Tuesday, September 25, 2012

G'mar Hatimah Tovah

May You Be Sealed
in the Book of Life for a Good Year. 

Ba'Olam will return on Wednesday.

Federal takeover of B’nai B’rith pension raises questions on group’s future

Volunteers in 2008 at the Homecrest House in Silver Spring, Md.,
one of B'nai B'rith International's network of independent living facilities for senior adults.
B'nai B'rith has had its pension program taken over by the federal government.
(B'nai B'rith International)
The U.S. government’s recent takeover of B’nai B’rith International’s pension plan, which is more than $25 million in debt, raises serious questions about the long-term viability of the 169-year-old, once-giant Jewish organization.

The plan, which has about 500 participants, has $55.6 million in liabilities but only $30.1 million in assets. On Sept. 11, the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. said it would assume control of payments and raised questions about B’nai B’rith’s future. -- Neil Rubin, JTA

To read more, click here.

Barbra, Liza and Aretha Honor Marvin Hamlisch

Three Divas Sing at Memorial for 'Chorus Line' Composer
Wave to Crowd: Sarah Jessica Parker arrives at memorial for Marvin Hamlisch.Getty Images

Three of America’s leading stage performers - Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli and Aretha Franklin - paid tribute to Marvin Hamlisch on Tuesday, honoring the late composer for his contributions to Broadway and movies, as well as their personal lives.

The invitation-only tribute for the composer of numerous hit records, movies and musicals such as “A Chorus Line” was held at the New York’s Juilliard School for the Arts where Hamlisch studied as a boy after three years earlier displaying at the age of 4 a gift for mimicking music.

Hamlisch died after a brief illness in Los Angeles on Aug. 6 at the age of 68, causing an outpouring of grief from well-known entertainers and fans and prompting Streisand, Hamlisch’s friend for the past 45 years, to organize the tribute. -- Reuters via Forward

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‘Homeland,’ based on Israeli series, wins best drama Emmy

"Homeland," which is based on the Israeli television series "Hatufim," was named the year's best drama series at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards.

"Homeland" also won Emmys for best actress and best actor -- Claire Danes and Damian Lewis -- and for best writing with Gideon Raff, the Israeli creator of "Hatufim," Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. The cast of "Homeland" was in Israel in May to film parts of the second season.

The Emmy Awards were held Sunday night in Los Angeles.

Homeland's win prevented "Mad Men" from winning its fifth straight best drama Emmy.

"Modern Family" took the Emmy for best comedy series.

The list of nominees had included several Jewish stars. Jewish filmmaker and actress Lena Dunham was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Hannah Horvath on the HBO series "Girls." The show also was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series and was inspired by Dunham’s experiences as a Jewish young woman living in New York City.

Larry David, who is best known as one of the creators of the TV show "Seinfeld," was nominated as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his role in the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The show also was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Mayim Bialik was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her role as Amy Farrah Fowler on the CBS show "Big Bang Theory." The show also was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Max Greenfield, an American actor known for his roles on "Veronica Mars," "Ugly Betty" and "Modern Men," was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role as Schmidt in the Fox series "New Girl." -- JTA

Hebrew University awarded $5 million grant for brain sciences center

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was awarded a $5 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust for its Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences.

The funding, announced Thursday, will be delivered over a three-year period to support imaging equipment, administrative support and staffing at the Safra Center, which conducts research related to neurodegenerative diseases and was founded in 2009.

"This generous gift will enable the development of pioneering therapies and innovations that will improve the quality of life for people worldwide," said Martin Karlinsky, president of American Friends of Hebrew University. He lauded the Helmsley Trust for “advancing Israel’s finest efforts to unlock the mysteries surrounding the structure and function of the brain." -- JTA

Jeff Astrof on Keeping Shabbos and 'Partners'

Shawni Astrof
CBS has enough confidence in its newest sitcom to give it a prime spot in its Monday night lineup, sandwiched between two hits, “How I Met Your Mother” and “2 Broke Girls.” That show, “Partners,” is premiering September 24 and is about two childhood friends navigating adult relationships.

Joe (David Krumholtz) and Louis (Michael Urie) are partners in an architectural firm they talked about since they were kids. Now grown up, Joe has a steady girl, Ali Landau (Sophia Bush), while Louis has a steady boy, Wyatt (Brandon Routh).

The show is largely based on the lives of its two co-creators, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, whose friendship and partnership (they created “Will & Grace”) survived quite nicely, thank you very much.

Jeff Astrof is the show’s co-executive producer and one of the few Sabbath observant comedy writers in television. He spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about Jewish characters on TV, and how a reform Jew from Long Island started wearing a kippa. -- Curt Schleier, Forward

To read more, click here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

From Blossom to Amy but Still Always Mayim

Mayim Bialik, as Amy Farrah Fowler, with Jim Parsons in “The Big Bang Theory.”
It is 9:30 on a weekday morning, and the scene inside the one-bedroom house in Los Angeles’s Studio City neighborhood feels like an advertisement for the neo-hippie home-schooling life.

The two boys are still in pajamas. The family bed, adjoining mattresses where the two sleep with their parents, has been hastily made. The mother, who has finished cooking a dish of vegan macaroni and cheese, summons her 6-year-old for a piano lesson, padding across the room in sock-monkey slippers. …

The mother in question: Mayim Bialik, 36, star of the 1990s TV show “Blossom,” who will wear the Bordeaux gown on Sunday at the Emmy ceremony, as a nominee for best supporting actress for her role as the hilariously deadpan neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler in the comedy series “The Big Bang Theory.”

If Ms. Bialik has the distinction of being a celebrated child star who slipped off the radar, led a successful civilian life, then re-emerged years later in not only what appears to be prime mental health but a well-received role in a leading sitcom, it’s not her only distinction. Even in a world where it’s become common for celebrities to be not just performers but politicians, business owners, international humanitarian workers and conspicuously attentive parents, Mayim Bialik’s collection of choices is unusual.

Ms. Bialik in her dress
for the 2011 Emmys.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Ms. Bialik is a proponent of attachment parenting, the intensive, much-debated child-rearing approach that involves co-sleeping (hence the family bed), natural childbirth and nursing-on-demand. She’s also the author of a recently published book on the topic, “Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way,” and just announced that she is writing a vegan cookbook. In addition to playing a scientist on TV, Ms. Bialik also has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from U.C.L.A....

Ms. Bialik is also an observant Jew (she calls herself “aspiring modern Orthodox”). On Facebook and her blog on the Jewish parenting Web site Kveller, Ms. Bialik has been unusually open about her life, her choices and her imperfect attempts to reconcile the conflicts that crop up around them.

Last fall, she wrote about how she went to work on the Jewish holiday Sukkot, when Orthodox Jews do not work or drive. She hired a driver for the holiday, refrained from using her computer or cellphone, and dressed up to make the day feel special.

The Emmy gown was specifically, and painstakingly, selected to cover Ms. Bialik’s arms and much of her chest, conforming to the religious modesty guidelines she has embraced. Last year, she wrote in her blog about the arduous quest for a suitable dress, which she called “Operation Hot and Holy.”

It succeeded only after Ms. Bialik, frustrated with her stylist (“It was not a meeting of the minds,” she said), bought her own dress online. This year her new stylist, Alison M. Kahn, chose the gown, by the designer Pamella Roland. (“I don’t know who she is,” Ms. Bialik said in August, “but I don’t know who anyone is.”) -- Elissa Gootman, NY Times

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UN looks to Israeli disabilities group for advice

A Ra’anana organization that blazes new trails for people with disabilities now has a global forum in which to share its expertise, research and innovations.
Beit Issie Shapiro opened Israel’s first hydrotherapy program and hydrotherapists’ training program.
Hydrotherapy, multisensory rooms and inclusive playgrounds are among the special-needs services implemented by Israel’s Beit Issie Shapiro (BIS) as a model for Israel and beyond. In recognition of its leading role, the Ra’anana-based nonprofit recently won special consultative status from the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) — one of only 12 Israeli organizations to earn this standing.

The designation will allow the 32-year-old BIS — named Israel’s most effective nonprofit organization — to share its research and solutions more widely, and to assist ECOSOC in serving as the central forum for formulating economic and social policy recommendations to the UN and member states concerning people with disabilities. -- Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c

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New Israeli tactic makes deadly viruses commit suicide

Virus-infected cells after treatment with Vecoy.
Photo courtesy of Shmulik Ittah and Yaniv Amir
There’s the West Nile Virus forging a deadly path in North America, and a new round of Ebola in Africa. Then there’s bird flu, SARS and a handful of other rampant and unusually evil viruses circling the globe. Any new super virus out of control could be far worse than the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, which killed 40 million people in just two years, says Israeli biologist Erez Livneh, CEO and founder of a new biotech company Vecoy Nanomedicines….

Vecoy offers a cunning new way to disarm viruses by luring them to attack microscopic, cell-like decoys. Once inside these traps, the viruses effectively commit suicide. -- Karin Kloosterman, Israel21c

To read more, click here.

Israel's Silicon Wadi

 Photo: Ronen Goldman
How booming Web ventures are transforming hip, arty Tel Aviv into a top city for startups -- Jessica Steinberg, Adweek

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Poll: Haredi parties distancing Jews from religion

Hiddush survey reveals 67% Jews feel haredim alienating public; 76% Jews unsatisfied with gov't handling of religious issues.
Photo: Screenshot
A new poll conducted for the Hiddush religious freedom lobbying group revealed that 67 percent of the Jewish population believes that the activities of haredi political parties distance the public from Judaism.

The poll also showed that 76% of the Jewish population is not satisfied with the government’s handling of religious issues, and 64%, including 56% of religious people, thinks discrimination against women in the public domain should be a criminal offense.

Hiddush’s fourth annual poll, conducted by the Rafi Smith group using a sample of 800 people, is a barometer of attitudes to issues of religion and state. -- Jeremy Sharon, Jerusalem Post

To read more, click here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Israeli ‘Kippa Man’ skullcap vendor faces lawsuit over use of Batman and Spiderman images

In this picture taken Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010,
Jewish women buys men’s skull caps during a designer fashion fair in Jerusalem.
Maya Hasson, File/ Associated Press
DC Comics and Marvel are suing a Jerusalem vendor for selling Jewish skullcaps, or kippas, adorned with unauthorized images of crime-fighting superheroes Batman and Spiderman, a lawyer representing the comics giants said.

Lawyer Chagay Netzer said the “Kippa Man” store was violating the intellectual property rights of both companies. DC Comics and Marvel are each demanding 25,500 U.S. dollars in damages and expect the store to stop selling the kippas.

The popular downtown store draws hordes of tourists with its colorful skullcaps, many featuring cartoon characters or sports insignia.

The separate lawsuits were served last week. The shop’s owner declined to comment. -- Associated Press via Washington Post.

To read more, click here.

Raising the education bar for Ethiopian Jews

Pnina Gaday Agenyahu is the first Ethiopian-born member of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, and directs the Tel Aviv University Hillel.
Pnina Gaday Agenyahu
Pnina Gaday Agenyahu’s classmates in Haifa all got parental help with homework. Her own mother couldn't do that -- she wasn’t literate in her native language and certainly not in Hebrew. But her decision to live among Israelis rather than in an Ethiopian immigrant community was well thought-out.

“We were the only Ethiopian family in our neighborhood,” Agenyahu says. “On the one hand, it’s a privilege to live among a wider family and we missed that support, but on the other hand my mom understood that here she would be able to raise her kids with more opportunities. It was more challenging to be on our own, and it was lonely, but it also required us to be like the Israelis around us.”

And despite the lack of homework assistance, she excelled academically. Now 30, Agenyahu was recently appointed as the first Ethiopian-born member of Israel’s Council for Higher Education. Since August 2007, she has been the Hillel director at Tel Aviv University, the world’s only Ethiopian-born director among more than 500 Hillel campus clubs. -- Avigayil Kadesh, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

To read more, click here.

Rabbis, cantors to take Food Stamp Challenge

Rabbis and cantors across the United States have agreed to spend $31.50 on food and beverages for one week in support of those living on food stamps.

The 2012 Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge marks the third year that participating clergy have agreed to spend the amount allocated for individuals on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The clergy also will educate congregants about hunger in the U.S. from now through Thanksgiving.

Hunger and food insecurity are “rarely talked about and frequently misunderstood,” Rabbi Leonard Gordon, co-chair of the challenge, noted in a statement to JTA. This challenge “is a way for rabbis and cantors to make the invisible daily struggles of congregants and neighbors real while demonstrating the Jewish community’s deep commitment to help those in need.”

Rules of the Food Stamp Challenge include keeping receipts and calculating food costs on everything consumed, even if the items already were in the house. Participants also are asked to shun free food, including food at receptions or office coffee.

Those taking the challenge are encouraged to donate the money they normally would have spent on food that week to a local food bank or anti-hunger advocacy organization.

“On a budget of only $1.50 per meal, many SNAP recipients must settle for unsatisfying meals that lack the necessary nutrition and energy to meet the demands of work and family,” according to Abby Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Jewish organizations involved in the project include the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; MAZON; the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly; the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; the Union for Reform Judaism; the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; Uri L’Tzedek; the American Conference of Cantors; and the Cantors Assembly. -- JTA

Israel’s nuke head invites IAEA inspection

The head of Israel's nuclear agency invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its Soreq nuclear research center.

Dr. Shaul Chorev, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, during a speech Wednesday to the IAEA's General Conference in Vienna said that Israel has formally asked the IAEA to conduct a safety assessment at Soreq, Ynet reported.

Chorev said an inspection "will benefit all concerned in Israel, including the general public. It will also manifest the operation of Israel's nuclear centers according to high safety standards which are compatible with IAEA standards," according to Ynet.

Soreq is under IAEA inspection. The nuclear reactor at Dimona, which is rumored to produce nuclear weapons, is closed to the outside. Israel neither confirms nor denies that it possesses nuclear weapons.

Chorev said that Israel opposes the plan to hold a conference later this year on Middle East nuclear disarmament, calling it "futile," according to Ynet. The conference is favored by the Obama administration, according to reports. -- JTA