Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Nitzan Kirshenboim, a former Israeli model, is getting some prurient-mixed-with-pious attention for organizing the Jewish state’s first sex festival. I’m not that titillated, but I found this quote comical:
“The Sextival will showcase the wildest things your imagination can come up with,” the excited Kirshenboim promises. “You know, some people have a fetish for women with really-really big noses, and this will also be represented in the event.”
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December 28, 2007 | 11:06 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Will Smith has been getting a lot of grief for an off-hand invocation of Hitler in a recent interview.
“Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today’,” said Will. “I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming.”
This is the kind of statement that can be seriously misconstrued and misappropriated. (And it was.) I don’t hear this as a defense of Hitler, but it seems an odd anecdote nonetheless. Esther K has a sober assessment of what she thinks Smith meant and the impact it will have on his popularity.
Do I believe that Will Smith is an anti-Semite? No. Will I never look at his movies the same way again, like what happened in the wake of Mel Gibson’s trip to Crazytown? No. Will I insist, as the local JDL is, that Hollywood “shun any future projects involving Smith.” Clearly not. But do I find it surprising that Smith would invoke Hitler, the most hated, and most acknowledgedly-evil human to have walked the planet (at least in recent memory) through a haze of attempted comprehension? Uh-huh.
The report continues that “Smith himself is angry at the way critics have interpreted his words” [I bet he is] “saying there’s no way they should be read to imply that he believes Hitler was anything but “a vile, heinous vicious killer.”
Good. We all agree. Let’s move on. And please, celebrities…whether you yell at Matt Lauer for the evils of meds-prescribing psychologists or try to understand Hitlerian logic, even as an intellectual exercise that challenges the concepts of good and evil, I implore you: think before you speak.
December 26, 2007 | 12:28 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Ryan Braun might be nicknamed The Hebrew Hammer, and he deserves it. But this cover is of the original semitic slugger, Hank Greenberg.
The former Tigers star bears no relation to me. (Need proof? Just watch me play softball.) But few names in sports that aren’t Koufax merit more pride for the Tribe than Hank Greenberg.
Long before Shawn Green said he wouldn’t play on Yom Kippur, and then did, Greenberg sat out a crucial game against the Yankees. The 2000 story focused on the documentary, “In the Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.”
Greenberg’s greatness is undisputed. In a career interrupted for most of five seasons by World War II, the lumbering first baseman hit 331 home runs,compiled a .313 career batting average and knocked in 1,276 runs. In 1937, his 183 runs batted in were one fewer than Lou Gehrig’s league record. His 58 home runs in 1938 were second to the 60 hit by Babe Ruth in 1927. “No question that he was the greatest Jewish hitter of all time,” said Steve Greenberg, one of Greenberg’s two sons and a former deputy commissioner ofMajor League Baseball. “But that’s not how he wanted to be remembered. If you talk to players of that era, they knew he was one of the greatest players.Ted Williams said he was his idol.” In Ms. Kempner’s homey documentary â a quilt of newsreel footage, interviews and spirited music selections like Mandy Patinkin singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in Yiddish â Greenberg is a quiet hero flawed only by his fielding range. To the worshipful fans who adored him as “Hankus Pankus,“Greenberg was a “messiah,” “a Jewish god,” a Moses-like savior who refuted the stereotypesabout what Jews could do.
“I had this Captain Marvel, Hank Greenberg, on my shoulder,” Rabbi Reeve Brenner says in the film. “He was my big brother, my mishpocheh” (family). Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard Law School professor, adds, “He was what “they” said we could never be.” When the Tigers traded Greenberg to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947, Don Shapiro, an oral surgeon and fan, felt as if “your bubbe” â grandmother â “moved to Mississippi.” The passion is poignant, humorous and over the top, like Ms. Kempner’s. Yet those who admired Greenberg know his achievements came in the face of ethnic baiting by fans and rival players and the anti-Semitic rantings of the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, the so-called radio priest from the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, and Henry Ford.
“At the height of domestic anti-Semitism and the Nazis overrunning Europe, here was a Jewish player so good, so powerful and almost breaking Ruth’s record,” Ms. Kempner said.“Two months after Hank nearly broke Ruth’s record, Kristallnacht happened in Germany.” In a 1984 interview used in the film, Greenberg recalled: “There was always some leatherlung yelling at me. I found it was a spur to make me do better because I could never fallasleep on the field. As soon as you struck out, you weren’t only a bum, you were a Jewish bum.”
December 24, 2007 | 7:25 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Everyone knows Santa Claus is supposed to be fat. It’s not possible for one man to eat 5 billion or so sugar cookies on the night before Christmas and be anything but a butterball. Furthermore, if he weren’t fat, then we’d know he wasn’t eating the cookies, and that would raise all sorts of other doubts. We thought everyone understood and accepted this logic.
But now the British say Santa’s corpulence isn’t cute, it’s a health hazard, an apple-shaped advertisement for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. After a study released in October found that, by 2050, more than half of Britain’s population will be obese, a cabal of fitness zealots at malls and shops in Merry Olde England decreed that their Santas must be trim. That’s right—skinny Santas, buff Santas and, we tremble to think of it, Santas with six-pack abs. According to news reports, a shopping center in Kent even set up a boot camp for Santas who couldn’t slim down on their own.
How could this happen? Didn’t England unload all of its joyless Puritans in the 17th century? Has there been some vast repatriation we failed to notice? Is it possible that the eternally erroneous Bill O’Reilly is actually correct, and Christmas is under siege?
No, it’s not. The celebration of Christmas is alive and well, regardless of the propaganda aimed at making Christians at large believe they are an oppressed minority.
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
December 24, 2007 | 12:04 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Can anyone remember the last time Christmas carolers knocked on their door and sang “Away in a Manger” or “Frosty the Snowman?” The reason it’s probably been a while, USA Today reports, is that caroling is increasingly passÃ© among Americans.
The reasons range from the paranoid (it’s a plot by secularists against Christians) to the prosaic (most people would rather stay home and watch football). Americans are too busy or too lazy or too intimidated to sing in public. People are afraid of offending neighbors or interrupting their privacy. Neighborhoods are less close-knit.
It hasn’t completely disappeared, but caroling in the 21st century has adapted.
People carol on horseback in San Antonio and Virginia Beach. They organize to carol citywide to raise money for charity in St. Louis. They’re professional singers dressed up in Victorian costumes in cities all over the country, caroling for cash (not figgy pudding) at parties and malls. And in California, caroling is a Hollywood spectacle on a truck with scores of costumed singers, dancers and musicians gamboling through the streets (only in L.A., kids, only in L.A.).
Here and there, in neighborhoods rich with community spirit, energetic organizers and church choirs, residents get together in evenings before Christmas to ramble around crooning Jingle Bells or Silent Night on sidewalks and porches, then dash home to drink hot cider and snack on sweets in a mood of Christmassy bonhomie.
“Maybe there’s a need for communities like this, where people who come together are longing for a Norman Rockwell kind of America,” says Sandra Aresta, one of the organizers of the annual neighborhood caroling in Chevy Chase West, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
But Rockwell’s America departed with Rockwell, and in any case, caroling wasn’t all that common in the USA to begin with. Polls conducted for the National Christmas Tree Association found that by 1996, only 22% of those surveyed said they planned to go caroling, and by 2005, that number had dropped to an anemic 6%.
(Hat tip: the new and improved DMN religion blog)
December 21, 2007 | 1:12 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Harper‘s keeps sending me subscription renewal notices. The most recent one pointed to a few topics the magazine had explored recently, including European nationalism and the rise of anti-Semitism (something I’ve written about here and here and here and here). I couldn’t recall seeing this article, so I did a search, and it turns out that “recent” refers to August 1990. In other breaking news, the Berlin Wall has fallen.
Anyway, the article was a good read, and it complemented a piece in The New Yorker last month about a French demagogue, the anti-Semitic comedian DieudonnÃ©.
The beginning of lâaffaire DieudonnÃ© came in December, 2003, when he appeared on âYou Canât Please Everyone,â a popular political talk show, in which celebrities discussed issues in a civil roundtable atmosphere. To the surprise of everyone there, he arrived on the set wearing a camo jacket, a black ski mask, and an Orthodox Jewish hat with fake sidelocks. He launched into a speech that called on the audience to join âthe Americano-Zionist Axisâthe only one . . . that offers you happiness, and the only one to give you a chance of living a little bit longer.â While the panel of comedians invited for the show (it included Jamel Debbouze, Franceâs most popular Muslim comic) laughed, the showâs host, Marc-Olivier Fogiel, looked on nervously. DieudonnÃ© finished his polemic by raising his arm and crying, âIsra-heil.â He then took off his mask and joined the panel, to a standing ovation.
The most troubling part of the profile, though, is not so much DieudonnÃ©, but the new France that he represents:
On February 13, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a twenty-three-year-old cell-phone salesman, was foundânaked, gagged, and handcuffedânear a train station south of Paris. He had burns and traces of torture on eighty per cent of his body, and died on the way to the hospital. Halimi had been kidnapped and held for three weeks in a cellar in the suburb of Bagneux. The police traced the crime to a group that became known as âthe gang of Barbarians,â allegedly led by Youssouf Fofana, the twenty-five-year-old son of African immigrants, and determined that Halimi had been abducted because he was Jewish. Eighteen people were arrested in France, and after a manhunt that led to the Ivory Coast, Fofana was taken into custody. Fofana denied killing Halimi, and that his actions were motivated by race, but other detainees told the police that âJews have money,â and that they believed that Halimiâs parents, a working-class couple, or âthe rabbiâ would pay half a million dollars for Halimiâs release.
Sammy Ghozlan, the head of a French group that monitors anti-Semitism, said that the words of an âalleged comedianâ influenced the killers, and Julien Dray, the spokesman for the Socialist Party and a founder of S.O.S. Racisme, declared that Halimiâs death was a result of âthe DieudonnÃ© effect.â DieudonnÃ© denounced Dray for throwing around murder accusations lightly. In a statement he released at the time, DieudonnÃ© attributed the torture-abduction to the neo-liberalism that âhas established the cult of profit as the central value of societyâ and to the âAmerican drift in French society.â On February 26, 2006, pamphlets depicting DieudonnÃ© and Fofana above the words âThinker. Murdererâ were distributed during a March in Paris to protest Halimiâs murder.While French politicians were holding vigils for Halimi, DieudonnÃ© invited to his theatre the family of another victim of a kidnap-murder and called for an end to the âdiscrimination among victimsâ that allegedly favored Jews. A few days later, DieudonnÃ© held a rally on the theme of âRepublican equality against discrimination among victims,â adding an Algerian and an Armenian to the list of those whose killings had gotten scant notice. At about this time, DieudonnÃ© added to his show impersonations of Hitler (âYouâll see, the future will present me as a moderate!â) and the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.
In Bagneux, the suburb where Halimi was murdered, Jean-Claude Tchicaya, a government social worker, organizes workshops and field trips to foster understanding among blacks, Arabs, and Jews. âHalimi was tortured in the town where I live, in the neighborhood where I live, in the building where my mother lives,â Tchicaya told me. âI even knew personally some of the young people who were part of the murder gang. To believe that all Jews are rich is an anti-Semitic prejudice that didnât exist in the neighborhood twenty years ago.â He added, âDieudonnÃ© is cunning, insinuating. He touches parts of peopleâs minds that are vulnerable.â
In May, 2006, a group calling itself the Tribu Ka marched down the Rue des Rosiers, the main street of the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Le Marais, chanting anti-Semitic slogans. The Tribu Kaâs leader, KÃ©mi SÃ©ba, a French-born man of Ivory Coast and Haitian parentage, reportedly issued a âwarningâ to Franceâs Jewish community: âIf by any chance the French Jews brush even a single hair of Brother Fofanaâs head, we will take care of the curls of your rabbi.â In July, Sarkozy, who was then the interior minister, had the Tribu Ka banned. All of this meant further embarrassment for DieudonnÃ©, who, it was revealed, allowed SÃ©ba to use the ThÃ©Ã¢tre de la Main dâOr for meetings in which he reportedly praised Hitlerâs ideas on race. DieudonnÃ©âs office issued a statement emphasizing the gulf between SÃ©ba and himself, and pointing out that SÃ©baâs âethnically based organizationââthe Tribu Ka excludes non-blacks from its meetingsâwas the opposite of the ârepublican project defended by DieudonnÃ©.â (Two months ago, the ThÃ©Ã¢tre de la Main dâOr announced SÃ©baâs stage dÃ©but, a âstreet politicâ production called âSarkophobie.â)
In August, 2006, DieudonnÃ© left town on an âanti-Zionist solidarity mission,â and arrived in Beirut in the wake of Israelâs war with Hezbollah. He was accompanied by his Presidential campaign manager, Marc Robert; the September 11th conspiracy theorist Thierry Meyssan; and Ahmed Moualek, the leader of the youth organization La Banlieue SâExprime! (The Suburbs Speak!). DieudonnÃ© met with the chief of Hezbollahâs television network, Al Manar, and was photographed shaking hands with Jesse Jackson, who looked befuddled. By his side during all these encounters was his new friend from the National Front, Alain Soral.
I saw Soral again this past May, two weeks after the French Presidential elections. Le Pen had won only ten per cent of the voteâhis worst showing in yearsâand failed to qualify for a second round. Though the victorious Sarkozy campaign managed to win National Front supporters by promising a tough new immigration policy, N.F. insiders blamed the outcome on Soralâs âbanlieueâ strategy and the alliance with DieudonnÃ©, who, they believed, had alienated white voters as well as moderates. âWe have passed into the Republic of Show Business, a schmatte monarchy,â Soral said glumly. âThere was almost nobody on the Champs-ÃlysÃ©es for Sarkozyâs victory, but on TV it looked like crowds. It was just like in Baghdad, with the tearing down of Saddam Husseinâs statue. It was all staged television, recycled crowds, Jews. The French people donât careâtheyâre like cows watching a train go by.â
December 21, 2007 | 12:02 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
The snickering and sniping over the supposed subliminal message in Mike Huckabee’s Christmas ad is just silly. But, I can’t say I’ve ever agreed more with a statement from the Catholic League’s Bill Donahue.
“Every other word out of [Huckabee’s] mouth is that ‘I’m Christian.’ He’s calling into question Romney’s Mormonism…let people talk about there faith, but don’t sell it on your sleeve.”
Added Donahue, “Yeah, I believe in freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but don’t become a salesman. Don’t hawk it like that on the street.”
December 21, 2007 | 11:05 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza, has been receiving a lot of attention for his ambitious—and pious—community-building project in Florida. One of my favorite writers at The New Yorker penned this piece last February about Monaghan’s plans to build a Catholic seminary and city based on Catholic values, both bearing the name Ave Maria.
But, in another long piece, Portfolio reports that Ave Maria’s in need of a miracle. (Cliche writing intentionally added.)
Monaghan and his partnersâthe Barron Collier Co., a major Florida real estate firm, and Pulte Homes, the country’s third-largest residential builderâsay it’s too early to judge the viability of the project, which, after all, is still in its infancy. But the circumstances of Ave Maria’s birth could not be more challenging. It was conceived in 2001, at the onset of the real estate boom, during which the median home price in Naples would double in just five years. The developers were originally hoping to construct 1,000 houses a year at Ave Maria, reaching a goal of 11,000 over the next decade, while also creating parks, shops, restaurants, and 500,000 square feet of office space. That’s not going to happen, at least not at the pace the developers had hoped, for reasons that are both symbolic of wider market conditions and peculiar to the uniqueâand controversialânature of Monaghan’s project.
Ave Maria is coming into being at the dawn of the worst real estate recession since the early 1990s, in a place that could fairly be called the epicenter of the bust. According to one recent study, the Naples area is the spot in America most at risk for a steep drop in home prices. But the deeper problem may be a conflict between Monaghan and his partners over Ave Maria’s identity. At this perilous juncture in the town’s existence, they can’t agree about how Catholic it should be. Barron Collier and Pulte, both of which are far more interested in profits than prophets, are downplaying the role of religion in the town’s development, marketing Ave Maria as a place no more intrinsically Catholic than St. Louis or Corpus Christi, Texas.
But Monaghan and the believers who surround him say that the town’s religious character is its great strength, not only spiritually but commercially. They worry that by pitching the development to home buyers as just another anodyne suburb, Barron Collier and Pulte risk alienating the very people most inclined to make Ave Maria their home. “I wonder sometimes whether they don’t treat this as if it’s the same as every other development they do,” Monaghan says of his secular partners. “I think if they put a lot of money into marketing to the general population, they might be wasting a lot of it.”
Early indications suggest he may be right.
Which raises the question of the day: Would you want to live in a town of not only homogeneous religious beliefs but also moral values?