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Manhattan’s Biggest Menorah Mystery, Solved

The story behind the massive Hanukkiah atop a Fifth Avenue building

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William Goldberg's Fifth Avenue Menorah. (William Goldberg)

Ever wonder about that massive menorah perched on an office building terrace at Fifth Avenue and 48th Street during Hanukkah? You can see it from the street; the Hanukkiah sits on the 14th floor of 589 Fifth Avenue, overlooking one of the busiest stretches of Manhattan.

To the family it belongs to, though, the menorah is simply a longtime tradition, not a diamond district beacon.

“We don’t realize that all the cars driving down Fifth Avenue can see it,” admits Saul Goldberg, whose father, diamond macher William Goldberg, first put up the menorah nearly two decades ago on the terrace of his eponymous company’s Fifth Avenue offices. (more…)

New Orleans Pelicans Waive Gel Mekel

The NBA’s second Israeli player is left without a team once again

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Gal Mekel, formerly of the Dallas Mavericks, on November 29, 2013. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Gal Mekel, the second Israeli to play in the NBA, is once again without a team. Dropped by the Dallas Mavericks after only one season at the end of October, the Tel Aviv-born point guard seemed to still have a few promising options. In early November, though, his deal with the Indiana Pacers fell through at the eleventh hour because of a visa technicality, and he was once again a free agent. Earlier this month, though, he was signed by the New Orleans Pelicans, and it looked like Mekel was finally getting settled in the NBA. Today, though, the Pelicans announced they had waived Mekel, just two weeks after he joined the team.

As Raphael Gellar wrote in October, after Mekel’s departure from Dallas, going back to Israel and playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv—or even Hapoel Jerusalem, the team part-owned by New York Knick Amar’e Stoudemire—remained a possible fallback plan. (more…)

Former Nazis to Stop Receiving Social Security

Obama closes legislative loophole, ending controversial longtime practice

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U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Following an Associated Press report that revealed dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals were receiving Social Security payments long after agreeing to leave the country, President Obama signed legislation officially ending the practice. The bill moved quickly, getting unanimously approved by the House earlier this month and passed by the Senate two days later.

The new law targets suspected former Nazis who snuck into the U.S. after World War II and were stripped of their American citizenship when the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations discovered them. Most elected to quietly leave before they faced deportation, a deal sweetened by the promise of continued Social Security payouts. (more…)

Soccer Star Suspended Over Instagram Post

Mario Balotelli faces one-game ban and fine over Super Mario post

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Mario Balotelli on December 14, 2014. (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Liverpool striker player Mario Balotelli was suspended for one game and fined £25,000 (roughly $40,000) over a controversial image the Italian soccer posted on Instagram. The footballer, whose nickname is Super Mario, reposted a picture of the video game character along with some text. “Don’t be racist,” the message read, “be like Mario: He’s an Italian plumber created by Japanese people, who speaks English and looks like a Mexican, jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew.”

My colleague Liel Leibovitz brushed off the post’s seriousness or significance. “It’s dumb,” he wrote, “but it’s not overt racism”—which is something, Leibovitz pointed out, that Balotelli has had to deal with often throughout his professional career. “It’s particularly tedious, then, to have to defend Balotelli against charges of racism,” Leibovitz continued. “And it’s equally absurd to think that the player, adopted at a young age by the Jewish daughter of Holocaust survivors, is guilty of even a whiff of anti-Semitism.” (more…)

The Maccabees Would Never Have Canceled ‘The Interview’

And if we can’t see it in theaters, it should be streamed into our homes

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Actors James Franco and Seth Rogen attend the Premiere of Columbia Pictures' 'The Interview' on December 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Sony ultimately cancelled the release of the film. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Well, it’s official. Burn down the temple and start loving the taste of bacon (we all have to make sacrifices, am I right?) because this Hanukkah, the Maccabees have lost. That, at least, seems to be lesson gleaned from Sony’s cancellation of the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview, following threats from the North Koreans to attack theaters showing the film. (And since it was scheduled to open on December 25, and we know who tends to go to the movies then, I think we can safely classify this as an anti-Semitic attack as well, or it would be, if anyone in North Korea knew what a Jew was.)

There are a couple of things one can infer from this event. (more…)

Al Goldstein’s Brash, Brazen Legacy

Remembering the outlandish ‘Screw’ publisher one year after his death

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Portrait of American pornographic magazine publisher Al Goldstein as he holds open his jacket to reveal a t-shirt that bares the name of his publication, 'Screw,' New York, New York, June 26, 1969. (Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)

You don’t romanticize Al Goldstein. You don’t romanticize a 300-pound New York pornographer who incessantly detailed his penchant for pastrami, oral sex, and Cuban cigars. You don’t romanticize a man who made millions off sex hotlines and prostitution ads, and you certainly don’t romanticize the 11-foot middle finger statue on the lawn of Goldstein’s Pompano Beach mansion, where he liked to ‘moon’ passing boats.

He might be crucial to your first amendment rights. He may have been the first to portray sexuality in all its realness, and one of the first to depict homosexuality on newsstands. But you still don’t romanticize Al Goldstein. (more…)

A Visit From the Ghost of Hanukkahs Past

Seeing the Empire State Building lit in blue and white set my mind whirling

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Empire State Building lit up for Hanukkah. (ESBNYC.com)

I am a bad Jew. When I was in kindergarten, I convinced my parents to let me drop out of Hebrew school. They’d wanted to us to perform something called The Camel Dance, in which groups of five boys and girls walked around in a circle, backs humped over like camels, while some senile crone tinkled something out on a nearby upright piano. I have never liked to do anything that I’m not any good at (sing, dance, group sports), and this dance was an affront to my sense of self and dignity. Also, there was another little girl in my Hebrew school class whose prematurely arched eyebrows made me very uncomfortable.

I know, I know. None of this (camels, eyebrows) had anything to do with the substance of what was being taught in Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s kindergarten-level Hebrew school curriculum. I can’t imagine we did much more than color inside the lines of dreidel- and Seder plate-themed coloring books. (more…)

Rabbi Harold Schulweis Dies at 89

Conservative movement leader was known for synagogue innovation

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(Rabbi Harold Shulweiss; Valley Beth Shalom)

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, leader of the Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in Encino, CA, died Thursday at age 89.

Schulweis, who was a national leader in the Conservative movement, helmed the Encino congregation since 1970, during which time he instituted a series of synagogue innovations, including, in 1971, synagogue-based Havurot discussion groups. He also founded several Jewish organizations, including Mazon and Jewish World Watch. (more…)

What Hollywood Gets That Obama Doesn’t

Recognizing North Korea’s very real threat, Sony had to axe The Interview

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Workers remove a poster-banner for 'The Interview' from a billboard in Hollywood, California, December 18, 2014 a day after Sony announced it had no choice but to cancel the movie's Christmas release and pull it from theaters due to a credible threat. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Hollywood celebrities are appalled that Sony Pictures has canceled The Interview, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s comedy about killing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in the wake of North Korea’s cyber-attack on the company. “Saw ‪@Sethrogen‬‬ at JFK,” Rob Lowe tweeted. “Both of us have never seen or heard of anything like this. Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today.”

Some of the stars blamed Sony in particular, while others blamed the theaters that refused to show the film. “I think it is disgraceful,” tweeted Judd Apatow. “Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?” Jimmy Kimmel agreed: “An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.” (more…)

A Hanukkah Protest Against Police Brutality

Menorah lighting and blessings punctuate rally for social justice

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Rally against police brutality held on the second night of Hanukkah outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo by the author)

On Tuesday night, about 150 people gathered in the rain under the oculus of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to protest police brutality. The event was held in the wake of recent rulings to not prosecute police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men.

It was not unlike many of the recent series of protests during the current furor. What set this particular protest apart was that it was organized by JFREJ, Jews for Racial Equality and Justice) in conjunction with the first night of Hanukkah. Many of the picket signs were in the shape of hamsa symbols and the protest included prayers augmented to include mentions of Eric Garner and calls for justice. The protest was one of many across the country in several cities including San Francisco, Washington, and Chicago. (more…)

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