for her, urging Rossetto to keep watch.

Within days, Rossetto came across a help wanted ad in the paper: “Person of Jewish background and culture to work with Jewish criminal offenders. MSW required.”

She was floored when it all came together. “I’m a nice Jewish girl with an MSW, I like bad boys, and here it is,” Rossetto said.

Borovitz started out as a hustler and, after he got out of prison, Rossetto employed him to run her thrift shop, with proceeds earmarked for Jewish convicts. Photo by Barry Rosenthal

She spent her days visiting Jewish prisoners through the Jewish Committee for Personal Service in State Prisons and Mental Hospitals, and became known as “The Jewish Jail Lady.”

Almost immediately she was struck by how many of her charges battled substance abuse issues and, more troubling, after they were released, they had no place to go. It didn’t take too long for them to be off the wagon and back in jail.

In 1986, Rossetto received a federal grant and bought a house in Los Angeles launching Beit T’Shuvah, where newly released prisoners found fellowship and a roof over their heads.

Love was not part of her plan.

An unexpected love story

Rossetto’s first meeting with Borovitz was not promising. Visiting the California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino, Rossetto encountered him as an inmate, and he bombarded her with a series of aggressive questions.

“‘What does this bleeding-heart liberal, social worker know about what convicts need?’” she remembered him saying. “I hated him. He was arrogant, abrasive, a know-it-all.”

“If you’re so smart, when you get out, you can come help me,” she told him.

When he was released in 1988, unable to find work, he took her up on her offer.

Because he was a hustler, she employed him to run her newly formed thrift shop, with proceeds earmarked for Jewish convicts. He was a fine salesman. He also worked as her secretary, and led an off-the-beaten track daily Torah study group with the ex-con residents. His tough-love spirituality-pedagogy-therapy was regarded as somewhat unorthodox.

Rossetto and Borovitz married in 1990. Photo by Barry Rosenthal

“My Torah was a street Torah,” he said. “Real life, real time.”

“He spoke the language of the people,” said Rossetto. “Who better to teach them spiritually than someone who came from the same place they did.”

The two tied the knot in 1990. Bolstered by her support, Borovitz applied to rabbinical school at the University of Judaism in LA. In 2000, he was ordained and walked off with a master’s degree in rabbinic literature. He gained a reputation as a “prophet, more than a rabbi,” he said.

Beit T’Shuvah

Borovitz and Rossetto viewed Beit T’Shuvah, a treatment regimen that combines the 12-step program with psychotherapy, job-skill training and Jewish spirituality, as their child, their identity, their new addiction.

“The center’s focus became “recover your passion, discover your purpose.” Rossetto said. “But really what worked was building a community where people could belong. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection.”

Throughout the film, former clients testify how their lives were saved thanks to their Beit T’Shuvah stint. One was a cocaine addict; another, a gang member.

“The breadth and the scope of what they do for a single individual and their family is nothing I’ve ever seen,” recalled a woman who credit’s Beit T’Shuvah with saving her from alcohol abuse.

“There’s a very beautiful Yiddish teaching that guided me from the very beginning that to save one soul is as if you have saved the whole world,” Rossetto said.

Rosenthal, the film’s director, noted that the rabbi and Rossetto unwittingly brought him out of retirement to launch a new career as a documentary maker after 45 years in the advertising business.

Living in Marina Del Rey, he had been sober for nearly a decade when someone suggested he attend a Shabbat service at the recovery program.

“What I witnessed was a packed house listening to Shabbat service sung to Beatles music,” Rosenthal recalled via email. “I thought, ‘Now, that’s a good way to get people back to shul.’”

Rosenthal is hopeful that the film will show viewers “what can be done with dedication, hard work, passion and love.

“I also wanted to keep shining a light on the issues of substance abuse and recovery and Rabbi and Harriet’s unique take on them,” he added. “It was also to showcase the heartbreak of eventually being finessed out of the very organization they founded.”

Related

What precisely led to the end of their tenure at Beit T’shuvah, after 30-plus years, is not entirely clear. Rossetto blames a culture that has become altogether too polite and “founder’s syndrome,” referring to what may happen when the enthusiastic creators of an organization become perceived as too controlling.

In the rabbi’s valedictory speech, he apologized to anyone he may have hurt,, conceding that his therapeutic approach, or perhaps just his way of being in the world, is not for all tastes.

Still, one can’t help envying the couple. In another marriage, the loss of their 35-year-old baby, as it were, could easily have led to the end of their relationship. But that didn’t happen here.

“When we got married, we had written a vow that we would never use the vulnerability of the other person against them in hurt or anger,” Rossetto said. “We have honored that vow for 32 years.”

“The glue that held us together got even stronger,” said Borovitz. “Our relationship is our home. It is the promised land for us.”

The post This might just be the unlikeliest Jewish couple you’ve ever seen in a movie appeared first on The Forward.

Trump’s dinner with antisemites sends Jewish allies fleeing

Tue, 2022-11-29 12:55

This article is part of our morning briefing. Click here to get it delivered to your inbox each weekday.

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A breaking point? Jewish allies of Trump say enough is enough

 

A number of Jews who served in the Trump administration have joined the broad criticism of the former president’s recent dinner with rapper Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists.

 

Elliott Abrams, Trump’s special representative on Iran and Venezuela, said that Trump condemning antisemitism would be insufficient. “He has done that before,” Abrams said, “but it didn’t stop him from having dinner with one of the most despicable antisemites in America.”

 

The last straw: Some Jews who previously supported Trump are peeling away, calling the dinner a breaking point – and looking to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other potential GOP presidential candidates for 2024. Trump’s claim that he didn’t know Fuentes before the dinner does not seem to matter. “A good way not to accidentally dine with a vile racist and antisemite you don’t know,” conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted, “is not to dine with a vile racist and antisemite you do know.” 

 

The Democratic view: Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the Trump allies for pushing the former president “to do the right thing by condemning this vicious antisemite.” In a speech on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Schumer called Trump’s refusal to condemn Fuentes “appalling and dangerous.” A Biden spokesperson, meanwhile, said: “Bigotry, hate, and antisemitism have absolutely no place in America — including at Mar-A-Lago.”

Read the story ?

But wait, there’s more: West, Fuentes and Milo Yiannopoulos, the far-right provocateur, appeared together Monday night on a podcast that was live streamed on YouTube, in which West doubled down, saying Jews control presidents: “Rahm Emanuel was next to Obama and Jared Kushner was right next to Trump.” West also compared himself to a Holocaust victim and argued that Jews want to lock him up.

 

Tim Pool, the podcast host, confronted West about his recent antisemitic comments for about 10 minutes, at which point West abruptly left the studio.

 

Plus:

FROM OUR OPINION SECTION

Lahav Shani conducts the Israel Philharmonic this month at Carnegie Hall. (Chris Lee)

Some orchestras banned Russian music — the Israeli Philharmonic embraced it: “At a time when there are calls to boycott both Russian and Israeli artists, a Jewish orchestra composed of both, joyfully performing Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev for a packed house, felt like an act of defiance,” our opinion editor, Laura E. Adkins, wrote after attending a Carnegie Hall performance. “Music has never been apolitical, but it certainly is one of the few things with which we can build the connections between people necessary to transform society for the better.” Read her essay ?

 

I’m a Jewish teenager and I wish Israel were in the World Cup: “I feel connected to Jews, whether I know them personally, or whether they are in movies, TV shows, or sports I watch,” writes Anya Geist, a Massachusetts 11th grader. “In Israel, that connection is multiplied a hundredfold. It is the place with people like me.” She’s settled on rooting for the United States, which is taking on Iran this afternoon. It doesn’t hurt that the team’s goalie is Jewish. Read her essay ?


My daughter survived a terror attack in Israel. We’re still not moving back to the U.S.: When Rabbi Uri Pilichowski made aliyah with his family in 2014, a neighbor said they’d never feel fully Israeli since they could always go back when things got tough. Pilichowski’s daughter, Naomi, was one of 22 people injured last week when a bomb was detonated at a Jerusalem bus stop. Her father said the incident has strengthened his resolve to remain in the holy land. “The future of the Jewish people is being built in Israel,” he writes, “and we want front row-seats to watch it unfold.” Read his essay ? 

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WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

(Yaakovi Doron)

 Leonard Cohen’s 1973 visit to perform on the frontlines of the Yom Kippur war, shown above, is being turned into a new limited TV series. The show is based on a book about the concerts that was published earlier this year and will be written by a co-creator of “Shtisel.” (JTA, Forward)

 

  Many Jews were disturbed by a survey published last week suggesting that American hiring managers are deeply antisemitic. But experts say the survey is not reliable. (Forward)

 

  A Tennessee county has told its commissioners to act “reflective of the Judeo-Christian values inherent in our nation’s founding,” which some critics say violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The clause bars the government from establishing a religion. (The Tennessean)

 

  Three Hispanic Major League Baseball players recently returned from a trip to Israel to promote Christian-Jewish relations. One is now organizing a charity game in the Dominican Republic, with some proceeds going to help renovate a synagogue in the Puerto Rican town of Susua, which was founded by refugees of Nazism. (JTA)

 

  A trove of documents and photos – including a deep dive into Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s religious commune – are on display in a new, online exhibit called “Mapping Jewish San Francisco.” This is the first time much of the material is available for public view. (J. The Jewish News of Northern California)

 

  Actress Michelle Williams, who plays the mother in Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical film “The Fabelmans,” says she plans on raising her kids Jewish. Williams was raised Christian and is married to a Jew. “It has always been something that I’ve gravitated towards,” she said, “something that felt immediately exciting and deep and very different from the tinsel and cheer.” (JTA

 

  A Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar is opening in New York City in December. On the drink menu: the Hebrew Hammer and the Latke Sour. And, yes, actual latkes will be among the snacks available. (Timeout)


What else we’re reading ?  Russia’s biggest talents seek freedom from Putin’s repression in Israel … Asian faiths try to save swastika symbol corrupted by Hitler … Israeli app sounds alarm before heart failure — just by analyzing your voice.

ON THE CALENDAR

Arab and Jewish delegates meet in 1948 to discuss a ceasefire to the violence after the U.N. resolution. (Getty)

On this day in history (1947): The United Nations General Assembly voted for its Partition Plan for Palestine, which recommended the withdrawal of British armed forces and the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states. It was followed by outbreaks of violence.

 

Last year on this day, our colleagues at the New York Jewish Week reported on a Jewish day school’s Thanksgiving parade that accidentally went viral on TikTok.

 

On the Hebrew calendar, it’s the fifth of Kislev, the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Shmuel Edels, a renowned commentator on the Talmud known as the Maharsha, who died in 1631.

 

Two weeks from tonight: Join our editor-in-chief, Jodi Rudoren, and Maggie Haberman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, for a lively conversation about former President Donald Trump, antisemitism and our current political moment. Register here ? 


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VIDEO OF THE DAY

 

What we’re watching ?  The charming CBS comedy “Ghosts,” about a woman who runs a B&B and can communicate with the spirits who still live in the house. One of those ghosts is Trevor Lefkowitz, a Wall Street finance bro with no pants (it’s a long story), who is always there for an “Oy Vey” and other Yiddishisms. “Having my identity and experiences being Jewish to pull on and play in this character is a joy,” said actor Asher Grodman. The sitcom is now in its second season, but you can catch up on Paramount+.

 

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Thanks to Jacob Kornbluh, Rina Shamilov and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at editorial@forward.com.

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In a break with tradition, NYC council members headed to Israel without their speaker

Tue, 2022-11-29 03:25

A dozen members of the New York City Council departed Monday on a five-day educational trip to Israel. But unlike previous trips sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the delegation is not led by the chamber’s speaker. That office, the second-most powerful government position in America’s largest city, is now held by Councilwoman Adrienne Adams. 

Prior heads of the City Council, going back to the body’s first speaker, Peter Vallone Sr., selected the members of the delegation and led the mission. Two members of the Council, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Adams declined to take part in the planning and wasn’t interested in leading the trip. That job has fallen to Councilmember Eric Dinowitz, chair of the New York City Jewish Caucus. Adams was elected after a hard-fought contest in January. (She is not related to Mayor Eric Adams.)

The annual JCRC trip was a contentious issue in the 2021 city elections. The Democratic Socialists of America then required candidates who sought their endorsement to pledge not to travel to Israel if elected. The DSA later clarified that it referred specifically to the annual JCRC trips. The City Council now has four members who are affiliated with the DSA and another dozen who came to electoral politics from progressive social movements.

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A Forward survey last year, in partnership with New York Jewish Agenda, showed that a majority of candidates pledged to continue the tradition of traveling to Israel and the occupied West Bank if elected and oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. 

The office of Speaker Adams did not reply to an inquiry about whether she did not participate in the trip because she was concerned about backlash from some progressive members of the council. But a council spokesperson said Adams determined it was “prudent” to remain in New York to focus on budget issues amid “multiple crises” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The official added that after the mayor issued an updated financial plan earlier this month to balance the 2023 budget passed in June, and the speaker wanted to ensure city government maintained adequate services for all communities across the city, “including our more than one million Jewish New Yorkers.”

Mayor Adams is traveling abroad this week — to Athens to attend a global gathering on combating antisemitism. 

The JCRC trips have a three-decade history with the City Council. Each year the group takes council members and other local politicians on an educational mission in which they meet with top officials as well as Jewish and Arab community leaders and journalists, and tour historical and strategic sites. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a pro-Israel progressive from New York and a former councilman from the South Bronx, said that his first trip to Israel in 2015, with the JCRC, helped him form his views of the Jewish state.

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This year’s delegation includes 12 members — about the number that usually sign up. Most have never been to Israel before. The 51-member chamber includes 32 first-term lawmakers. 

Gideon Taylor, JCRC’s chief executive, said the group seeks to “show Israel from all perspectives and hope for a deeper understanding of the complex situation in that region.” 

A City Council staffer who requested anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations said Adams’ style is simply different from her predecessors’ and that she often prefers to empower others, such as entrusting leadership of the Israel trip to the Jewish Caucus. 

The JCRC did not immediately provide a list of names of members on the trip. However, according to an initial list shared with the Forward, Dinowitz is the only member of the Jewish Caucus who is part of the trip.

Dinowitz wrote on Twitter as the group departed on Monday afternoon: “With NYC having the largest Jewish population in the world, outside of Israel, I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity to travel, learn and share experiences with each other.” 

The council spokesperson said Adams will hold a roundtable with the members on the trip when they return “and believes their representation — that includes members of her leadership team — allows the body to fulfill its multiple priorities.”

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Voting for democracy and a better life

Mon, 2022-11-28 21:26

In the leadup to the midterm elections, pundits predicted a red wave, even a tsunami, based on polls, historical precedent, and steep gas and grocery prices. But I had my doubts. I spent the weeks before the elections talking to voters and traveling on the AFT Votes bus, rolling through a dozen states with more than 50 stops. In a year when kitchen table issues, democracy and our freedoms were on the ballot, many people told me that the elections came down to a choice between, on the one side, election deniers and extremists stoking fear, and on the other, problem-solvers working to help the country move forward. Many races were close, but Americans turned the tide from a red wave to a swell of support for progress and problem-solvers. 

The same was true when it came to education. In a year when extremists sought to wage culture wars in our schools, rather than focus on the supports young people need to recover and thrive, election results showed a deep well of support for the promise and potential of public education and the investments parents want to help their kids. Voters in California, Massachusetts, New Mexico and even Florida passed ballot measures and funding boosts for public schools.

Young people in particular turned out in historic numbers to vote for their future. They supported candidates committed to combating the climate crisis, reducing gun violence, protecting reproductive and LGBTQIA+ rights, and fighting for shared prosperity and student debt relief. In Florida, 25-year-old Maxwell Alejandro Frost ran on these issues and became the first Generation Z member elected to Congress.

The battle for control of Congress consumed a hefty share of Americans’ attention. But gubernatorial races carried especially high stakes this year given candidates’ diverging stances on issues ranging from education to crime to abortion access to the integrity of future elections in those states. Democrats, with their support for public education, economic security and democracy, had their best midterms for governors since 1986. 

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made the largest investment in K-12 education in state history and closed the school funding gap. She expanded low- and no-cost child care for families. She helped create nearly 25,000 automotive jobs, championed reproductive freedom, and is delivering on her promise to “fix the damn roads,” with bonds for roads and funding to repair 100 bridges. Oh, and she evaded a kidnapping plot. Meanwhile, Whitmer’s opponent, Tudor Dixon, with endorsements from Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos and the National Rifle Association, ran on a platform of culture wars, school vouchers and opposition to abortion. Michigan voters responded by favoring a Democratic trifecta—the governorship  and the state House and Senate.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers, a longtime educator, made historic investments in Wisconsin’s long-underfunded public schools and increased funding for special education and higher education. He worked to lower the cost of prescription drugs for Wisconsinites. And he vetoed GOP bills to expand concealed-carry rights and championed efforts to repeal Wisconsin’s 1849 law criminalizing abortion. Evers’ opponent, Trump-endorsed Tim Michels, called increasing school funding the “definition of insanity” and opposed red flag gun laws and reproductive freedom. Evers won. 

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul made record investments in healthcare, education, infrastructure and the environment. She won $100 million to help schools deal with pandemic fallout, including mental health services. She signed nation-leading pro-choice legislation and funded community-based gun violence intervention programs. Her opponent, NRA- and Trump-endorsed Lee Zeldin, pledged to restrict how race is taught in schools and supported education vouchers. In Congress, Zeldin voted to defund Planned Parenthood and against the assault weapons ban. Hochul won. 

In Arizona, Katie Hobbs, a former social worker serving as Arizona’s secretary of state, focused on ensuring reproductive rights, preserving democracy, supporting public education (including more school counselors) and commonsense gun safety. Opponent Kari Lake, a Trump-endorsed election denier, favored school vouchers, opposed social and emotional learning, and rejected any restrictions on gun ownership. Hobbs won.

Voters made similar choices for governor in Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. 

And while extremists’ calling card this year has been to attack—whether it’s immigrants or transgender kids or teaching honest history—Congress is on the cusp of passing a bipartisan bill to respect and protect marriage, including interracial and same-sex marriage. 

Our country remains deeply divided, and the high cost of living is still a top concern. But Americans defied historical midterm expectations and overwhelmingly rejected extremism; they supported uniters and problem-solvers, and they voted to protect their freedoms and democracy. Many challenges remain, but Americans are united by a powerful bond: We all want a better life for ourselves and our families.

The post Voting for democracy and a better life appeared first on The Forward.

Leonard Cohen’s 1973 Yom Kippur War concerts to be dramatized in TV series by ‘Shtisel’ writer

Mon, 2022-11-28 21:10

(JTA) — Leonard Cohen’s momentous trip to the Sinai Desert to perform for Israeli soldiers in the wake of the Yom Kippur War is being turned into a dramatized TV series.

“Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai” will be written by Yehonatan Indursky, a co-creator of “Shtisel,” the landmark Israeli drama about an Orthodox family in Jerusalem, according to Variety, which reported the news on Monday.

The limited series, an adaptation of journalist Matti Friedman’s 2022 book of the same name, will film in Israel in 2024. It’s being co-produced by Keshet, the Israeli company that has also produced shows such as “Prisoners of War,” which was adapted for U.S. audiences as “Homeland.”

Cohen’s trip to the frontlines of the 1973 war became a turning point in the way the folk troubadour incorporated his Jewishness into his songs — for instance, his 1974 album “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” featured “Who By Fire,” a song inspired by the Yom Kippur “Unataneh Tokef” prayer. Despite being internationally famous, Cohen slept in an army sleeping bag, ate army rations and performed a series of concerts for on-edge soldiers, who decades later told Friedman that they were moved by his support.

“In October 1973 the poet and singer Leonard Cohen — 39 years old, famous, unhappy, and at a creative dead end — traveled to the Sinai desert and inserted himself into the chaos and blood of the Yom Kippur War,” the show’s press materials read. “Moving around the front with a guitar and a pick-up team of local musicians, Cohen dived headlong into a global crisis and met hundreds of fighting men and women at the worst moment of their lives. Cohen’s audience knew his songs might be the last thing they heard, and those who survived never forgot the experience.”

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

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‘Shocking’ survey about antisemitic hiring based on shaky data

Mon, 2022-11-28 20:45

Many Jews were disturbed by a recent survey that appeared to show roughly one-quarter of America hiring managers were deeply antisemitic.

“The results are shocking,” Aish Ha Torah, an Orthodox Jewish educational organization, said in an Instagram post that was widely shared.

But experts say the survey is not reliable. Commissioned by Resume Builder, which makes resume templates, the survey of managers and recruiters found that 26% were “less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants,” and held a variety of antisemitic beliefs about Jews.

In addition to social media chatter, the Anti-Defamation League called the survey “very shocking and troubling.” and it generated coverage in the Jerusalem Post, the British Jewish Chronicle and HR Drive, an industry publication. The results were released shortly before Thanksgiving, when celebrities like Kanye West and Kyrie Irving were making headlines for promoting antisemitic beliefs. Resume Builder said it was motivated to conduct the poll due to “current events,” and much of the coverage connected the findings to broader fears over discrimination against Jews.

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But two polling experts who analyzed the survey for the Forward said it was not reliable and was not backed up by any other research into biased hiring decisions.

“I don’t think we’ve seen anything about Jews facing that level of discrimination in decades,” said Matt Boxer, a professor at Brandeis University who specializes in researching trends in Jewish life.

Resume Builder acknowledged to the Forward that its poll did not accurately reflect the views of all hiring managers.

A skewed sample

Surveys like those conducted by organizations such as the Pew Research Center and respected political polling firms are designed to accurately reflect the population being studied. For example, if a poll is meant to measure the opinions of American adults but 70% of respondents end up being women, researchers will typically “weight” the survey so that it isn’t distorted by overemphasizing the views of one gender.

But the Resume Builder survey was based on the response of 1,131 individuals who volunteered to participate in a poll conducted by Pollfish, an online survey company, and said that they were either a recruiter or hiring manager. Julia Morrissey, Resume Builder’s spokeswoman, said the company did not take any steps to ensure the respondents matched the actual demographics of hiring managers. 

“We know that opt-in panels like this tend to be biased in all kinds of ways,” said Boxer, who teaches about research methods and statistics. “We need to see some sort of information to justify any conclusions that these hiring managers are a good enough representation of all hiring managers.”

‘Not scientific’

There are several reasons to be skeptical that the individuals who responded to the Resume Builder survey accurately reflect the views of all hiring managers in the United States. According to additional data provided to the Forward by Resume Builder, those who took the survey are younger, less educated and earn less money than most hiring managers and recruiters.

A Texas teachers job application for sits on a table during a job fair. A new survey appeared to show antisemitic hiring practices in the United States, but experts are skeptical of the data. Photo by Getty Images

Roughly half of those who participated in the poll earn less than $50,000 per year and do not have a college degree, while 23% said they were “self-employed.” They were also overwhelmingly young: More than 50% were under 35 years old.

But Zippia, a job search site that examined government data on recruitment managers, reports that those in the profession earn average salaries of more than $80,000, 86% have college degrees and only 28% are under 40 years old, and 98% worked for companies with more than 50 employees.

The racial demographics of Resume Builder’s sample also don’t align with Zippia’s data. While Resume Builder’s sample was 57% white, 21% Black and 4% Hispanic, Zippia found that 65% of hiring managers are white, 11% are Black and 15% are Hispanic.

“The survey is not scientific,” Morrissey, the Resume Builder spokeswoman, acknowledged in an email to the Forward.

In addition to Boxer, another professional pollster who examined Resume Builder’s data for the Forward, expressed significant concerns about the company’s sample and how it presented its findings, and asked to remain anonymous to avoid publicly criticizing other researchers.

The ADL said that while it found the survey results alarming, it had “not had the opportunity to examine the raw data.”

Resume Builder is a company that helps individuals create free resumes using an online tool. It periodically conducts surveys and distributes the results to the media. Recent topics have included “quiet quitting,” remote workers who hold multiple jobs and allegations of  discrimination by hiring managers against white men.

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I discovered a long lost relative who survived the Holocaust in Soviet gulags

Mon, 2022-11-28 20:43

The message was one word: “Relative?”

I stared at the Facebook message Asya Vaisman Schulman, a Yiddish scholar, had sent me. It was a biographical sketch of a Yiddish author by the name of Duvid Zakalik — the same name as me.

Duvid was born, like my great-grandfather, in the Polish shtetl of ?uków (“Likeveh” in the local Yiddish dialect). Using Yad Vashem testimonials from members of my family and from Duvid himself, I determined that his Zakaliks and mine are, in fact, branches of the same family tree originating from the Polish shtetl of Kotsk, though our exact relation is as yet unclear.

Duvid published eight Yiddish books over the course of his life, including two novels in Warsaw in the early 1930s. Then came the war, his own experience of which he didn’t write about for almost two decades.

Unlike his wife and daughter, and most of his family, Duvid escaped the German occupation and crossed the Bug River into Soviet territory, and he survived the war there. Duvid was one of several hundred thousand Polish Jews to do so. Yet his was the first such story I had ever come across, despite a strong Jewish education.

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There are many Jews like me who have relatives that survived the war by escaping to the USSR. But despite a recent resurgence in scholarly interest, those who survived under Stalin rather than Hitler are largely absent from mainstream literature, and even more so from English-language television and film. Scholars aren’t even sure what to call this population: Survivors-by-exile? Holocaust escapees?

Few English-language accounts by these Polish Jews have been published by mainstream publishing houses, despite a plethora of Yiddish-language testimonials and memoirs. Duvid himself recounted his wartime experiences in a trilogy of autobiographical novels published between 1963 and 1975, which I found digitized on the Yiddish Book Center’s website. Their Yiddish titles translate to: In a Storm, In a Strange Land and On the Road Back.

Critic Yisroel Emyot, reviewing the second book in the Yiddish Forverts in 1968, noted that there were already “many, many” such accounts written in Yiddish — so many that he didn’t need to list them. So how had I, half a century later, never read one in Yiddish or English?

Polish scholar Magdalena Ruta noted more recently that a large corpus of such accounts in Yiddish needs to be compiled, and that among literature of the gulag, of exile and of totalitarianism in general, Yiddish-language accounts “are still waiting to become part of that discussion.” These Jews’ cultural obscurity is all the more striking because they’re the largest group of Polish Jews to survive the war. Australian sociologist Jonathan Goldlust calls this phenomenon a case study in cultural amnesia.

There are many complex reasons for this silence. Scholars of the Holocaust describe a “hierarchy of suffering” in which the Holocaust naturally dwarfed the Soviet experience in cruelty, brutality, privation and horror. Even those who’d spent years in the gulag often felt a need to keep quiet. Historian Eliyana Adler notes that those who had accepted Soviet citizenship, or who’d had it forced upon them, were afraid this would prevent them immigrating to the U.S. Many Holocaust survivors had also been liberated by the Red Army and much of the world wasn’t ready to hear about the horrors of Soviet communism in the immediate post-war period.

Duvid Zakalik’s author photo for “In the Storm,” the first book in his wartime trilogy, 1963. Courtesy of David Zakalik

Still, the rarity with which such accounts have been translated out of Yiddish is astounding, despite a robust community of Yiddish literary translators working today. The overwhelming majority of Yiddish literature — an estimated 98% — remains untranslated. I hope soon to make Duvid’s trilogy available in English, as his story of survival, taking him across the USSR, is worth sharing with a wider audience.

Duvid fled Nazi-occupied Warsaw in November 1939 for the relative safety of Soviet-occupied eastern Poland, leaving behind his wife and daughter. The following spring, he and thousands of other Polish refugees were deported to the gulag or to forced labor settlements. He survived backbreaking labor and starvation in unimaginable cold. After being granted amnesty and Soviet citizenship following Hitler’s invasion in 1941, Duvid and thousands like him traveled across Central Asia looking for work and bread. He and other Polish Jews were repeatedly rejected from, then finally accepted into, the Polish Army. He reached liberated Lublin in 1944, where he found Christian Poles running shops confiscated from Jews. He recalls them crossing themselves at the sight of him. In Lublin he learned that of all his family, only a brother in Tel Aviv remained alive.

The themes explored in accounts like Duvid’s — the betrayal of refugees by a supposedly tolerant government, cultural erasure, forced labor and religious persecution, territorial annexation through sham elections — are sadly as salient today as ever. Yet historical memory is politically contentious, and it can feel like a zero-sum game. Though decades of self-silencing by Polish Jewish escapees still undoubtedly has a strong effect, contemporary politics may also have a role.

The history of communist repression, like the history of Nazi oppression, risks exploitation today by right-wing nationalist governments such as those of Hungary and Poland, who seek to whitewash their countries’ histories of antisemitism and collaboration with the Nazis. Accounts by more left-leaning authors such as Duvid, or his friend and companion Avrom Zak, might run this risk of being used as a vehicle to condemn socialist and liberal policies. Gulag memoirs by more left-leaning authors such as Duvid, or his friend and companion Avrom Zak, might run this risk as much as accounts by right-wing Jews like Menachem Begin or Julius Margolin.The Soviet regime’s crimes against Jewish refugees also complicate Russian national myths surrounding the Great Patriotic War — the Russian name for World War II — which makes stories like Duvid’s doubly politically volatile.

The obscurity of survivors-by-exile means that the largest group of Polish Jews to survive World War II is largely absent from mainstream understanding of Jews’ fate during the war. As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles with time, so will the number of survivors-by-exile and native Yiddish speakers. There is, then, a certain urgency in translating more accounts like Duvid’s out of Yiddish now, however fraught today’s politics may be in the background.

History and politics aside, Duvid’s writings are first and foremost a link to an entire branch of my family I never knew, a branch largely destroyed by the Nazis. Family, the most arbitrary and primal connection humans experience, transcends the political. It cuts across the loyalties increasingly demanded by ideology, class, party and tribe. It is the enemy of totalitarianism, and I am proud that my relative, Duvid, left a record of his struggle.

To contact the author, email editorial@forward.com

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Jewish Trump officials distance themselves from the former president after his dinner with white supremacist

Mon, 2022-11-28 20:06

A number of former Trump officials have joined the broad criticism of former President Donald Trump over his recent dinner with rapper Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, one of the country’s most prominent young white supremacists.

Elan Carr, former special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism, said in a tweet Monday that “no responsible American, and certainly no former president should be cavorting” with people like Fuentes and West. 

He echoed a similar call by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who urged his former boss “to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history.”

Friedman told the Forward on Monday that Trump called him right after he published the tweet on Friday, which he described as a matter of “conscience.” But Friedman declined to say whether he conveyed the same message in the phone call and what was Trump’s response. “The communication is between him and me,” Friedman said. 

Friedman and Carr are among 20 Jews who served in senior positions in the Trump administration. 

Trump has said he didn’t know about Fuentes’ background before the dinner, but has not disavowed his antisemitism or racism. West’s recent antisemitic tirades are no secret.

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Fuentes attended the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, where marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” and has promoted a wide range of antisemitic views and conspiracy theories on his podcast “America First.” He has denied the Holocaust and warned Jews to leave the country. West, who legally changed his name to Ye, has made antisemitic comments since 2013 and lost major sponsorships following recent anti-Jewish tirades.

Trump, who recently announced his bid for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, hasn’t posted anything on his social media platform, Truth Social, since early Monday morning 

“To placate antisemitism is to promote antisemitism,” Carr said about Trump’s silence. 

Elliott Abrams, a veteran Republican foreign-policy official who served two years as the Trump administration’s special representative on Iran and Venezuela, said a statement that Trump condemning antisemitism would be insufficient. “He has done that before, but it didn’t stop him from having dinner with one of the most despicable antisemites in America,” Abrams said. 

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During the 2016 presidential election, Trump was sluggish to distance himself from  former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who supported Trump and made derogatory comments about Jews who opposed him. 

Jason Greenblatt, a longtime Trump aide who served as Mideast peace envoy, recalled that he felt a responsibility to go to Trump and seek clarification after watching Trump refuse to disavow Duke in an interview with CNN anchor Jake Tapper. Eventually, Trump issued a statement that “antisemitism has no place in our society.” 

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According to a recent book by veteran reporter Maggie Haberman, following the controversy that ensued after Trump’s “both sides” response to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a longtime friend and advisor to the president, urged him “to take a different tone” in speaking about the events. “Don’t go there,” Trump replied angrily.

On Sunday, the Republican Jewish Coalition called on “all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with” West and Fuentes. The Zionist Organization of America, a right-wing group that honored Trump earlier this month, condemned him for “dining with Jew-haters” and helping “legitimize and mainstream antisemitism.”

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Len Khodorkovsky, former deputy assistant secretary of state, said it was wrong for Trump to meet with them, but he repeatedly refused to criticize the former president. “I can tell an antisemite when I hear one, and I tell you with confidence that President Trump is not an antisemite,” Khodorkovsky, who mentioned that he’s a grandson of Holocaust survivors, said in a heated exchange with CNN host Don Lemon Monday morning.

this exchange between @donlemon and @MessageFromLen

“Do you condemn the former president for meeting with antisemites, for entertaining antisemites and antisemitism? .. It's a very simple question,” Lemon asked repeatedly.

(Exchange went on for 10 minutes) pic.twitter.com/pwdfjmrOXv

— Jacob Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) November 28, 2022

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