December 18th, 2014

White House throws two Hanuka parties

President Obama emphasizes freedom — of Alan Gross from a Cuban prison — and food


WASHINGTON (JTA) — I’ve been JTA’s Washington bureau chief for 11 years, but this was the first time I scored a coveted invitation to the annual White House Hanuka party.

A Washington tradition started by President George W. Bush, the party has actually expanded (to meet demand) to two: one in the afternoon and one in the evening.

This year’s mood was particularly festive, given that the parties were on Wednesday, the same day that Alan Gross was released from five years in a Cuban prison.

President Obama speaking at the first of two White House Hanukkah parties in Washington, Dec. 17, 2014. (Steve Sheffey)

President Obama speaking at the first of two White House Hanuka parties on Wednesday. (Photo: Steve Sheffey)

President Obama, who earned enthusiastic cheers at both parties, is still a smart enough pol to have played that to the hilt.

“I’m told that in the Jewish tradition, one of the great mitzvahs is ‘pidyon shvuyim,'” he said to applause at the afternoon party. “My Hebrew is not perfect, but I get points for trying. But it describes the redemption, the freeing, of captives. And that’s what we’re celebrating today, because after being unjustly held in Cuba for more than five years, American Alan Gross is free.”

That got laudatory whoops.

Obama also emphasized another Jewish tradition: food.

“I spoke to [Gross] on his flight. He said he was willing to interrupt his corned beef sandwich to talk to me. I told him he had mustard in his mustache; I couldn’t actually see it,” the president said. Keep reading →

December 17th, 2014

‘Exodus': Testosterone-fueled journey to ancient Egypt

New Ridley Scott film about Moses alternately evokes and evades the dominant events in the modern Jewish world


Moses, as best I recall from Hebrew school and The Ten Commandments, was a reluctant prophet with a speech impediment who was ultimately persuaded by the unspeakable, unceasing suffering of his people — and God’s fearsome support — to confront Pharaoh and lead the Hebrews out of slavery.

My, how (biblical) times have changed. The much-anticipated Hollywood epic Exodus: Gods and Kings reinvents the saga of a people’s miraculous liberation as one rugged individualist’s journey of self-discovery, identity and profound purpose.

The fundamental matter of spirituality, which might be defined in this context as the courage and power of faith, comes up in conversation a few times but not in ways that impact the moviegoer’s experience. Your post-film repartee is more likely to center on the curious and disconcerting form in which God (or is it an angel acting as his emissary?) appears.

Moses (Christian Bale) rides triumphantly into battle in a scene from Exodus: Gods and Kings, which opened in wide release on Dec. 12. (Photo: Kerry Brown)

Moses (Christian Bale) rides triumphantly into battle in a scene from Exodus: Gods and Kings, which opened nationwide Dec. 12. (Photo: Kerry Brown)

Exodus: Gods and Kings, which opened everywhere on Dec. 12, is a sun-blistered chunk of glowering, male-centric mythmaking. Aside from its oddly anticlimactic ending — recognizing that it’s a tough call how many desert miles and years to continue the tale after the Red Sea — this is a well-paced, continuously engaging piece of mainstream entertainment with the requisite amount of impressive visual effects (in 3D). Just don’t go expecting to be awed, or to have a religious encounter.

Keep reading →

December 17th, 2014

Hebrew National lawsuit ends


A lawsuit alleging that Hebrew National hot dogs were not made from “100% kosher beef” as advertised has come to an end.

The plaintiffs in the suit, which was first filed in June 2012, have not appealed the Oct. 6 decision by the Dakota County District Court, which granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

“It would be unholy, indeed, for this or any other court to substitute its judgment on this purely religious question,” Judge Jerome B. Abrams wrote in the introduction to his 43-page ruling (10-10-14 AJW).


On July 31, Abrams heard arguments on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by the defendant, ConAgra Foods, Inc., the parent company of Hebrew National. The 11 plaintiffs in the lawsuit (Melvin Wallace, et al. v ConAgra Foods) contested the motion.

“No court in the land can pick a side, interpretation or point of view as to whether those religious requirements are met or unmet in these circumstances,” Abrams stated, regarding the legal wrangle over kashrut, Jewish dietary laws. He noted that ConAgra Foods relied on a “qualified religious observer,” Triangle K, to certify Hebrew National products as kosher.

Keep reading →

December 17th, 2014

Nazis lived among us

The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men, by Eric Lichtblau, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 266 pages, $25

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

If you’re feeling chilly these winter nights, grab a copy of Eric Lichtblau’s new book, The Nazis Next Door, and get your blood boiling.

In the first half, Lichtblau describes how, as Jews still languished in DP camps, even some of the worst Nazis and collaborators began new lives in the United States: imported by the U.S. Army to work on rocket programs; allowed in with biographies sanitized by the CIA, which used them as spies; or simply let in by indifferent or ignorant immigration workers.

The Army knew the truth about SS Maj. Wernher von Braun and about Arthur Rudolph, who ran the factory that worked thousands of slave laborers to death making von Braun’s V-2 rockets. Other Nazis falsely claimed innocuous wartime work or anti-Nazi beliefs, or gave truthful statements of ardent opposition to Communism. Often, the last seemed to suffice.


America’s swift postwar loss of interest in Nazi atrocities and its hysteria over Communism led the CIA and FBI to protect their supposed assets, hiding and denying knowledge of their wartime activities and killing investigations into their pasts.

“The true number of [Nazi] fugitives may never be known, but the number of postwar immigrants with clear ties to the Nazis likely surpassed 10,000,” Lichtblau says.

“Only grudgingly, in the late 1970s…would the nation begin to wake up to the reality that there were indeed legions of ex-Nazis living freely in their adopted homeland,” he says.

Keep reading →

December 17th, 2014

Editorial: #BlackLivesMatter

Two weeks ago, protesters gathered in south Minneapolis, outside of the Burger King at 34th Street and Nicollet Avenue. The demonstration was called to support fast food workers seeking a livable wage. Then a group split off from Burger King and headed to the I-35W freeway, where the focus of outrage became the refusal of grand juries in New York and Ferguson, Mo., to indict the police officers who recently killed young black men in street confrontations.

The protesters shut down the northbound lanes of I-35W for more than an hour, as they walked all the way downtown from 35th Street.

“Protesters were heard chanting ‘I can’t breathe,’ reportedly the last words of Eric Garner, who was subdued in a chokehold by New York City police. It’s become a rallying cry for those protesting police brutality,” reported Minnesota Public Radio.

The demonstration gained widespread local press attention, and engendered a discussion about policing, vis-à-vis the decision to let the protest proceed (with a Minnesota Highway Patrol escort), although a great many folks were inconvenienced by the shutdown of a major traffic artery.

The demonstration in Minneapolis (and another last Saturday that drew more than 500 mainly young people to the Hennepin County Government Center and downtown streets) was part of a nationwide upsurge of voices seeking social justice in the face of police shootings of unarmed blacks. The police shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the death of Garner in Staten Island, which resulted in no grand jury indictments of the officers involved, are two of the recent incidents that have sparked popular outrage. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has become the organizing category for social media publicizing these protests.

Keep reading →

December 10th, 2014

Knife attack raises security questions

The stabbing Tuesday at Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn is being investigated as a hate crime

By STEVE LIPMAN / The Jewish Week

NEW YORK (The Jewish Week via JTA) — Just three weeks after terrorists killed four worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue, a man entered a Brooklyn shul and stabbed a 22-year-old Israeli student.

New York police officers fatally shot the 49-year-old assailant, who reportedly shouted “Kill the Jews.”

At a press conference Tuesday, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said there is “no indication” the assailant, identified as Calvin Peters, was connected to a terrorist group. The Tuesday morning attack is being investigated as a hate crime.

The stabbing, at the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Crown Heights, highlighted the vulnerability of many large yeshivas and synagogues, particularly haredi Orthodox ones, which are often open 24 hours a day to accommodate students who end their learning or worship late at night or begin early in the morning.

Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish men during prayer at 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters of Chabad in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Sept. 24, 2013. (Photo: Mendy Hechtman / FLASH90)

Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish men during prayer at 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters of Chabad in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Sept. 24, 2013. (Photo: Mendy Hechtman / FLASH90)

The attack has prompted calls by security officials for an easing of these open-door policies, which can make schools and shuls inviting targets. While no one is suggesting airport-style searches at Jewish buildings, security experts are pointing to the need for more oversight over who comes in.

“Our goal is not to turn Jewish institutions into armed camps. Our goal is to ensure that people are trained to respond to a crisis, to be able to identify suspicious behavior,” said Paul Goldenberg, the national director of Secure Community Network, a national organization that helps coordinate security measures for the Jewish community.

Within hours of the attack, he said, his organization received requests for security briefings from several schools and synagogues.

Keep reading →

December 3rd, 2014

‘The Chanukkah Guest’ is MJTC’s holiday offering

Playwright Jenna Zark has incorporated several opportunities for audience participation in the show’s 50 minutes to engage young children


Let’s talk latkes. How do you like them best? Grated coarse or fine? Lots of onion or just a smidgen? Sour cream or applesauce? Or how about jam? Thick or thin? Do you make them from vegetables other than potatoes?

Latkes are a big part of every Ashkenazic family’s Hanuka celebration. There’s no right or wrong way to make them or eat them. However they’re made, they’re eaten with relish (no pun intended) and joy.

Latkes are also a big part of The Chanukkah Guest, a new play by the Twin Cities’ own Jenna Zark, which is based on Eric A. Kimmel’s book of the same title. In fact, latkes are such a big part of the play that they were served to the audience at the show’s Dec. 4 premiere at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company (MJTC), in the newly remodeled Hillcrest Center Theater in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood.

Actor James Pratt stars in Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production of The Chanukkah Guest, which runs through Dec. 21. (Photo: Sarah Whiting)

Actor James Pratt stars in Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production of The Chanukkah Guest, which runs through Dec. 21. (Photo: Sarah Whiting)

While this play is new, neither Zark nor Kimmel’s work is new to MJTC. Two of Kimmel’s other books already have appeared in play form there: Hershel and the Hanukah Goblins and The Magic Dreidels, the latter of which was also adapted for the stage by Zark. Hershel has been performed across the country.

Zark and Kimmel are clearly a winning combination, since MJTC Artistic Director Barbara Brooks recognized the synergy produced in The Magic Dreidels and commissioned Zark to do this newest adaptation. Keep reading →

December 3rd, 2014

We have a winner!


The winner of the 23rd annual American Jewish World Hanuka Cover Contest is Yonah Davis, who is in the 8th grade at Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School.

Yonah’s artwork appears on the cover of the AJW’s Dec. 5 Hanuka special edition. Also, artworks selected as runners-up in the contest appear on Page 2 of this week’s print edition and HERE.

Congratulations to all of the young artists who entered the AJW Hanuka Cover Contest. We look forward to seeing your artworks next year.

You’re all winners in our book!

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