What’s in a Building’s Name?

Looking to Maimonides for guidelines on philanthropic giving

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. (littleny/

Years ago, in college, I was sitting in a library carousel distracted from my work by a scaffolding on an adjacent building. Over the course of several hours, the name Johnson, etched into stone over the doorway, was replaced by the name Wien. Wien, I guessed, had given money to the school. Presumably Johnson had too, but maybe his gift had run out or maybe Wien just gave more.

I was reminded of this episode recently when the New York Philharmonic and Lincoln Center announced that they were paying the family of Avery Fisher $15 million in order to be able to resell naming rights to the famed concert hall, as the organizations move toward a renovation expected to cost half a billion dollars. Now, of course, $15 million is a lot of money (though it’s just $5 million more than Fisher donated back in 1973 to support the building), but it’s a pittance compared to what they’re hoping to bring in. (more…)

Jon Stewart: ‘Behind Closed Doors I Only Quote Rabbinical Texts’

The Daily Show host plugs his new film Rosewater on The Colbert Report

Jon Stewart attends 'Rosewater' premiere on November 12, 2014 in New York City. (Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

“If you want to have a Talmudic discussion, I’m happy to have it,” said Jon Stewart last night on The Colbert Report, when The Daily Show host visited his old friend Stephen Colbert to promote his new film, Rosewater.

“I remember things you said behind closed doors,” Colbert, who got his start on Stewart’s show says, begins by saying, threatening to reveal his longtime boss and friend’s secrets.

“I’m going to say something to you, and you know this,” Stewart replies gravely. Behind closed doors I only quote rabbinical texts. You know that. There is no dark secret, there is no hidden agenda, I am merely an arbiter of biblical law.” (more…)

French Interior Minister Says He Loves the Jews

Bernard Cazeneuve tells Jewish community they have a friend in him

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on November 13, 2014. (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Addressing attendees at an event in Paris sponsored by France’s Radio J, a Jewish station, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve explained effusively how much he loved the Jews. JTA reports that the politician expressed his support for France’s Jewish community, which is still reeling from the ongoing spate of anti-Semitic incidents triggered by the Israeli operation in Gaza this summer, particularly in Paris.

“Every time you feel the violence exercised against you, when you are afraid for your children, when you are worried about this rising violence, remind yourselves that the republic protects you and an interior minister who loves you and who is your friend,” Cazeneuve told the crowd. (more…)

Germany Voted World’s Favorite Country

Beat out longtime first-place winner the United States in annual index


The people have spoken, and they love Germany. More specifically, an annual international index drawn from 20,125 interviews with residents of 20 countries this year found Germany to be this year’s most popular country—beating out longtime first-place winner the United States.

USA Today reports that the Denmark-based Anholt-Gfk Nations Brand Index, which “measures the image of 50 leading nations,” found Germany to have the best national image this year, awarding the country a superlative most often found in high school yearbooks. (more…)

Mike Nichols: ‘Jewish Humor Is a Way of Surviving’

An excerpt from Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish

Elaine May, Mike Nichols, and Dorothy Loudon as panelists on the game show Laugh Line on April 3, 1959. (NBC Television)

In 2005, Abigail Pogrebin published Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish. The following is an excerpt from the chapter about Mike Nichols, the legendary theater and film director who died Wednesday at 83. Nichols, who had the distinct honor of receiving an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy, and a Grammy throughout his career, directed films like The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Primary Colorss.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN TOLD ME that when he auditioned for The Graduate (1967), the director, Mike Nichols, told him that the WASPy character of Benjamin Braddock was “Jewish inside.” When I ask Nichols what he might have meant by this, he says his answer can be found in a Thomas Mann story. “Did you ever read Tonio Kröger?” he asks me. (I didn’t.) “It took place in Germany one hundred years ago and it was about the blond, blue-eyed people and the dark people. The dark people were the artists and the outcasts. And the blond, blue-eyed people were at the heart of the group and were the desired objects.” I see where he’s going: Benjamin’s an outsider, so he’s metaphorically Jewish. “

There would have been two ways to cast and direct The Graduate,” Nichols continues. “One is to have Benjamin be a sort of a walking surf-board, which is the way the novel is written, roughly. And the other is to express his difference from his Californiate family and their friends. And only semiconsciously, I think, did I pick the latter. (more…)

Diane Von Furstenberg Restoring Venice Ghetto

Designer launches $12 million preservation project of 500-year-old ghetto

Fashion Designer Diane von Furstenberg on November 17, 2014. (Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg announced a major restoration project, and it’s not a new wing of Manhattan’s High Line. The Jewish designer and philanthropist is leading the charge on a $12 million project to restore and preserve the Jewish ghetto in Venice, Italy.

“As much as this renovation is about preserving the past and the rich history of the Venetian and Jewish communities, today is about the future. All of us are responsible for making sure that future generations – 500 years from today – have access to these stories of human culture and progress,” she said. (more…)

Lakewood Cops Lend a Hand During Shabbat

Police now turn on lights, pick up meds for N.J. town’s Orthodox residents


The Lakewood, N.J., police department is now assisting Jewish residents with simple tasks, like turning on the lights or retrieving emergency medication from the drugstore, as a way of accommodating the town’s increasingly large, Shabbat-observant Orthodox population. Orthodox Jews account for nearly two thirds of Lakewood’s 90,000 residents.

“That’s the kind of community services that I encourage the officers to assist with,” Lakewood Police Chief Robert Lawson explained at the November 13 Ocean County Prosecutor’s excellently-named Bagels, Lox and Cops event. He added that similar discussions have “made the officers much more culturally sensitive to the customs and practices of the Orthodox citizens of Lakewood.” (more…)

Orthodox Jewish Man Assaulted in Brooklyn

Reportedly called ‘dirty bloody Jew’ during daytime subway platform attack

Marcy Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, N.Y. (The All-Nite Images/Flickr)

An Orthodox Jewish man was attacked Monday afternoon while waiting for the subway in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn, and the perpetrators reportedly hurled anti-Semitic epithets at him during the assault. Haim Ovanounou, 53, told police he was standing at the Marcy Avenue station platform when the incident occurred. He turned around to discover a man attempting to pickpocket him who, according to the New York Post, then “called him a “dirty bloody Jew” and spat in his face, police said.”

The attacker then grabbed Ovanounou’s umbrella and hit him in the head before running off.

The victim tried to chase the brute, but was quickly pounced on by two other attackers, who knocked him down and began kicking him repeatedly while shouting taunts like “f–king dirty Jew.”


Remembering a Pioneering Jewish Transgender Rights Activist

‘Stone Butch Blues’ author Leslie Feinberg died this week at 65

(Leslie Feinberg)

Pioneering transgender rights activist Leslie Feinberg, who also wrote the seminal novel Stone Butch Blues, died earlier this week after a years-long battle with several infections, including Lyme Disease. The Advocate reports that Feinberg self-identified as “an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist” whose final words were a request to be remembered as the latter.

Born into a working-class family, Feinberg was raised in Buffalo and left home as a teenager, creating a new family along the way with the poet Minne Bruce Pratt. (more…)

German Town Pulls One Over on Neo-Nazis

Turns annual extremist march into a fundraiser for a very good cause

Participants in an annual neo-Nazi demonstration march through the village of Wunsiedel, in southern Germany, on November 13, 2011. (DAVID EBENER/AFP/Getty Images)

Hordes of neo-Nazis have made been making an annual November pilgrimage to the small southeastern German town of Wunsiedel since the early 1990s to honor Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s deputy, who was buried there until his body was exhumed and cremated in 2011. And year after year, residents have tried different tactics to rid themselves of these marchers.

Counter protests and legal complaints failed, though the march is far less popular than it was at its peak in 2004, when more than 4,000 neo-Nazis participated. But the 250 marchers who showed up in Wunsiedel this past weekend were in for quite a surprise. (more…)

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