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The secret Jewish history of ‘For All Mankind’

4 hours 6 min ago

The writers of “For All Mankind,” the Apple TV+ series about an alternative history of the space race, at one point in season 2 planned to have astronauts without space suits sprint on the lunar surface, holding their breaths for 15 seconds as they tried to prevent a nuclear explosion.

A Jewish former astronaut saved them from making that gaffe.

“Due to the pressure, a human would almost immediately explode,” said Garrett Reisman, the first Jewish full-time crew member on the International Space Station and now a technical advisor to the show.

He also advised that the astronauts, who lost their spacesuits in an attack on their spacecraft, should protect themselves during their moon run by covering themselves in duct tape. That suggestion made the final cut.

Recently renewed for a fourth season, “For All Mankind” pits the Russians against the Americans, but this time, the Russians make it to the moon first. Reisman, 54, who reads every script of the series before it’s shot, works closely with the show’s co-creator and showrunner, Ben Nedivi, 44, who was born in Tel Avi and whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. They each link their Jewishness to their obsessions with space.

In orbit, Reisman affixed a mezuzah to his sleeping station, and in 2008 spoke to the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, before meeting him on Earth.

Former astronaut Garrett Reisman, left, with former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Rona Ramon, right, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Roman, in 2009. Ramon died when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated in 2003. Image by

In the show’s first season, Wernher von Braun is played by Colm Feore as a beloved genius, the German scientist instrumental in getting the American spacecraft to the moon in 1969, but also as a man embroiled with his Nazi past — he was a member of the SS and the architect of Germany’s V-2 rocket program.

Nedivi said learning about von Braun’s complicity with Hitler astonished him. “The more we read, the more we were like, ‘Oh no, where the rockets were produced [was] very near a camp.’ So there’s no way he didn’t know.”

Revising history

Nedivi — and co-creators Ronald D. Moore and Matt Wolpert — also rewrite Middle Eastern history in the show.

Israel and Egypt, for example, do not make their historic 1979 peace deal — the show shows a newspaper headline on screen: “Israel and Egypt Fail to Reach Agreement at Camp David.”

If the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, and the space race intensified, that would have shifted attention away from earthly conflicts and “have a ripple effect on the Middle East,” Nedivi said.

Nedivi also notes how actual history, unfolding as the series unfolds, underlines the current conflict between Russia and the U.S. and its allies. In the “For All Mankind” universe, we see countries on the brink of nuclear war on Earth and in space.

But when the show was first conceived about four years ago, Nedivi worried the Cold War might not be relevant.

“It’s a reminder that history is a cycle,” he said, calling the realization both fascinating and depressing. “The moment you feel you’ve moved past something, it’s a reminder that these things can come back.”

Remembering Ramon Born in Tel Aviv, Ben Nedivi is a co-creator of “For All Mankind” a series on Apple TV+. Courtesy of Apple TV+

“For All Mankind” is full of tragedy.

“People talk about how there’s a lot of death on our show,” Nedivi said. “There’s a lot of death in the space program. It’s insanely dangerous. You’re sometimes inches from an environment that would kill you instantly.”

Reisman, now a professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California, said that’s accurate. He recalled his own three spacewalks, between 2008 and 2010, which he described as astoundingly beautiful. “At the same time, you’re cognizant that other than the launch and the landing, it’s the most dangerous thing,” he said. Suits can malfunction. Debris can kill.

Nedivi’s understanding of space was shaped by his experiences as an elementary school kid whose teachers set a television up in his classroom so students could witness the January 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Like millions of other children around the world, he watched it explode in real time, 73 seconds into flight, killing all seven crew members, including the first teacher in space.

“I remember being unable to process it,” he said. “That defined the space program. Suddenly, that tragedy took our eye off going deeper into space.”

Then, in February 2003, another Space Shuttle catastrophe, this time upon reentry. The Columbia disintegrated with its seven-member crew, which included the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon. Redivi took pride in Ramon’s mission, and was once again struck by risks of space exploration.

“It shook me and was a reminder of the danger these amazingly brave people go through,” he said.

Ramon also inspired Reisman, who has been in touch with the late astronaut’s family. Rona Ramon, his widow, gave him a copy of the Israeli constitution.

Related A cameo — and a message

Reisman said he’s particularly glad to be consulting for a space show that “cares about getting it right.” But he was not expecting that commitment to accuracy to include his own casting — as an astronaut.

Reading a script for season 2, which was nominated by the Television Critics Association in the “best drama” category, Reisman noticed a character named for him, which he took for a friendly but inconsequential tribute from the producers. Actually, it was a part. They asked him to play the commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Reisman practiced his one line of what he calls “technobabble” and nailed it all but once in the dozen cuts for his scene, he told the website collectSpace. But he makes no excuses for himself.

“I actually wrote the line,” he said.


Both Reisman and Nedivi noted the technical challenges of producing the series, and take pride in its rich visuals and soundtrack — but also in the storylines, in particular the challenges its characters face.

“For All Mankind” presents the first Black woman in space, whose authority is questioned, the first American female president, who holds a secret that could get her impeached, and a gay astronaut who announces his sexual identity on television, live from space, knowing it may cost him his job.

Nedivi said it was important for the series to embrace social change and equality. He said he hopes it inspires people who don’t look like astronauts or presidents as they have traditionally been depicted on television.

Perhaps, he said, “you realize what’s possible for you.”

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The Forverts is going on vacation. Here’s how to access our content during the break.

4 hours 23 min ago

From Wednesday, August 17, till Tuesday, February 23, the Forverts editorial staff will be taking a break.

During those two weeks our readers can continue to read our English-language articles here or view our videos by clicking on one of the following:

  • YIDDISH WORD OF THE DAY: If you‘d like to find a specific topic in the series, you can search all the links by topic here. Or you can simply watch our playlist of Yiddish Word of the Day here.
  • OUR COOKING SHOWS: Watch a variety of cooks make all sorts of recipes in Yiddish with English subtitles, including Rukhl Schaechter, Eve Jochnowitz, Riki Rose, Gitl Schaechter Viswanath and Roza Jaffe, here.

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The Forverts is going on vacation!

Mon, 2022-08-15 23:56

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A Jewish mom and a famous dad he never knew: Jazz musician Roy Ayers

Mon, 2022-08-15 22:01

Nabil Ayers carries the surname of a famous father he barely knows, except in the ubiquitous music of Roy Ayers – most famously in the 1976 jazz-soul-funk album by that name featuring the hit “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” For the younger Ayers, it pops up to surprise him when he least expects it.

Flashback to 1970, when Louise Braufman, a white Jewish former ballerina working as a waitress in New York took one look at the rising African American jazz composer and vibraphonist and thought she’d have a baby with him.

After a few casual dates, she asked Roy Ayers and he agreed, cautioning her that his career was his priority, and he wasn’t available for a serious relationship or any form of parenting.

Nabil Ayers was born of that union and grew up with a strong sense of self, despite his father’s absence. His new memoir, “My Life in the Sunshine: Searching for My Father and Discovering My Family,” explores his unconventional but richly diverse childhood, his own rise in the music industry and the search to connect with his father, which led to discovering paternal Black half-siblings and an enslaved ancestor.

Generations of Jewish ancestors

“Writing the book made me think about my identity and process it,” Ayers said. “I still don’t really identify as any race. There’s my mother who raised me and my father who was really just DNA, and there’s all the people who helped raise me. I felt like everybody contributed to my identity. How can I choose just one? And that absolutely includes the three generations of Jewish ancestors who are a huge part of that.”

The book title is from the opening lyrics of Ayers’ father’s signature hit, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” which was moderately successful when it came out in 1976. Recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City, the song has since become a cultural touchstone with a blend of soul, funk, jazz, rock and electronic music that blends genres with cross-generational appeal. 

And true to the name of the album featuring it, the song is everywhere. It’s been sampled more than 100 times by an array of artists from Mary J. Blige, Common and Tupac, to J. Cole, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams and the Black Eyed Peas, and covered by D’Angelo and Cibo Matto. It’s also been used in commercials and movie soundtracks. “I’ve heard it in many different iterations over the years, a perennial, persistent reminder of my otherwise absent father,” Ayers writes.

Thanks to his mother, Ayers didn’t grow up feeling the lack of his father’s presence. Her brother, jazz saxophonist Alan Braufman, was a strong, steadfast influence. “Every important paternal moment was with him,” he said.

Culture more than color

He grew up with a solid sense of self in diverse communities in Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Boston and Amherst, Massachusetts. When his mother attended the University of Massachusetts, they lived in family housing with families of different races, multi-ethnic and multi-racial kids and single parents. Culture was emphasized more than color, he said. 


Ayers’ Jewish identity came from family rather than religious institutions. During visits to his mother’s parents, who were Romanian and Russian Jews, and his grandmother’s father and his wife in Flatbush, Ayers enjoyed eating gefilte fish, learning Yiddish, and celebrating the holidays. (Interestingly, long before he met Braufman, a young Roy Ayers played with Herbie Mann, who hailed from similar ancestry.)

“I have incredible memories of all these Jewish Brooklyn experiences as a mixed-race hippie kid who felt very connected to it, not so much in a religious way but very much in a cultural way, really loving and respecting it. I felt very cool, and proud, like I belonged to something interesting as a kid.”


His mother and uncle were drawn to the Baha’i faith which emphasized peace and equality. “My exposure to Baha’i and Judaism was about good people and great food, things that kids like,” Ayers said.

When he was 10, his mother moved them to Salt Lake City, the mostly Mormon city where he stood out as different. While some kids asked where he was from, whether he was adopted, and wanted to touch his Afro, Ayers said his sense of identity was intact from having not been “the weird kid for the first 10 years of my life.” He recalls a synagogue and JCC in Salt Lake City and feeling a connection with some of the Jewish students in his school.

Musical ambitions

Ayers longed to play music from an early age. But as a biracial boy, he couldn’t fully identify with the appearances of white or Black stars like the Beatles and Stevie Wonder. Then, at age 5, he discovered the hard rock band Kiss. The heavy makeup they wore obscured their features, enabling him to imagine new possibilities. “I found something attainable in Kiss,” he writes. “I had no idea what they looked like in real life and for that reason, I felt there was nothing that stopped me from looking like them.” Learning that Kiss members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley “were two Jewish guys from New York, strengthened my sense of solidarity with them,” he said.

Music remained a constant throughline in his life, courtesy of his father’s genes, his mother’s dance background and his Uncle Alan’s encouragement. He attended many concerts as a young boy, sometimes seeing his father perform, which stoked his young ambitions. Ayers played drums in bands with friends from third grade through high school, expanding his musical repertoire and tastes along the way. 

As a rite of passage when graduating high school, Ayers’ mother suggested that he might want to change his surname from Braufman to something easier to spell and pronounce. He agreed, becoming Nabil Ayers as he prepared to attend college at the University of Pacific Sound in Tacoma, Washington. 

It wasn’t his first name change.

While his mother was in the hospital after giving birth, her father had the middle name Sol put on Nabil’s birth certificate. “Once my mother got home, she changed my middle name to Ahmal after an opera she saw,” Ayers said. “I could have been Nabil Sol Braufman my entire life.”

A career of his own

Music continued to shape his identity and career. As a drummer, Ayers performed in several bands including The Long Winters and Tommy Stinson. On his own record label, The Control Group/Valley of Search, Ayers has released music by Cate Le Bon, Lykke Li, The Killers, PJ Harvey, Patricia Brennan, and his uncle, jazz musician Alan Braufman. He co-founded Seattle’s famed indie rock Sonic Boom Records store, which was sold in 2016. Today, he is the president of Beggars Group US, where he oversees the creative, marketing, radio, sales and other components of releasing albums for The National, Big Thief, Grimes, Future Islands and St. Vincent, as well as the reissue of albums including the Pixies’ “Doolittle,” which was certified platinum in 2019.

As an adult, Ayers finally connected with his father and learned the names of three half-siblings. Through contact with them and DNA testing, he became aware of more ancestors on his father’s side, including a great-great-great grandfather, Isaac Ayers, who was born into slavery and owned by a man named Dr. Ayers of Ashland, Mississippi.

As the missing parts of his paternal identity became clearer, Ayers found that being biracial impacted his attempts at dating. Online dating site apps required him to specify the kind of women he wanted to meet. “You can choose races that you like or don’t like, which I had a hard time with,” he said. Friends introduced him to women, most of whom were white. “I quickly found that dating was bringing issues of race to the forefront in my life, in a way few other moments had,” he writes.

A Jewish wedding

While attending a colleague’s wedding, Ayers met a woman named AJ. “I thought maybe she was kind of Italian,” he said. He introduced himself and they began dating. He overheard her talking to a relative on the phone who asked if Nabil was Jewish. She responded that he wasn’t. When he later explained his Jewish background, she shared hers, deepening their bond.

They were married in Hollywood four years ago in a Jewish wedding with a female rabbi. AJ’s parents walked her down the aisle to violin music from “Fiddler on the Roof,” while Ayer’s mother and her husband Jim walked him down the aisle to “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”

“We did everything: chuppah, I stomped on a glass, and we were lifted in chairs to ‘Hava Nagila,’” he said. “It felt very powerful, very connected.”

Ayers and AJ meet with family for many holidays. Lighting their menorah reminds him of his great-grandparents. “It’s tradition – doing something that has the same food, the same prayers, reminds me of a time in my life 40 or 50 years ago,” he said.

While writing hasn’t replaced music in Ayers’ life, writing about race and music for The New York Times, NPR, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and GQ “is my new artistic thing.” As he tours with his memoir – which has received praise from Oprah and Black Jewish actor Daveed Diggs – he continues to expand his sense of self and family on both sides. “I’ve had so many great influences and parts of my life and my Jewish ancestors have been a huge, important, memorable part of that,” he said.

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AIPAC broke spending records this campaign cycle — so why did it stay out of Ilhan Omar’s tight race?

Mon, 2022-08-15 21:57

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The theory has preoccupied antisemites and pro-Israel strategists alike: If an anti-Israel political candidate loses, it’s because of pro-Israel money.

That theory came close to being disproved last week when Rep. Ilhan Omar, perhaps the most prominent Israel-critical member of Congress, nearly lost her reelection bid two years after cruising to victory — but pro-Israel donors didn’t play a role. It faces another test next week in a New York primary where a member of the Israel-critical “Squad” of progressives who was narrowly elected two years ago, Jamaal Bowman, is defending his incumbency — and where pro-Israel donors again have so far steered clear.

The lack of spending is especially noticeable in a year when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has made national headlines for lavishing for the first time in its history tens of millions of dollars on congressional races.

AIPAC officials haven’t said whether they considered entering the Omar race or what they plan to do in Bowman’s. And it’s possible that outsized spending by pro-Israel groups would have benefited Omar, not hurt her: After all, her margin of victory was far wider in 2020, when Israel donors spent big to oppose her — and possibly increased turnout by Omar’s supporters as a result.

Still, the dynamics this year are notable for challenging a number of assumptions about the role of money in politics.

One is the incumbent rule, a longstanding orthodoxy of pro-Israel giving, which posits that sitting lawmakers are too firmly entrenched to merit the expense. Even as AIPAC’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, doled out $25 million on behalf of candidates in other races, making it the biggest spender of any nonpartisan PAC, AIPAC’s other PAC and their allies all bypassed Omar’s race, in part because they have forsworn taking on incumbents.

Don Samuels, whom Omar barely defeated, told Jewish Insider that AIPAC’s adherence to the rule was too inflexible. AIPAC should have understood “that there are different kinds of candidates, and that my potential for beating Ilhan was very high,” he said.

The other assumption being tested is the power of pro-Israel political giving. Omar’s struggle to pull out a win undercuts arguments that the main thing keeping Israel-critical politicians from winning elections is pro-Israel money.

Minnesotans had known for weeks that Omar was vulnerable, say insiders in the state; she brought in heavy hitters to campaign for her, including other members of the Squad, the headline-grabbing grouping of progressives she belongs to, belying her claims that she would easily skate in. Sources close to Samuels said his campaign was puzzled that pro-Israel groups were not taking a greater interest.

Jacob Frey, Minneapolis’ Jewish mayor, said in a postmortem that Omar’s siding with those who would reallocate funds from the police in a city suffering rising crime made her ripe for the picking. “This is the person that literally called out for and said to defund the police,” Frey told Fox 9, a local TV news outlet. (Frey backed Samuels, and they shared campaign staff.)

Frey also faulted Omar for being overly combative. “It’s not just about sending out vitriolic tweets and being mean-spirited, it’s about working with people,” he said.

The Minnesota squeaker also comes hard on the heels of Michigan’s primaries, when AIPAC spent millions to defeat Democratic Rep. Andy Levin, a Jewish self-described Zionist who is nonetheless critical of Israel. (The race was a rare instance of AIPAC opposing an incumbent, but this was because of redistricting: AIPAC backed another incumbent, Haley Stevens.) In one week, AIPAC’s opponents were handed a tidy critique of the group’s approach: AIPAC spent millions of dollars to defeat Jewish royalty, but not a dime to unseat Omar.

In a rare interview, AIPAC’s CEO, Howard Kohr, told The Washington Post that Levin’s Jewishness was not germane. “As we commonly say around here, not everyone who is pro-Israel is Jewish,” Kohr said. “It’s also the case that not everyone who is Jewish is pro-Israel. That has nothing to do with religion, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, etc. It has to do with an orientation. If you wake up every morning finding ways to consistently criticize only Israel, that sends a message.”

But what may be most noteworthy about the Omar primary election and its fallout is how new it is not: Dig a little into the poor performance of most any Israel-critical candidate, and one finds a lot more going on than Middle East policy.

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, AIPAC ran on the reputation that it had ousted Israel’s two most outspoken critics in Congress, Illinois Republicans Rep. Paul Findley in 1982 and Sen. Charles Percy in 1984. Findley wrote a book about it, “They Dare to Speak Out,” depicting the pro-Israel lobby as a gorgon that none but the brave would take on.

AIPAC insiders at the time were happy with the reputation but privately admitted that both lawmakers did more to defeat themselves than any opponent, including the pro-Israel lobby.

Findley, defeated by Dick Durbin, was a Republican moderate who was no longer able to stir the increasingly conservative passions of the GOP base, which affected voter turnout. Reviewing “They Dare to Speak Out” when it came out in 1985, The New York Times called the book “the typical reaction of a Congressman who is offended at being challenged seriously for ‘his’ seat, especially if the upstart should go so far as to beat him.” Percy, preoccupied with foreign policy, was seen as neglecting Illiinois’ bread-and-butter issues, which contributed to Paul Simon’s win.

Perhaps the most apt analog to Omar’s tight race is the 2006 election that removed from Congress one of Israel’s most trenchant critics in that decade, Georgia Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

McKinney, first elected in 1992, had been ousted in 2002. Pro-Israel donors had played a role in that race, and her father, a state lawmaker, blamed her loss on “J-E-W-S,” which stirred concerns in the pro-Israel community that they had played too prominent a role and were providing antisemites with a target.

McKinney retook her seat in 2004, and pro-Israel donors stayed out of the race in 2006, at first, for a number of reasons: McKinney, having bounced back, now seemed unbeatable. Also, the perception advanced by McKinney, her father and others that Jews were targeting a Black congresswoman inhibited involvement.

That changed when one of several opponents in the primary, Hank Johnson, performed exceptionally well, and he and McKinney went to a runoff. Pro-Israel donors leaped in at that point and helped Johnson win. McKinney has not returned to Congress since.

There are differences between 2006 and last week: For one thing, Omar won, even if it was close. Plus, Georgia’s runoff system, which allowed the pro-Israel community to step in on Johnson’s behalf at the last minute, does not exist in Minnesota.

Like Omar, McKinney was a lightning rod who made as many enemies as friends, although McKinney stands out for the depth of her commitment to marginal ideas and confrontational actions. She once punched a Capitol police officer and entertained inside-job conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks. By 2006, her constituents had many reasons to want her gone from Congress.

Like the pro-Israel donors who were spooked by McKinney’s 2004 win, pro-Israel donors were wary of another confrontation with Omar, who won by a large margin in the 2020 primaries, despite big pro-Israel money. Pro-Israel insiders have said donors did not want to be once again exposed to the humiliation of a defeat, and at the hands of one of Israel’s most prominent critics.

That creates a paradox: Shout out loud that you’re critical of Israel, and AIPAC might be more reluctant to come for you. The AIPAC PACs, including the United Democracy Project super PAC, have not targeted prominent Israel critics. Instead, they have focused on politicians who have barely registered on the Israel issue, such as Summer Lee in the Pittsburgh area (who won, narrowly) and Jessica Cisneros in south Texas (who barely lost).

Another Squad member, New York’s Jamaal Bowman, may face a tough race in an Aug. 23 primary. Redistricting has cut the number of Black and low-income residents in his 16th District and added a substantial Jewish population center in White Plains, potentially making it more of a challenge for Bowman. He faces two moderate Democrats, one of whom, Vedat Gashi, has earned the endorsements of two of Congress’ more prominent former pro-Israel Jewish Democrats: Eliot Engel, who Bowman ousted two years ago, and Nita Lowey, who retired in 2020.

So are the AIPAC PACs reconsidering the incumbent rule? If so, it would present a dilemma: Ilhan Omar, version 2020, or version 2022: Jump in and risk the humiliation of Bowman soundly defeating the AIPAC endorsee, and of drawing national attention to one of Israel’s sharpest critics; or stay out, and risk being seen as overly cautious if Bowman barely squeaks in.

AIPAC’s spokesman Marshall Wittman adopted a wait-and-see posture. “We will continue to review races and opportunities throughout the remainder of the cycle,” he said.

This article originally appeared on

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Why conspiracy theorists keep turning to Jewish mysticism — from early Nazis to modern-day MAGA

Mon, 2022-08-15 19:09

Are Trump’s most rabid supporters getting into Jewish mysticism

If a new viral clip from “The Daily Show” is any indication, the answer appears to be yes. 

In the clip, a woman in a flower crown at a MAGA rally in Wisconsin tells “Daily Show” correspondent Jordan Klepper that she is learning gematria — or “jematria,” as she pronounces it — to decode the world around her.

Gematria, as it’s traditionally understood, is a form of mystic numerology most often used in Kabbalah. Each letter in a word is assigned a number; to understand the mystic connotations behind a word, those numbers are added together. The resulting sums are used to interpret the deeper meanings in words, phrases or texts. 

For example, parallels might be drawn between words or phrases that add up to the same sums, or certain numbers might be considered lucky — such as the number 18, which is the gematria value of “chai,” the Hebrew word for life.

How does gematria work, per Klepper’s subject? The basics are the same — kind of. As the woman explains, Trump’s numerological value is 88 as is “J. Kennedy.” Klepper asks if that means that JFK and Trump are the same person. “I don’t know,” the woman replies, with a sly smile. “That’s what the gematria says.” (Mind you, this parallel only works for the exact spellings “Trump” and “J. Kennedy” — a bit of a stretch.)


At Klepper’s urging, she types a few more phrases into her mystical all-seeing gematria calculator phone app. The phrase “America is in a bad place,” she finds, yields the same gematria value as “Let’s go Brandon,” a now-famous coded catchphrase used to decry President Joe Biden. She grins triumphantly. “Do you have goosebumps yet?” she asks. Klepper looks incredulous: Clearly, for his subject, there’s only one possible meaning to the numbers, but it’s not at all obvious to him.

Michael Jackson is still alive and Osama Bin Laden's real name is "Tim." Get a load of Gematria. @jordanklepper

— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) August 11, 2022

When I tried to recreate the woman’s numbers, I discovered that the traditional Hebrew gematria system did not give the same results as the unnamed app. One clear reason why: Her calculator was using English, not Hebrew — already a mistake — and, in her second example, the number of ways to translate “Let’s go Brandon” into Hebrew is so various that assigning it any single numerical value is, well, kind of impossible. Plus, there are several systems used to assign values in Hebrew gematria, only one of the reasons that it’s generally a mistake to trust the interpretations of casual adherents. 

A gematria calculator site I found that did give the same numbers reported in the video called its system “simple gematria,” assigning values to each letter of the English alphabet based on its order — one for A, two for B, and so on.

It was one of many gematria systems that the calculator site offered, also including “Jewish Gematria” — which it still, somehow, explained in English letters. 

Numerology or arithmancy is not a uniquely Jewish concept. Cultures throughout history have ascribed numbers to words or letters and used mathematics to attempt to divine the future or understand the present. But I’ve never before heard the term “gematria” used to refer to a non-Jewish numerological system.

Yet it turns out that of the wealth of gematria sites in the wide world of the internet, few pay much, if any, attention to Judaism, Hebrew or Kabbalah. Some even claim, bafflingly, that gematria isn’t specifically Jewish. 

It shouldn’t necessarily be surprising that there’s a broad set of spiritualists, mystics and conspiracy theorists deeply into gematria who have no interest in, or knowledge of, its roots. Many far right groups, such as QAnon, have adopted or appropriated a mishmash of shamanic, New Age and mystic practices to further confirm their belief in various conspiracy theories — be they that Michael Jackson is alive, as the woman in the video clip also claims, or that Trump is a so-called “lightworker.” 

These types of mystic practices are attractive to conspiracy theorists because they are unfamiliar enough to feel mysterious, exotic and ancient — and therefore spiritually authoritative. Just like a conspiracy theory, they give the sense of being in touch with a powerful but secret world few are aware of. 

Researcher Charlotte Ward dubbed the phenomenon “conspirituality” in a paper published in 2011, but it’s nothing new. Even Hitler was briefly into pagan mysticism, and other Nazi leaders such as Himmler were practitioners of Western occultism.

When traditions and ideas are absorbed piecemeal, it’s easy to divorce them from their roots, and even incorporate a practice into an ideology that is prejudiced against the source of that mystic tradition. That’s how you find a woman at a MAGA rally — where it’s safe to assume that some attendees might believe antisemitic conspiracies about, say, secret cabals ruled by George Soros — deeply entrenched in gematria. Or how you find Kabbalah in the roots of the Germanic Volk movement that preceded, and helped birth, Nazism. 

The real appeal of these co-opted mystic practices is that, misused in the right way, they reinforce whatever beliefs someone is looking to confirm. There are hundreds of ways to calculate and recalculate any word or phrase, or draw parallels through doubling or halving values to relate words. 

After all, according to one gematria calculator, the word “gematria” has the same value as “foolish” — but also “messiah.” And “horse.” It’s totally obvious what that means.


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The secret Jewish history of Napoleon Bonaparte

Mon, 2022-08-15 16:30

The French historian Patrice Gueniffey, born in 1955, is director of the Raymond Aron Center for Political Research at Paris’s l’Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (school of advanced studies in the social sciences). His “Bonaparte: 1769-1802,” originally published by Gallimard in 2013, has recently been published in translation by Harvard University Press. The Forward’s Benjamin Ivry spoke with Gueniffey about the thorny subject of Napoleon and the Jews.

Benjamin Ivry: Napoleon was complex, to put it mildly, and his political and historical context even more so. Can it be said categorically whether he was good or bad for the Jews?

Patrice Gueniffey: He was, I think, ultimately rather good [for the Jews], because his policies for the Jewish community in France and the Empire promoted their assimilation into the French nation. The French revolution liberated the Jews but did not assimilate them. Napoleon took up the case again and decided to do for the Jews what he had done for other religions. The French Jewish community became Europe’s most assimilated during the 19th century.

In his “History of the 19th Century,” Jules Michelet writes of a “witty Englishman, Mr. Disraeli, who wished to make people believe that Napoleon was of Jewish origin.” What do you say?

There have been many myths and interpretations on the family origins of Napoleon. At Bonifacio at the extreme south of [his native] island of Corsica, there was a strongly established Jewish community, with many Italians but also Greeks. [François- René de Chateaubriand, who detested Napoleon, said he had African blood. Michelet, who detested him, said he had Jewish blood. We cannot know. [Napoleon’s] family came from Tuscany. Did he have Jewish blood? Who can tell? It’s possible, but his relationships with religions and peoples were always political in nature. When he dealt with Christians, Muslims and others, only political considerations mattered, not religious ones.

Many Jews of the time believed that Napoleon was their benefactor. Primo Levi has pointed out that in Italy, some Jews named their sons Napoleone in his honor, and in Germany, when Jews adopted family names, some chose Schöntheil, or Bonaparte in German. In France, Jews wrote Hebrew prayers to praise Napoleon during services and called him “Helek Tov” in Hebrew or “good portion” (bona-parte), as Ronald Schechter discussed in “Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815.” As he abolished ghettos and granted civil rights to Jews, convening a council, which he termed with biblical grandeur the Sanhedrin, Napoleon was admired by Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav and Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Rymanov. Were they all wrong?

Not at all. Readers of Martin Buber’s “For the Sake of Heaven” (1943) will recall how Buber describes Napoleonic legends in which some Hasidic rabbis saw in Napoleon an instrument of salvation, while others disagreed. At the time, there was still violent hostility against Jews in Italy and in Alsace. Bonaparte’s policy organizing all religions under the control and surveillance of the government was implemented against strong reticence among his own allies as well as the Catholic Church. In this context, Napoleon was at the forefront. He wasn’t far from [the French Roman Catholic priest] Abbé Grégoire, who also argued for the emancipation of the Jews.

In 1799, Napoleon’s supposed call for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East is discounted by most historians today. Why would such a fictional report have appeared in journals of his time?

In Paris, when it was discovered that Bonaparte had marched on Palestine, this rumor arose and articles appeared in newspapers. This was something like the ideas of the revolution, to emancipate sister nations. Bonaparte entered Palestine with a small army of 12,000 men with policies identical to those he had with Islamic nations, to watch over and protect them. In Paris there was a current of opinion seeking to emancipate Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, and this kind of rumor was meant to encourage Napoleon in his policies.

In a 1940 essay “The Great Beast: Some Reflections on the Origins of Hitlerism” Simone Weil compares Napoleon to Hitler as an authoritarian leader who terrorized the world. Was Napoleon Hitlerian?

Absolutely not. There was in Napoleon a side of monstrousness and madness. He never knew when to stop, which led to his downfall. There are analogies to be made, to be sure, between Napoleon and Hitler; they were both conquerors of Europe. Yet Napoleon still remains an heir to the age of light. And he believed in freedom as the basis for modern society. He is the son of a country based on centralization and governmental power, France, but in which the government, the monarchy, emancipated society from feudalism and church authority. So the [French] government was always a factor in freedom, against the nobility. Napoleon inherited all this tradition. Even though his story was unreasonable and a bit insane, it had reason behind it.

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Since Napoleon was always seeking new recruits to fight for him, would he have heard about the Polish Jewish soldiers Berek Joselewicz and Joseph Aronowicz who fought for the military leader Tadeusz Ko?ciuszko?

I think yes, and for him it was natural that as a result of their emancipation, the French Jewish community would then serve in his army. In his speeches he insisted a great deal on that. Service to the fatherland meant service in the army. Bonaparte had no prejudices; Egyptians, Sudanese, Jews from Alexandria were all integrated into the Imperial Guard. He also had no affection for anyone. He was neither anti-Semite nor pro-Semite; he felt neither hostility nor sympathy.

Yet the historian Richard Ayoun has stated that Napoleon “despised the Jews,” and merely used them for his own projects. Ayoun cites remarks made by Napoleon in 1817 during his exile in Saint Helena to General Gourgaud: “The Jews are a nasty people, cowardly and cruel.” Or when Napoleon wrote to his brother in 1808, calling Jews the “most contemptible of people.”

That must be put into context, especially any statement from Saint Helena. There Napoleon is also quoted as making the same type of comments about the Spanish. Like any person who speaks a lot and dictates a lot, many different kinds of things can be found in what he says. There is a difference between Napoleon’s private comments and public acts. To do good for a community, it is not necessary to love them. The vital thing for a national leader is to realize what is needed at the moment and pursue a policy. Whatever Napoleon’s feelings at the moment might have been, he did so. Take the example of the blacks. He used former slaves in his Imperial Guard. Yet when he heard that his sister had a love affair with the brother of [the author of African origin] Alexandre Dumas, he was furious that his sister had slept with a black man. But politics and national interest are another matter and Napoleon must be judged on this more than on his private comments. He was one of the European heads of state who based his policies on the idea of national interest, putting aside personal considerations.

The French historian Pierre Birnbaum also sees Napoleon’s anti-Semitism, when he likened Jews to “crows” and “locusts ravaging France,” as a “deeply regressive turning point.”

The political language of the time was much more brutal. Today political speech is reduced to euphemisms that do not name things as they are. I have difficulty understanding these judgments of Napoleon which are so far from the political reality of things. The Grand Sanhedrin of 1807 convoked by Napoleon was about the will of the Ashkenazi Jews to integrate, to ask them to which point they were ready to assimilate into the national community in exchange for full rights of citizenship. To not be victims of discrimination, they were asked to renounce part of their customs. In 1789, Sephardic Jews, as French Jewish historian Robert Badinter has explained, had opposed emancipating France’s Ashkenazi Jews because they were too different and would not accept mixed marriages.

In 1808, Napoleon’s so-called Infamous Decree limiting the residency of Jews in France, taking away freedoms, and harming them economically, was done to appease Tsar Alexander I of Russia as a temporary measure.

This was a provisional decree for which there were diplomatic motives, because Russia was hostile to French policies toward Jews. Political success depends on momentary concessions to opponents of any policy and Napoleon did similar things elsewhere.

In 1827, Jean-Baptiste Pérès published a spoof claiming that Napoleon never existed. If indeed Napoleon had never existed, would the assimilation of Jews into Europe have occurred without him?

I think for France, yes, because it was in the spirit of the times. Integration and assimilation were demanded for a long time; the idea of civilization demanded them. In 1787, Protestants were reintegrated in France, and Louis XVI asked the political scientist the Marquis de Condorcet to work on emancipating the Jews. Napoleon continued what the monarchy had begun. Without Napoleon, it would have happened in a less authoritarian way, with everything happening fast, without any discussion, but the idea was part of 18th-century civilization. The Revolution overthrew the Church and removed the Church’s political means to oppose it. Napoleon had no powerful opposition to this movement.

Should readers of the Forward share the view of the author François-René de Chateaubriand, who admired Napoleon’s “genius” but loathed his “despotism”?

Yes, today, of course. Of course. With Napoleon, there is something worse than despotism, there is a feeling that one can do anything with reality, one can change everything, and with him that was doubtless the most dangerous. He really thought anything was possible; he had an absence of limits in his mind. At the same time, there was a principle of endless adventure, which could only end in catastrophe. A totally positive judgment about Napoleon is absurd and a totally negative view, as some historians have today, is equally absurd.

The post The secret Jewish history of Napoleon Bonaparte appeared first on The Forward.

Sanctifying the stutter: How I embraced my speech disorder as a Jewish cantor

Mon, 2022-08-15 16:16

I’m a person who stutters. I’m also a cantor in the Conservative movement. My Jewish and stuttering identities feel increasingly intertwined, as both are related to the experience of time.

As a person who stutters, nothing is more liberating to me than the sensation of having time while talking. This sense of time can be inhibited by a fear of dismissal, and doubt of acceptance and efficacy. Even the common experience of someone asking if I “forgot my name” when introducing myself can subtly inhibit my confidence. When I’m not afraid, I know I have time to express myself, regardless of blocks, repetitions and other disfluencies. I can share my authentic self with the world.

As a Jew, nothing is more central or pressing for me than time. We deliberately sanctify time with Shabbat every week, creating space for self-reflection, connection and joy. In his famous book “The Sabbath,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that Shabbat is “not an interlude, but the climax of living.”

Like many people who stutter, I don’t stutter when I sing. However, I stutter when I teach, when I announce a page number at a Shabbat service, when I give a eulogy at a funeral and when I tell preschoolers about dinosaurs that love to eat challah.

For most of my life, I tried to hide stuttering as much as possible, an experience of constant anxiety, shame, frustration and exhaustion. As a chubby kid who stuttered, raised in a very observant, Orthodox household in Columbus, Ohio, I was desperate to fit in. If I was capable of hiding stuttering, even a little bit, I would. For me, hiding a stutter often meant simply not talking, even when I desperately wanted to. I also avoided stuttering by constantly changing words and phrases as I spoke, usually approximating what I originally intended to say, but not always expressing the complete intent of what I wanted to.

A sea change occurred when I listened to the StutterTalk podcast for the first time in 2019. I taught voice lessons in college to a person who stuttered, and he had posted about the podcast on Facebook the previous day. I was driving to officiate at a funeral, and I was a little anxious: I hadn’t slept well the night before, and disfluency increases with fatigue. It’s deeply important to me that the deceased receives all of the honor and attention at a funeral. If I stutter too much, I worry that people will focus too much on me, and I will take time away from the funeral.

I pressed play as I was stuck in traffic, trying to cross the Throgs Neck Bridge. The host stuttered as she introduced the episode. She stuttered over and over again, but she stuttered like it was the most normal, natural thing in the world. She described the beauty and courage of living openly with a stutter and encouraged her teenage guest to do the same. I started to weep as I inched across the bridge in my car. I couldn’t stop, and I didn’t want to stop.

Initially, the idea of living openly with a stutter was terrifying. Camouflaging stuttering keeps at bay an overflowing river of emotional baggage, and I was afraid to let it out. When I hid stuttering during interpersonal conversations or during public speaking, I was also trying to hide questions and feelings like:

Does the other person think I’m stupid? Are they bored? Do they think I’m incompetent? Do they think I belong here? Will I ever be able to truly get out what I mean? When will this block end? Will they make fun of me?  Will someone wonder why the cantor with a stutter is officiating at their loved one’s funeral? Can anyone see that I’m thinking all of these things? I’m just so embarrassed and ashamed.

In the moment of a block, these giant emotions of shame and unworthiness can come rushing through.


In a conversation with Oprah Winfrey on SuperSoul Sunday, Brene Brown argues that the antidote to shame is empathy. By talking about shame with a friend who expresses empathy, the painful feeling cannot survive. Brown continues that “shame depends on me buying into the belief that I’m alone.”

Fortunately, I had friends and communities around me who were ready to listen with empathy. I began to attend monthly chapter meetings of the National Stuttering Association. I talked about it endlessly with my therapist. I tentatively began conversations with the rabbi and congregants of my previous congregation. Would it be OK if I began stuttering more openly? If I stuttered openly on the bimah? In pastoral situations? If I just stuttered more in general? Everyone was proud, supportive, and wanted me to be myself.

Slowly, I’ve become more and more comfortable saying exactly what I want to say when I want to say it. In pastoral situations, I’m more able to be present and to care for my congregants and their loved ones because I’m less worried about my stutter. When I looked for a new job several years ago, the prospect of talking in front of interview committees was scary. Ultimately, acknowledging and owning my stutter for all of these communities only helped to make a connection with them. The congregation I picked, Sutton Place Synagogue, has encouraged me to teach and talk as much as possible.

I attended my first National Stuttering Convention in July. Eight hundred stutterers, plus their friends and loved ones, gathered at a hotel for four days to connect with each other, learn about and celebrate stuttering — a concept that would have been foreign to my ashamed childhood self.

I experienced a luxurious feeling of time. I could stutter and block with frequency and length that felt natural. The pressure of speaking like a fluent person fell away, and I could be completely myself. I felt the power of a community that understood me in a way that no one else could. We ate together and learned together. We took over a shellshocked karaoke bar one evening and sang our hearts out. We had deep conversations. We experienced the blessing of each others’ company and the peace of knowing that each other existed.

In Judaism, we sanctify time through the observance of the Sabbath. At the stuttering conference, we sanctified the time of a stutter, that disruption of fluency that might be nearly imperceptible or last ten seconds. We affirmed for each other, over and over again, that stuttering was not only OK but beautiful. We transformed a painful, shameful and traumatic experience into a holy one.

For me, the conference was a Shabbat because as a community, we were truly present to each other. The truth is, we all need this experience of communal holiness, both people who stutter and people who are fluent.

Our first step might be to try to truly listen to each other with presence, patience and generosity, giving each other the holy gift of our time. We all need to connect with our friends and families, to listen and to be listened to, so that we can affirm ourselves in the face of our insecurities.

We all need to feel like we have the time to be ourselves.

To contact the author, email

The post Sanctifying the stutter: How I embraced my speech disorder as a Jewish cantor appeared first on The Forward.

Alina Polonskaya – a researcher of I. L. Peretz’s enigmas

Mon, 2022-08-15 14:55

??? ???????? ??????? ??????????? ???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ???? ?????? ?????? ?? ???? ???? ????? ?????. ????, ????? ???????? ????????? ?? ???? ????? ???? ?????? „???????? ?????? ????? ?????? ??? ?????????; ???? ????????? ????? ??? ???????? ?????? ???? ?? ????????. ??????? ????????????????, ?? ?????????????? ?????? ?????????????????????, ????????? ??? ??? ??? ?????????????? ????? ???? ?????, ???? ?? ??????????, ??? ????? ?? ??????? ????????????? ??? ?????????? ???? ???????? ???? ???? ??????? ?? ??????? ???????.

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

??? 2002 – 2003 ???? ?? ????? ????????? ?????????????????????? ???????????? ??? ????????????????????? ????? ??? ??????? ???? ??? ?????? ???????? ????? ??? ?? ????? ?????? ????????????? ????????? ??????? ?? ????????. ???????, ??? 2003 – 2005, ???? ?? ??????? ?? ??????? ?????????? ????? ????????? ??????? ????????????? ??? ??? ??? ???????????????? ??? ??? ???? ?????????. ??????? ??? ?? ???? ?????? ?????? ?? ??????????????. ??????? ???? ?? ??? ????????? ???? ???????? ??? ??? ??????? ????????? ?? ?????????????? ?????? ??? ????????????? ??????????? ??? ??? ???????? ???? ??????? ??????? ??? ??? ???????? ??? ??????? ??????????.

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

????? ??? ??????, ??????????? ?? ??? ??? ??? ???? ???? ?????? ??? ???????? ??? ?????? ??? ????. ????, ??? ??? ????????????, ??? ?????? ???? ????? ?? ????????? ????? ????????? ??? ?? ????????? ????, ??? ??? ???????????? ?????? ??? ???????? ??? ????? ????; ?????? ????? ??? ??? ??????? ?? ?????? ???? ?? ?????. ??? ???? ??????????? ???? ?????? ???????? ?? ?????? ???????????, ????? ???? ???? ?????? ???? ??????, ??? ??? ??????? ??? ?? ????, ?????????? ???? ????? ??????, ????? ?? ???? ???? ??????? ???? ????? ?????????.

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

???? ????? ?????, ???? ??? ??????????????? ????????? ??? ??? ????: ?? ?? ???????????? ???? ?????? ???? ????? ?????, ????? ???? ????? ??? ?? ????? ??? ????? ???? ????? ?? ????????, ???? ??? ???????????, ????? ?? ????: ???????????, ?? ?????? ????????? ??????? ??? ??? ??????????? ????????? ???? ?????? „???????? ?????? ????? ??????, ?????????????? ??? 1907, ??? ????? ?????. ?????? ??? ????? ????, ??? ??? ??????? ?????????? ?????? ????? ????? ????? ??? „????????????? ????? ????????????? ????? ??????, ??? ??? ??????? ???? ??? ???? ???? ???????.

??? ????????, ??? ??? ??????????? ????????? ???? ??? ??????, ????????????? ??? 1920, ???? ????? ???????, ????? ???????? ??? ????? ?????????? ????????: „??? ?????? ??? ?????? ?????? – ????? ????, ????? ????? ??? ?? ????? ???? ??? ???????? ?????. ???? ??????? ???? ??? ???? ????? ????????????? ???? ??? ?????? ???????? ??? 1915. ?????? ?? ?????????? ???? „???????? ?????? ????? ??????, ????? ????? ??????, ???? ?? ???? ???? ??????, ???? ??? ??? ???? ?????????? ?? ???????? ????? ?????? ??????. ??????, ???? ??? ??????? ???????????? ?? ?? ???????????? ??????????? ?????? ?????.

?????? ???????????? ?? ?????? ?????? ???? ??? ?? ???????? ???? ?? ???????. ????? ?????, ??? ?? ??? ?????? ????????? ??? ?? ??????? ??????? ??? ???????, ???????? ?????? ?? ?????????? ????. ?? ???? ????, ??? ?? ??? ?????? ?? ???????????? ???? ?? ???????? ??????????? – ?????, ????? ?????? ??? ?????? ??? ?? ??????? ???, ???? ???? ??????????? ?????? ????. ??????????, ????? ???????????????? ??????????? ?????? ?? ????? ?? ??????? ???????.

The post Alina Polonskaya – a researcher of I. L. Peretz’s enigmas appeared first on The Forward.

‘My Unorthodox Life’ family wins $25,000 for anti-child marriage group on ‘Celebrity Family Feud’

Mon, 2022-08-15 14:51

(JTA) — On Netflix’s “My Unorthodox Life,” both Julia Haart and her older daughter Batsheva said they regretted getting married as teenagers, the norm in their Orthodox Jewish community.

So when the family landed a spot on “Celebrity Family Feud,” the star-studded version of the classic TV game show, they said anything they won would go to a group dedicated to opposing child marriage.

On the episode that aired Sunday night, the Haarts prevailed over a set of personalities from the Bravo reality-TV show “Summer House” and sent $25,000 to VOW for Girls, a nonprofit that aims to eliminate the 12 million marriages a year that take place globally involving girls younger than 18.

“My daughter Batsheva and I were married off as teenagers,” Julia Haart wrote in an Instagram post promoting the family’s appearance. “That is not something that any teenager should have to do.” (Both women were married at 19.)

Three of Julia Haart’s four children — Batsheva, Shlomo and recent Birthright Israel traveler Miriam — joined her in competing on the show, along with Robert Brotherton, her assistant-turned-business-partner whose own family drama was a prominent storyline in the first season of “My Unorthodox Life.” They volunteered answers to questions about what makes a kiss bad — “No passion,” Shlomo Haart suggested — and what parents do after their kids leave home, among others, ultimately eking out a victory over the “Summer House” crew.

The apparently close-knit family has undergone some major life changes since the Netflix show focused on Julia Haart’s departure from Orthodoxy and subsequent career in fashion in a first season that aired last summer. Both Julia and Batsheva went through divorces, with Batsheva and Ben Weinstein citing their marriage at a young age as a reason for strain.

Julia Haart’s acrimonious divorce from Silvio Scaglia cost her her role at Elite World Group, the fashion company where they were co-CEOs. Her firing reportedly took place as cameras rolled for taping a second season of “My Unorthodox Life.” But while Julia Haart announced the second season on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” last year, Netflix has not yet set a release date.

This article originally appeared on

The post ‘My Unorthodox Life’ family wins $25,000 for anti-child marriage group on ‘Celebrity Family Feud’ appeared first on The Forward.

Antisemitism takes center stage in Pennsylvania governor race

Mon, 2022-08-15 12:30

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


Our senior political reporter, Jacob Kornbluh, shares what’s in his notebook…


Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, is launching two television ads focusing on his Republican rival’s association with Gab, a social media platform rife with antisemitism. The 30-second ads highlight the fact that Gab was the social media platform used by Robert Bowers, the man who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. Read the story and watch the ads ?


Early voting kicked off on Saturday for the Aug. 23 primaries in New York. The coveted New York Times endorsement went to Dan Goldman in the 10th District, which includes Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn; and to Rep. Jerry Nadler in the 12th District, which includes Manhattan’s heavily Jewish West Side and East Side neighborhoods


In an interview with the Times editorial board, Nadler mentioned his support for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as one of three policy differences with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who voted against it. “I thought I was taking my political life in my hands,” Nadler said. He added that he thought backing the deal was important, but “used the opportunity to get some guarantees from the president in terms of Israeli-American relationships.” 


Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, one of a dozen candidates in the Democratic primary for the 10th District, reiterated her support for BDS in her Times interview, saying the movement has a “right to exist.” New FEC filings show Niou has received at least $4,000 in individual contributions from vocal anti-Israel activists. Meanwhile, Goldman earned the backing of a major Orthodox voting bloc in Borough Park. 

The campaign of Lee Zeldin, the Republican challenger to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, released an internal poll showing him closing the gap ahead of the November election.  

A man looks at a bullet impact on a bus window after an attack in Jerusalem on Sunday. (Getty)

Four tourists from Brooklyn were among the eight people injured in an apparent terror shooting attack near the Western Wall outside Jerusalem’s Old City early Sunday morning. New York politicians condemned the attack and offered their assistance. 


The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that former President Donald Trump sent a letter to then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreeing to his annexation plan. The revelation of the three-page letter contradicts Jared Kushner’s account in his forthcoming book that Trump was angry that Netanyahu mistook his peace plan as a green light for annexation. 


The United Nations has removed the head of one of its offices serving the Palestinians in East Jerusalem after she criticized the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s “indiscriminate rocket fire” on Israel during the recent Gaza flare-up and tweeted her support for the ceasefire. 


Race for U.K prime minister: Liz Truss, the leading candidate to replace Boris Johnson as the Conservative Party’s leader next month, drew criticism for using Jews to make a political point when she pledged to protect Jews from “creeping antisemitism and wokeism” in the civil service.

And an update: Remember that Jewish doctor in Hawaii whom we featured in Friday’s newsletter? He won the Democratic primary for governor this weekend.


Rabbi Julie Kozlow leads Shavuot service in Arizona’s Prescott National Forest. (Courtesy)

This new congregation offers holy hikes with llamas. Will it last? Rabbi Julie Kozlow was ordained at 50 and spent the next 15 years at four different synagogues. The midlife career change was not what she’d hoped it would be. So Kozlow created her own congregation, unaffiliated with any denomination. It does not have a board or committees and is very untraditional. They meet up for around a dozen events each month. Programming includes gatherings at local coffee shops, “Jubu” (Jewish and Buddhist) meditation in the mountains and Torah study aboard kayaks. “To find God,” she said, “you have to get out of the building.” Read the story ?


A new play, called “Two Jews Talking,” features two stories that take place 3,557 years apart: one from the Torah and one from modern-day Long Island. It features Hal Linden, 91, best known for his role “Barney Miller,” and Bernie Kopell, 89, who portrayed the doctor on “The Love Boat.” It comes from the mind of Edwin Weinberger, who wrote and was a producer for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and was a co-creator of “Taxi.” Read the story ?


Artists in Uvalde, Texas, have painted 21 murals to memorialize victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting. One of those artists is Anat Ronen, an Israeli American and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. “The whole idea was to bring out the victim with what they liked,” said Ronen, “and literally paint a picture of them that represents them in more ways than just the portrait.” Read the story ?

And one more: Meet six Jewish teens out to change the world


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An Israeli flag on the rail tracks at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. (Getty)

  Israel’s Education Ministry announced Sunday that it was canceling organized Holocaust-education missions for Israeli teenagers to Poland this fall because the ministry and the Polish government could not agree on the educational content and security arrangements. It had previously nixed all of the summer tours. (Haaretz)


  An Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed in the face with a pair of scissors on Thursday in Montreal. Local police say it’s possible it was related to a work-related conflict. The suspect was arrested and appeared in court on Friday. (CTV News)


  Colorado is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold its anti-discrimination law in the face of a challenge by a Christian web designer who does not want to create custom wedding websites for same-sex couples and claims the state law violates her right to free speech. (The Colorado Sun)


  A Dutch municipality has renamed a park that had been named for a mayor who helped the Nazis hunt his city’s Jews. The latest move is part of a trend of cities around the world grappling with their Nazi monuments. In one example from 2021, local officials in a Belgian town voted to remove its memorial amid international pressure. (JTA)


  Republican leaders are keeping mostly mum on calls to make the GOP the party of Christian nationalism. “When they fail to speak out against this, they’re surrendering the future of their party to the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world,” said Brian Hughes of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab. (Religion News Service)


Mazel Tov ?  To the cast of Netflix’s “My Unorthodox Life.” They competed on Sunday night’s episode of “Celebrity Family Feud” and won $25,000 for VOW for Girls, a charity that aims to end the child bride crisis. 


Shiva calls ?  Svika Pick, a legendary pop singer in the world of Israeli music whose career spanned decades, died at 72. Pick was the father-in-law of director Quentin Tarantino … Zofia Posmysz, whose writings about her time in a concentration camp were turned into a play, a movie, an opera and a novel that was translated into 15 languages, died at 98.


What else we’re reading ? The KKK once bombed this Mississippi synagogue. Now it’s thriving … Ten Jewish baseball players from history whom you may not know but totally should … Debra Messing talks Jewish pride, her bat mitzvah and Netflix’s ‘13: The Musical.’

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Judy Garland and Ray Bolger in a scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ (Getty)

On this day in history (1939): The official premiere of “The Wizard of Oz” took place at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. While the film’s star, Judy Garland, wasn’t Jewish, one of her biggest mentors was actress Sophie Tucker (born Sofia Kalish), who played her mother in two films. Garland had romantic relationships with many Jewish partners, including two of her five husbands, and some of Garland’s best-known songs were also written by Jewish songwriters, including those in “The Wizard of Oz.” The film’s soundtrack featured lyrics by Yip Harburg (born Isidore Hochberg on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) and music by Harold Arlen (born Hyman Arluck, the son of a cantor). Read our secret Jewish history of Judy Garland ?


Last year on this day, we reported that synagogues were planning for in-person High Holiday services. Then came the Delta variant.

In honor of National Relaxation Day, peruse our list of the 125 greatest Jewish movie scenes.



Israel’s team competed in the Women’s Artistic Swimming free combination final event on Sunday during the European Aquatics Championships in Rome. The team from Ukraine won the gold medal.

Department of Corrections: Our editor-in-chief, Jodi Rudoren, is extremely embarrassed to have reversed the bagel preferences of U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney in her “Looking Forward” newsletter on Friday. It is Nadler who takes his poppy seed bagel topped with lox and tomato, while Maloney likes her poppy seed bagel toasted with cream cheese. Jodi’s on (needed, apparently!) vacation this week, so “Looking Forward” will be back in your inboxes on Aug. 26.  




Play today’s Vertl puzzle, the Yiddish Wordle


Thanks to Jordan Greene, Beth Harpaz, Jacob Kornbluh and Talya Zax for contributing to today’s newsletter. You can reach the “Forwarding” team at 

The post Antisemitism takes center stage in Pennsylvania governor race appeared first on The Forward.

Dutch city renames square it had named for mayor who betrayed Jews to Nazis

Mon, 2022-08-15 10:25

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — A Dutch municipality has renamed a park that had been named for a mayor who helped the Nazis hunt his city’s Jews.

The municipality of Hogeveen, a city of about 55,000 roughly 80 miles northeast of the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, last month renamed Mayor Tjalma Park, according to a report Thursday on the news site The new name is Municipal Park.

In 2020, a local historian discovered that Jetze Tjalma, who had been mayor of Hoogeveen for 30 years until 1958, was the first mayor in Nazi-occupied Netherlands to hand over a list of local Jews after the German army invaded in 1940.

There were about 250 names on the list. In 1951, Hogeveen had only 27 Jews, according to the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam.


Tjalma shared the list voluntarily, according to Brand van Rijn, a local politician whose party, SGP, initiated the research into Tjalma’s wartime record. SGP had for years lobbied for a more critical approach to the legacy of Tjalma, whom many have considered a model mayor, according to the broadcaster RTV. The park was named for Tjalma shortly after his death in 1985.

Several years after World War II, the city under Tjalma took over part of the local Jewish cemetery and paved a road on it. That part of the cemetery was returned to Jewish hands in 2019.

The Amsterdam-based Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies earlier this year confirmed the research done in Hogeveen by local historian Albert Metselaar, prompting the municipality to change the park’s name on July 26, Jonet reported.

This article originally appeared on

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Svika Pick, Israeli composer and pop legend, dies at 72

Mon, 2022-08-15 09:38

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission. Sign up here to get Haaretz’s free Daily Brief newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Svika Pick, a mainstay of the Israeli pop scene for decades and recipient of Israeli Authors, Composers and Music Producers Association 2011 award for lifetime achievement, died on Sunday at the age of 72. Among his most memorable hits are “Mala” (Up, Up), “Ahava Besof Hakayitz” (Love in Late Summer), “Ani Ohev Otach Leah (I Love You Leah), and “Mary Lou,” some of which are part and parcel of Israel’s musical canon.

Pick was the father of five children from two relationships. In 1975, he married Mirit Shem-Or, the songwriter who composed most of his hits. They had three children: Benli, a doctor; and Sharona and Daniella, who performed as a duo, the Pick Sisters. In 1995, the couple divorced, but continued to collaborate. In 2004, Pick and fashion designer Shira Manor, 36 years his junior, began dating. The couple, which had two sons, split up in May 2021.

In 2018, Pick had a stroke during a flight from London to Israel. In interviews, Pick said that he had undergone extensive rehabilitation, relearning the Hebrew language, as well as to walk and live independently. However, he stressed that he intended to continue to create. In one interview he said: “I’ll never stop. On the contrary, the desire only grows. There isn’t and won’t be a time when I think of retiring.”

In 2019, Pick took to the stage again as a guest star on the annual children’s music show Festigal, with Nicky Goldstein, who was is longtime backup singer.

This summer, Pick was set to tour the country in concert, but a week and a half before his first appearance the production announced the tour’s cancelation and returned the price of the tickets to purchasers. Pick’s spokesmen said the tour was cancelled due to problems with the musicians.

Pick was born Henryk Pick on October 3, 1949 in Wroclaw, Poland and immigrated to Israel at the age of eight. As a teen, he played in bands, and when he was 21, in the 1970s, he was showcased as the lead in the Hebrew-language production of Hair. The role garnered him many fans, and he made eight albums throughout that decade, during which time he was also awarded singer of the year award three times by the radio station Reshet Gimel.

Throughout the 1980s, Pick continued to create, albeit with less commercial success. But the 1990s saw a comeback for Pick with a concert tour backed by the band “Nosei Hamigbahat,” and in 1998, when he wrote the song “Diva,” which won Dana International first prize at the Eurovision Song Contest. A year later, Habima Theater produced a musical, “Mary Lou” based on his hit songs.

Pick enjoyed a flourishing TV career later in life. In 2005, a reality show was broadcast about his life, called “The Maestro.” He also began a four-year stint on the judges’ panel of the Israeli version of “A Star is Born” that year. In 2013, he appeared in the second season of the reality show “Goalstar,” about a soccer team made up of celebrities.

In describing the reasons for his choice as winner of the ACUM lifetime achievement award, the jury stated: “Svika Pick wrote dozens of songs over the years, beginning with innocent and childlike pop songs and on the melodramatic songs in which he used the words of poets like Alexander Penn and Natan Yonatan. But the prize is also awarded to him for his unique contribution as the first and ultimate pop icon in Israel. The only man in the Middle East who knew how to do honor to a sequined shirt.”

The post Svika Pick, Israeli composer and pop legend, dies at 72 appeared first on The Forward.

Eight wounded in Jerusalem bus shooting attack; suspect turns himself in

Sun, 2022-08-14 11:57

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission. Sign up here to get Haaretz’s free Daily Brief newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Eight people were wounded in a shooting attack in Jerusalem on Sunday, including a pregnant woman force to deliver an emergency birth. A 26-year-old East Jerusalem resident has turned himself in at a police station in the city six hours after the attack.

The gunman opened fire on a bus carrying Jewish worshippers near the Western Wall, seriously wounding two riders, including a 26-weeks-pregnant woman.

The suspect was identified as Amir Sidawi, an East Jerusalem resident who holds Israeli citizenship and served five years in prison over a stabbing attack. He is not affiliated with any organized group and while police estimate that he was acting alone, a senior officer expressed concern that the manhunt will inspire copycat attacks.

According to a police source, the police and Shin Bet discovered the attacker’s identity at around 4 A.M., and began to gather around his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, as well as the addresses of his family members living in the area. The attacker tried to ask for help from relatives but realized that the police were closing in on him. He ultimately took a taxi to the Moriah police station, the source said, where he turned himself in.

A taxi driver who drove Sidawi without knowing he was the assailant told Galey Israel Radio: “He stopped me on the street, asked me if I was available, spoke good Hebrew and got in. I noticed he was a little scared. I dropped him off at the police and suddenly after I drove 400 meters away (1300 ft.), police cars came behind me.”

The driver added that the policeman told him “God loves you”. He turned around and saw the gun with the bullets in the back seat. “I could have gotten a bullet in the head. A miracle happened to me.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that security forces were working to catch the “despicable terrorist,” and that they “will not stop until he is caught. All those who wish us ill shall know that they will pay a price for hurting civilians.”

“I stopped the bus at the King David’s Tomb station, the bus was full. We opened the ramp for someone on a wheelchair, and then the shooting started. Everyone got down on the floor, screaming. I tried to escape, but the bus couldn’t drive with the ramp open,” the bus driver, Daniel Kanievsky, told Kan public radio.

Among the wounded is a family of four from Brooklyn, New York. The father is hospitalized in serious condition and under ventilation.

“We can confirm that U.S. citizens were among the victims. We are gathering further information. Due to privacy concerns, we will not have further comment,” the U.S. Embassy spokesperson said.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades praised the attack. It is “a natural response to the aggression of the occupation soldiers and the crimes of the settlers against the Palestinian people and the holy places,” the Hamas’ spokesperson said.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai praised the security forces for their fruitful collaboration that led to the capture of the assailant. “The moment the terrorist realized that the high presence of combined forces of the Jerusalem District, Border Police and the Shin Bet, would leave him no choice, he turned himself in.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

The post Eight wounded in Jerusalem bus shooting attack; suspect turns himself in appeared first on The Forward.

Shapiro highlights Mastriano’s ties to antisemitic social media platform in new TV ads

Sun, 2022-08-14 11:33

Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, is launching two television ads focusing on his Republican rival’s association with Gab, a social media platform rife with antisemitism. Doug Mastriano paid Gab and its founder, Andrew Torba, a $5,000 consulting fee in April and maintained an active account on the site until recently. 

The 30-second ads –  titled “Minutes” and “Real Threat” – highlight the fact that Gab was the social media platform used by Robert Bowers, the man who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. The Shapiro campaign said the ads will run on cable and broadcast networks statewide, and have bought additional time in the Pittsburgh media market ahead of a Mastriano campaign rally with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis scheduled for Friday.

Mastriano, a leader of the “Stop the Steal” movement aiming to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, took down his Gab account last month and condemned antisemitism amid mounting pressure from Democrats and Jewish Republicans alike. But he stopped short of denouncing the site and its founder, who frequently shares his antisemitic beliefs online. Following that, Gab users stepped up their antisemitic postings — including death threats and calls for violence against Jews. 


One of the ads features comments made by Jeffrey Letwin, an attorney and a member of the Tree of Life synagogue at a recent rally. “Doug Mastriano paid thousands of dollars for alt-right, antisemitic extremists to be part of his campaign,” Letwin, who served as chair of the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh said. The ad suggests Mastriano is a “real threat” to the state

The Republican nominee later pushed back against Jewish criticism over his association with Gab by highlighting his campaign kickoff announcement, where a pastor donned a tallit and blew a shofar .

Last week, Torba, who’s openly backing Mastriano for governor, called Shapiro, who is Jewish, the “antichrist” and said he’s praying for Shapiro’s conversion.


The post Shapiro highlights Mastriano’s ties to antisemitic social media platform in new TV ads appeared first on The Forward.

With climate bill passed, Democrats deliver on top policy concern for American Jews

Sat, 2022-08-13 15:40

(JTA) — The passage of a milestone climate bill in Congress on Friday means major progress on a policy issue that American Jews rank above all others in recent surveys of voter priorities.

While climate change is not often pegged as a Jewish issue — unlike, for example, abortion or Israel — a set of poll results suggest concern about it is nearly a consensus in the community. 

Already eight years ago, a survey from the nonpartisan group Public Religion Research Institute found that a far larger percentage of American Jews believed that climate change was a concern than Americans as a whole do. At the time, an estimated 8 in 10 American Jews said the planet is facing a crisis or a major problem. 

It’s not just that Jews find the climate situation alarming because they tend to be liberal, and that liberals are far more likely than conservatives to prioritize the issue. According to recent polling, Jews not only care about climate — they also seem to prioritize over almost any other issue. 

For example, a 2020 election exit survey of 800 Jewish voters by J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, found that climate change ranked second after the COVID-19 pandemic among issues determining who they picked in the presidential contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden — above health care, the economy, racial justice and other matters. 

Two subsequent polls add to this impression. In 2021 and 2022, the Jewish Electorate Institute, a group led by prominent Jewish Democrats, conducted national surveys of Jewish voters and found that the top issue they wanted President Biden and Congress to focus on was climate change. Voting rights and the economy came in second and third in both cases. 

About two years ago, a new group called Dayenu: A Jewish Call to Climate Action launched seeking to harness the overwhelming level of worry American Jews seem to have about how greenhouse gas emissions are wreaking havoc on our weather and oceans. 

According to Dayenu’s chief strategy officer, Phil Aroneanu, there has long been a widespread desire among Jews to be more green as individuals and to organize as Jews for systemic change.

“That’s why we’re drinking out of a firehose when it comes to Jews engaging with Dayenu and our campaigns,” he said. 

Margery Cooper, a member of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, was inspired to help start one of 80 local Dayenu chapters that now exist around the country and abroad. 

“In our congregation, people sometimes ask why we are involved in this issue,” Cooper said. “For myself, I have 30-year-old children and I don’t say this to them, but when they talk about having, you know, future children, I am terrified. And then we’ve got the rabbi who’s a young mother, and she talks about having to hide with her daughter in a closet during intense storms. And then we’ve got other parents whose children see pictures of wildfires and can’t sleep at night.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who spearheaded the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, as the $370 billion climate bill is known, attends services with Cooper as a fellow congregant at Beth Elohim. 

When Cooper helped organize a Jewish climate rally in Park Slope last year, Schumer showed, marking a high point in Dayenu’s visibility and providing a piece of evidence that climate can be effectively galvanized as a Jewish issue.

The very fact there’s a near-consensus might be the reason climate has been under the radar as a Jewish issue, according to Leonard Saxe, a social psychologist at Brandeis University who conducts demographic research on Jews. 

“If there were two Jews arguing about climate change, Jewish journalists would be reporting on it — because it’s a fight,” he said. “Perhaps it’s not an issue because there’s not much debate in the Jewish community about it.”

This article originally appeared on

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Once buried in Europe, a Hitler puppet stashed in Frank Oz’s Oakland attic tells his family’s Holocaust story

Sat, 2022-08-13 15:39

(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — Long before Frank Oz gained fame as the puppet master behind such iconic characters as Miss Piggy and Yoda, he was Frank Oznowicz, an Oakland kid who attended Tech High, ate burgers at Kwik Way and watched movies at the Grand Lake Theater.

And from time to time, he’d rummage through the attic of his home. One day he came across something that would prove to be extraordinary: a set of wooden marionettes, carved in the 1930s by his Jewish father, Isadore “Mike” Oznowicz, a Holocaust refugee from Antwerp, Belgium.

The costumes were handmade by his mother, Frances. One of the puppets, with its Charlie Chaplin mustache and raised right arm, was unmistakably a mocking caricature of Hitler.

“Every few years I’d see [the puppets] and not think twice,” Oz recalled of his youth. “When I was an adult, I moved to New York and I realized, ‘My God, look what we have here.’”

Long before storing the puppets in an Oakland attic, Mike Oznowicz had buried them in Antwerp for safekeeping before fleeing the Nazi invasion, then retrieved them after the war. They remained in the attic until his son, by then fully aware of the historical importance of his parents’ handiwork, transported them to his Manhattan apartment, where he has kept them for more than 30 years.

The puppets have never been on public display until now. They are the centerpieces of a new exhibition, “Oz is for Oznowicz: A Puppet Family’s History,” open now through Nov. 27 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

The exhibit consists of the Hitler figure, as well as a puppet cabaret band decked out in swanky satin jackets, along with a raven-haired chanteuse in a red dress. Also included are archival photographs, reflections from Oz and his siblings and a video account from Mike Oznowicz recounting his harrowing escape from Nazi-occupied Belgium.

“The wear and tear is very evident,” Heidi Rabben, senior curator of the CJM, said of the treasures. “The costumes are faded and torn. The Hitler costume is broken down the front seam. I asked Frank why he thought his parents buried [the puppets] and did not destroy them. He said if someone creates something with one’s own hands it becomes meaningful. This [Hitler] marionette was for his parents a form of resistance.”

Frank Oz, 78, is best known as the puppetry genius who partnered with Muppets founder Jim Henson. He was the voice of Miss Piggy, Burt, Cookie Monster and, as recently as 2019, the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars series. As a filmmaker, he directed “The Dark Crystal,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “What About Bob,” among others.

But his puppeteering began at home, under the influence of his parents.

When Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, possessing a subversive marionette like the Hitler puppet posed a danger to both Mike Oznowicz, a sign painter by trade and an amateur puppeteer, and Frances, a dressmaker. The couple buried it and several other marionettes in their backyard, then fled the country, wandering from Portugal to North Africa. While hiding in Casablanca, it was Frances who supported the family with tailoring work.

After the war, they returned to Antwerp, retrieved the puppets and eventually brought them to Northern California, where they built a new life for themselves and their three children. They continued to make puppets and performed shows in the region, including at Children’s Fairyland at Lake Merritt.

Mike and Frances Oznowicz at the Children’s Fairyland Puppet Fair in 1956. (Courtesy of San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteers Guild and Children’s Fairyland Archives)

Oz told J. his father never liked to talk about the war, which claimed the lives of many of his relatives. Nor did he divulge the origins of the Hitler and cabaret band puppets or whether he ever performed with them. Mike Oznowicz, who died in 1998, was “very scrappy” and had an “attitude of rebelliousness,” according to his son.

That may explain why he crafted a puppet that ridiculed Hitler. The tradition of mocking the German dictator continued for decades, from Bugs Bunny to Chaplin’s “Great Dictator” to Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.”

“It’s part of our cultural fabric,” said Rabben of the CJM. “The Jews have always been an oppressed people who found ways to fight back, implicitly or more subtly. When you think of the legacy of Jewish humor in the U.S., that was a way for Jews to reclaim power and agency over how their stories were being told and who was telling them.”

Oz said he sees the CJM exhibit as a way to honor his parents for their creativity and resilience.

“I see it as beautiful folk art,” he said of his parents’ handiwork. “[My father] didn’t go to woodcarving school. He just did it, and [the puppets] are representative of so many people who just appreciate the core of humanity.”

A version of this piece originally ran in J. The Jewish News of Northern California and is reprinted with permission.

This article originally appeared on

The post Once buried in Europe, a Hitler puppet stashed in Frank Oz’s Oakland attic tells his family’s Holocaust story appeared first on The Forward.

To save Jews and keep the Nazis away, these doctors invented a fake infectious disease

Sat, 2022-08-13 15:37

(JTA) — How the subject of his new documentary, “Syndrome K,” has largely escaped public attention is a mystery to filmmaker Stephen Edwards.

“It’s the greatest elevator pitch in Hollywood,” he said. “The story of three doctors, one of them Jewish, practicing with a fake identity, that fool the SS with a fake disease that saved Jews from certain deportation.” 

“Syndrome K,” which hits digital and VOD platforms on Tuesday after some Jewish film festival showings, tells that little-known, surefire story: How three doctors at a hospital in Rome shielded a group of Jews from the Nazis in 1943 and 1944 by inventing a fake infectious disease called Syndrome K. The prospect of catching the disease kept the Nazis, who were occupying Rome following the fall of Mussolini, away from the hospital. The Jews there hung on until the Allies liberated the city in June of 1944.  

Edwards, who has spent most of his career as a composer, is not Jewish — he was raised Catholic — but grew up among the large Jewish community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he got the idea for the film when he saw a meme about the “Syndrome K” story on Facebook, and was shocked to discover that no one had ever made a documentary about it before.  

Adriano Ossicini, one of the doctors behind the Syndrome K ruse, with “Syndrome K” director Stephen Edwards in 2018. (“Syndrome K”/Freestyle Digital Media)

Fatebenefratelli Hospital was located very close to the Jewish Ghetto in Rome. The three doctors were Vittorio Sacerdoti, Giovani Borromeo and Adriano Ossicini. Sacerdoti was Jewish, while the other two were Catholic. Borremeo, who among other things protected the family of one of his Jewish mentors, is recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial authority.  

Jews were kept in hospital rooms designated as dangerously infectious. “The Nazis thought it was cancer or tuberculosis, and they fled like rabbits,” Sacerdoti told the BBC in 2004

The exact number of Jews saved, according to the film, is unknown, although various historical accounts have placed the number in the dozens.

“That’s why I think it’s such a secret story — the doctors didn’t crow about what they did, or talk about it a lot,” Edwards said. He added that the Syndrome K story is so obscure that the late historian Robert Katz’s “The Battle for Rome: The Germans, the Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943–June 1944,” which is considered a definitive book about the Nazi occupation of the city, does not mention it. 

When Edwards first began working on the film in 2018, he learned that Ossicini was still alive at age 98. Reaching out through an Italian-Jewish journalist named Ariela Piattelli, Edwards and his producer went to Rome and interviewed the doctor. On that trip, he also talked to a pair of brothers who survived the hospital as children, and Pietro Borromeo, the son of Giovani Borromeo. Both Ossicini and the younger Borromeo passed away within a year of their interviews.

For interviews with the others featured in the film, Edwards utilized the USC Shoah Foundation, which has collected and archived interviews with more than 55,000 testimonies now arrived at the University of Southern California.  

That archive included an interview with the Jewish doctor Sacerdoti from around the year 2000, made shortly before his death and believed to be the only one he ever gave. The physician never married or had children, and there’s no record of where he is buried.  

Edwards was full of praise for the Shoah Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg, for including a system of tagging in their archive that allowed them to find interviews with survivors of the hospital of whom the filmmakers were previously unaware. 

“We have no film without Sacerdoti,” Edwards said. “If I meet Spielberg at some point I’m going to thank him.” 

Ossicini and Pietro Borromeo aren’t the only voices featured in “Syndrome K” who have since passed away. Ray Liotta, the famed actor, provided the voiceover narration for the film. He died on May 26, at age 67, while shooting a film in the Dominican Republic.  

Edwards said that he had gotten to know Liotta a bit when their daughters went to school together throughout their childhoods.  He had reached out to the actor to gauge his interest in narrating the film, and “two weeks later, he’s in my studio.” Liotta recorded the entire narration in three hours, on a single day in late 2019.  

(Edwards added that on the day of Liotta’s arrival he joined his editor and writer to watch the first 30 minutes of “Goodfellas,” Liotta’s best-known role, in which the actor performs a voiceover narration that the director calls “top five all-time.”)

Patients lay in beds in the “Syndrome K” unit at Fatebenefratelli Hospital. (“Syndrome K”/Freestyle Digital Media)

Edwards, who holds Italian citizenship through his late mother, especially appreciated Liotta’s ease with the story’s many difficult Italian names and places.

“He walked in, and it’s not an easy gig: It’s Fatebenefratelli Hospital,’ Adriano Ossicini, Giovani Borromeo, Vittorio Sacerdoti, all the Roman names, plus all the German names, all this vocabulary,” Edwards said. “And he was such a fun guy to work with, super-funny, top-level pro, profane, lots of F-bombs, we were just laughing, we were having a ball… we were just so sorry to lose the guy.” 

The director had always been a World War II buff, and two of his uncles fought in the war. But he remembers very well first learning about the Holocaust. 

“When I was probably 12 or 13 years old, I was watching TV on a Saturday morning… when I saw one of these documentaries about the Holocaust, where it showed all the atrocities and horrors. And I was just horrified — I had no idea, I hadn’t gotten to that history lesson in school yet.” He asked his father, who explained it to him.

The Holocaust, of course, can be a weighty and depressing subject, especially when one is immersed in it for a lengthy period of time. How did Edwards handle the burden? 

“The story itself was more about the threat of atrocities,” he said, noting that 80% of Italian Jews survived the Holocaust, a very different percentage than in most of Europe. “This is a story about people being their very, very best, in the face of people being their very, very worst, and that’s what really attracted me to it.” 

In addition to the documentary, Edwards said that he has brought a team together to try to make a feature film version of the Syndrome K story. In the meantime, he appreciates the irony of the timing of the documentary’s arrival. 

“You can’t make that stuff up,” he said. “Making a movie about a fake disease in the middle of a pandemic is just so ironic.”  

This article originally appeared on

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Elana Dykewomon, influential author whose characters were Jewish lesbians like her, dies at 72

Sat, 2022-08-13 15:35

(JTA/J. The Jewish News of Northern California) — “Beyond the Pale,” Elana Dykewomon’s award-winning 1997 novel, traced the intertwined stories of Jewish lesbians from Kishinev, Moldova, to the Lower East Side, in a saga that included both Russian pogroms and the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

“It can’t be that we are the first generation of Jewish lesbian activists on the planet,” Dykewoman said at the time. “So part of what the novel is about is searching for our ancestors and ancestral community as Jewish lesbians.”

The book won the 1998 Lambda Literary Award for lesbian fiction and was reissued in 2013. It remains a classic in the genre, where Dykewomon, who died this week at 72, was a pioneer.

Dykewomon’s death Sunday in Oakland, California, where she had lived for many years, was caused by esophageal cancer, according to her family. It came just minutes before her first play, inspired by the 2016 death of her wife, was to be performed in an elite festival.

“We mourn the loss of Elana Dykewomon, a queer activist, author, and teacher with a fiercely dedicated readership,” the Jewish Women’s Archive said in a tweet, in one of many tributes to come after Dykewomon’s death. “May her memory be a blessing.”

Born Elana Nachman in New York City in 1949, Dykewomon changed her name after the publication of her first novel, “Riverfinger Women,” in 1974. She wanted to distance herself from the Nachman line of rabbis from whom she descended, she told J. The Jewish News of Northern California, in 1997. She adopted Dykewoman, then Dykewomon, to demonstrate her allegiance to the lesbian community — but later regretted not using her name to assert her Jewish identity, too.

“If I had to do it all over again, I might have chosen Dykestein or Dykeberg,” she said at the time.

Dykewomon was raised in a fiercely Zionist household; her father fought in Israel’s War of Independence, and her mother worked with a Zionist smuggling ring. Dykewomon spent part of her childhood in Puerto Rico, studied fine art at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and settled in Oakland, California, in the early 1980s. She was drawn to the area because of its Jewish lesbian activist community, she told J.

Though she rejected religion after becoming a radical feminist, she said, she studied Yiddish, Torah and Talmud while writing “Beyond the Pale”; often wrote on Jewish themes; and frequently included Jewish characters in her work. The 2009 novel “Risk,” for example, featured a Jewish lesbian who lives in Oakland and makes a living tutoring high school students.

In addition to writing, she edited Sinister Wisdom, a lesbian literary and art journal, from 1987 to 1994. In “The Tribe of Dina,” a two-part special issue in 1986 dedicated to Jewish women’s perspectives, she penned a story from the point of view of a woman wandering in the desert with the Israelites after leaving Egypt. In 2021 she co-edited a special issue titled “To Be a Jewish Dyke in the 21st Century.”

Dykewomon was one of five playwrights to have works selected for this year’s Bay Area Playwrights Festival, out of 240 who submitted plays. This summer, she worked with the actors who would perform two staged readings of “How to Let Your Lover Die” — first on July 30, then on Aug. 7. Her death was announced and mourned in the chat of the second event’s livestream.

“I would like to see it at least have a reading before I die, which I expect to do,” she told J. matter-of-factly in an interview in July. “But it’s not so tragic to die.”

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Yes, kosher fans of ‘The Bear,’ you can make a beef braciole

Fri, 2022-08-12 18:58

Here’s how you can tell that “The Bear,” a breakout hit about a four-star Manhattan chef who returns home to sling hash in his family’s zero-star Chicago sandwich shop, is TV’s best-ever portrayal of life in a restaurant kitchen: Because with one delicious exception in the last episode of Season 1, none of the food makes you hungry.

It looks good. It must taste good — because the main character, Carmine Berzatto, is committed to his craft. But there’s just too much food, going by too fast, under too much pressure, to make the mouth water. This is a world away from “Chef’s Table” or similar documentary-style shows that fetishize a spoon swirling through custard or a steel blade slicing through raw red tuna. This fictional show feels more real.

I worked in restaurant, bakery and catering kitchens for years, and making food in quantity and at speed more often than not made me hunger for something plain and simple. When I finished my shifts at a high-end San Francisco restaurant, after plating Provencal sea bass and spaghetti carbonara all night, all I craved was a bean burrito. “The Bear” gets that right. Familiarity breeds discontent, if not dyspepsia. 

In one scene, Carmine — they call him Carmy — returns to his apartment after hours in the kitchen, and in fast-cut close-ups, slaps some peanut butter on a piece of bread and downs it in three bites. (There’s a similar scene in the 1996 movie “Big Night,” when after cooking up an Italian feast, the chefs gather to make themselves scrambled eggs.) 

Carmy returned to Chicago to take over the restaurant because his big brother Michael, who ran it, committed suicide. We watch for seven episodes as Carmy tries desperately to cook through his grief and then, in a brilliant seven-minute monologue, confronts it. 

“I think it’s very clear that me trying to fix the restaurant was me trying to fix whatever was happening with my brother,” Carmy tells a grief counseling group. “And I don’t know, maybe fix the whole family.”

The first season of the show, which was created by Christopher Storer, ends on a note of hope. Carmy makes his brother’s famous dish, braciole, Italian stuffed beef rolls, to serve to his staff, which has become his family. It’s then that the show slows down, and you watch Carmy, unrushed, follow his brother’s recipe. 

He pounds out the beef; lays in prosciutto, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, pecorino, pine nuts, raisins, parsley and garlic; rolls up the filets; bathes them in red sauce and serves it forth.

They eat at a long table in the gritty place, and I’m sure the show’s creators meant for the scene to look as religious as it does — the ritual food, the gathered congregation, the spirit of hope, forgiveness and Michael hovering nearby. 

And in the center, like an offering, is the braciole, carrying the weight of all that gravy and all that symbolism.  That’s the dish that, finally, made me hungry.

Of course I couldn’t wait to make braciole. My version is kosher (and lighter), using slightly bitter greens as a stuffing. Is it as impressive? To quote a character from “The Bear,” “Delicious is impressive.”



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