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Jewish Life Stories: The Nobelist who confirmed the Big Bang, the ‘Bagel Queen’ of Atlanta

This article is also available as a weekly newsletter, “Life Stories,” where we remember those who made an outsize impact in the Jewish world — or just left their community a better or more interesting place. Subscribe here to get “Life Stories” in your inbox every Tuesday.

Arno Allan Penzias, 90, the Nobelist who confirmed the Big Bang

Arno Allan Penzias, a child survivor of the Holocaust who shared the 1978 Nobel Prize in physics for discoveries that would confirm the Big Bang theory, died Jan. 21 in San Francisco. He was 90.

In 1964, he and a colleague at Bell Labs, Robert Wilson, were trouble-shooting a radio telescope in Holmdel, New Jersey when they noticed an unexplained hiss. They would later determine it was a “cosmic echo” of the incendiary event that gave birth to the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

“The interference you see on an analogue television screen as you try to tune in to channels might seem an unlikely form of time travel, but within this static hiss lies a glimpse of the first moments of the universe,” the Nobel Foundation explains on its website. “Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson’s fortuitous discovery of a form of radio noise that bathes the cosmos provided a crucial piece of evidence for how the universe was created.”

Penzias was born in Munich to parents who had immigrated to Germany from Poland. In 1938 his family was placed on a train with other Jews of Polish origin for deportation to Poland. The Polish authorities refused to admit them and the train was turned back at the border. In 1939, Penzias, 6, and his brother Gunther, 5, were sent to London for safety as part of the Kindertransport rescue effort. They were reunited with their parents in 1940 and managed to secure passage to the United States.

The Holmdel horn antenna at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey. In 1964, radio astronomers Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation with it, for which they were awarded the 1978 Nobel prize in physics. (NASA/Wikipedia)

Penzias grew up in the Bronx where he attended public schools and later City College of New York. After serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps he received a doctorate in physics from Columbia University and joined Bell in 1963. In 1954 he married Anna Barras, a student at Hunter College who, according to his daughter, Rabbi L. Shifra Weiss-Penzias of Temple Beth El in Aptos, California, came from eight generations of rabbis.

Penzias and Wilson’s initial attempts to locate the source of the mysterious “hiss” included a theory that it was ambient radiation from pigeon droppings inside the telescope. Their search even inspired a bit of pop culture: In a 2015 episode of the Comedy Central series “Drunk History,” Jewish comedian Jenny Slate narrates a ribald version of their discovery. Actor Justin Long portrayed Penzias.

In 1992, Penzias arranged for the donation of parts of the telescope, known as the “Holmdel Horn,” to a museum in Munich. (The device itself  is a National Historic Landmark.) “It was very important to my father to remind [the Germans] what they lost,” Weiss-Penzias told the Boston Globe. “He wanted his work to be a living reminder of the refugees who left and the people who died.”

Carol Lee Meyer Carola, 68, the “Bagel Queen” of Atlanta

Bagel shop owner Carol Lee Meyer Carola appeared on the cover of the Atlanta Jewish Times wellness supplement in 2021. (Atlanta Jewish Times)

For over 30 years, the Bagelicious bagel shop in East Cobb, Georgia, has been a mainstay of the Atlanta Jewish community, known for catering simchas at area synagogues. In recent years the community rallied around co-owner Carol Lee Meyer Carola in her fight to save the shop during the pandemic and in her own battle with breast cancer, which was first diagnosed in 2013. Friends and customers walked in Team Boobuleh’s A Breast Cancer Schmear campaign in support of Georgia’s annual 2-day Walk for Breast Cancer. “It’s not going to get to me. It will not get me,” the “Bagel Queen” told the Atlanta Jewish Times in 2021. “I have a business to run and people who depend on me. I can’t give up.” The Queens, New York native died from cancer on Jan. 28. She was 68. “She knew every customer by name, including their children and grandchildren,” according to a family obituary. “Despite the demands of the business, her husband Tommy, their children, and their grandchildren were the center of her world.”

Berish Strauch, 90, a pioneering plastic surgeon

Berish Strauch was the chief of reconstructive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. (American Society of Plastic Surgeons)

Berish Strauch grew up watching his father, a tailor, and his mother, a hatmaker, wielding knives and scissors in their jobs. Their dexterity inspired him to become a surgeon, and after earning his degree at Columbia University’s medical school he became one of the most influential plastic surgeons of the past 50 years. He pioneered the toe-to-thumb transplantation technique, patented the “Strauch clamp” to restore male fertility post-vasectomy and developed the first inflatable prosthetic penis. The chair of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx from 1987 until 2007, he died Dec. 24, 2023, at the age of 90. His wife of 68 years, Rena Strauch, a former teacher and a stalwart at Beth El Synagogue Center in New Rochelle, New York, predeceased him by six weeks.

Michael S. Berman, 84, a consummate Washington insider 

Michael Berman, a longtime Democratic politico and lobbyist, seen at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, August 2000. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Michael S. Berman, 84, an old-school Washington political operative and lobbyist who served as deputy chief of staff and counsel to Vice President Walter Mondale, died Jan. 12. A consummate insider who programmed Democratic National Conventions for decades, he helped prep future Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her Senate confirmation hearings. He and Kenneth M. Duberstein, President Ronald Reagan’s last chief of staff, formed a lobbying firm that worked both sides of the aisle. When he was a kid growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, Berman’s parents became godparents of another Minnesota Jewish boy, Bob Zimmerman, who later changed his last name to Dylan.

Howard Golden, 98, Brooklyn borough president who helped Crown Heights heal

Howard Golden, Brooklyn’s borough president from 1977 to 2001, seen in 1996. (Kenneth C. Zirkel, Wikipedia)

Howard Golden, whose 24-year tenure as Brooklyn borough president overlapped with what became known as the Crown Heights Riots, died Jan. 24. He was 98. For three days in August 1991, Black residents of the neighborhood attacked members of its largely Hasidic Jewish community after a car in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher Rebbe struck and killed a Black child. Within days of the unrest, Golden created what became known as the Crown Heights Coalition, an intergroup forum that met in his office for the following 10 years to keep the peace. “There are some 90 languages spoken in this borough,” the former City Council member and son of a deli owner told the Jewish Press. “Brooklyn is an amazing mosaic.”

Joel Lind, 68, a “mainstay of Cincinnati community theater”

Joel Lind of Cincinnati acted in local theater and did audience research for new and traditional media properties. (Courtesy)

Joel Lind, who ran a media research firm in the Cincinnati area, died Jan. 24 at age 68. His personality comes through in a family obituary:

A lifelong New Yorker in spirit and Yankees fan — memorably described in youth as “fuzzy in an intelligent sort of way, and intelligent in a fuzzy sort of way” — Joel was raised in New Rochelle, NY. He attended the University of Rochester as an undergraduate and Columbia Law School, but left a Manhattan entertainment-law career behind to return to his true calling in radio. Joel spent 20 years as the perceptual-research guru behind the “Mental Weaponry” division at Critical Mass Media, where his presentations blended quantitative analysis, the art of the monologue, and obscure lyrical references. 

Joel taught a generation of Congregation Beth Adam Sunday-school students a Humanistic reading of Torah stories, under his “nom de chalk” Mr. Bozo. In his later life, Joel was a mainstay of Cincinnati community theater, and especially of his home group, Mason Community Players — a community whose care and generosity he described as boundless.

Joel’s last days were spent peacefully at Hospice of Cincinnati in Blue Ash, a decision he undertook, along with his children, after months of debilitating illness. He was gratified to learn that he outlived Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

The post Jewish Life Stories: The Nobelist who confirmed the Big Bang, the ‘Bagel Queen’ of Atlanta appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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MSNBC: Four Months of Disinformation on Israel and Gaza War

An aerial view shows the bodies of victims of an attack following a mass infiltration by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip lying on the ground in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel, Oct. 10, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg

Since the barbaric Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 — an attack in which 1,200 women, children, and men were tortured, raped, and killed — MSNBC has churned out multiple biased reports. Mehdi Hasan’s recent departure from the network is a positive step, but it does not go far enough to address the problems there. Many of the network’s other commentators continue to distort events related to the war, which Hamas started.

CAMERA has examined nearly four months of MSNBC coverage. One common distortion we found was the presentation of Hamas casualty statistics without caveat, emphasizing the alleged number of civilian and child casualties, without noting that Hamas itself does not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties. MSNBC has also presented these statistics without noting that Hamas recruits child soldiers; that some of those casualties have been caused by shortfalls of Palestinian rockets; that the numbers can’t be verified by any outside or unbiased source; and that the numbers of combatants the IDF claimed to have eliminated have not been subtracted from this number. Moreover, CAMERA noted at least two cases — NBC reporter Matt Bradley on January 25, and guest Kevin Baron on December 17 — in which MSNBC falsely characterized the entire Hamas-supplied casualty count as “civilians.”

Another recurring issue is the elevation of Jews who hold fringe positions and have limited credentials, such as Sarah Schulman, a fiction writer who teaches at the College of Staten Island and is an advisory board member of Jewish Voice for Peace (October 29); Daniel Levy, presented as an “Israeli peace negotiator,” but who never negotiated anything that was successful (December 14 and January 14); Masha Gessen, a staff writer at the New Yorker who has no particular expertise in the Middle East (December 17); Simone Zimmerman, co-founder of the fringe group IfNotNow (December 17); or even MSNBC’s own Peter Beinart. The vast, vast majority of both American and Israeli Jews support Israel in its defensive war against Hamas. But MSNBC presents such guests as if they hold expertise or authority, creating a false impression of a division in Jewish opinion about the war. Such individuals represent a tiny and extreme minority opinion at best, and are not representative of the Jewish community.

Perhaps most disturbingly, in two cases, we found that guests on the show had, functionally, called for the US to force Israel to surrender: Ilan Pappé on December 10 called on the US to “bring an end to the destruction of Gaza,” and Daniel Levy on January 14 called for the Biden administration to “use [its] leverage,” to curb Israel’s military campaign.

But another trend that we saw was an even more harmful form of misinformation by omission — specifically, minimizing or outright ignoring the 2005 Israeli withdrawal and complete disengagement from Gaza in order to blame Israel for the October 7 attack.

In 2005, Israel withdrew every single civilian and soldier from Gaza, leaving Gaza with a greenhouse agricultural business, a beautiful coastline for tourism, and the opportunity for the people to chart their own course for the future. In 2006, when the people of Gaza had the opportunity for freedom, and the opportunity to build a peaceful and prosperous society, they elected Hamas, a group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. On October 7, 2023, Hamas acted on that sentiment, starting the most recent war (it previously had started numerous others by attacking Israel in other ways). But in one segment after another, MSNBC commentators repeatedly ignored this, blaming Israel’s “siege” or “occupation” of Gaza, rather than the election of Hamas, for the October 7 attack as well as for the current war.

This first happened on October 9, just two days after the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust. As previously noted by CAMERA, Joy Reid and her guests Peter Beinart, Ayman Mohyeldin, Ali Velshi, and Lt. General Stephen Twitty ignored Hamas’ dedication to genocidal violence against all Jews, as expressed in its charter and in its leaders’ rhetoric, omitted Israeli offers of Palestinian sovereignty and independence, and sought to imply that the carnage was inevitable due to Israel’s actions.

Reid did note that Israel withdrew from Gaza, and that subsequent to that withdrawal, Gaza elected Hamas, but she was either unable or unwilling to see the causal connection between the election of Hamas and Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza. Instead, she and her guests blamed Israel for the attack.

Later that month, on October 29, Sarah Schulman, as noted above, appeared as a guest on the network. She falsely claimed that, “for 75 years Palestinians have been murdered and displaced and incarcerated,” that “the conditions have been created that are completely untenable and they exploded,” and that “the violence is a consequence of the oppression,” even while insisting that she was not “excusing” Hamas’ attack. 

On November 19, guest Omar Baddar stated, “we are here in the first place precisely because Palestinians have been denied freedom for decade after decade.” His co-panelist Peter Beinart agreed, saying, “ultimately, it’s only if Palestinians have a path to freedom, and they can see that ethical resistance, not what happened on October 7, but an ethical fight for freedom, is working, that’s the only way ultimately you’re going to weaken Hamas and make it an irrelevant political force.” And on November 27, guest Noura Erekat claimed that “there’s no military solution to this. … You actually have to end the occupation.”

On November 28, guest Omer Bartov, a Brown University professor, repeated the trope, saying, “if you keep people under siege for 16 years without any hope, without proper sanitation, without proper education, with very heavy unemployment, a place where they cannot leave, it becomes a pressure cooker. And people will want to break out.” And on January 2, Peter Beinart, again, said that “this Israeli government isn’t offering any vision whatsoever that might suggest that after Hamas, Palestinians, even if they had a completely different kind of leadership, might have any path to freedom. It’s basically just offering occupation and, frankly, apartheid. … The only way, it seems to me, to undermine Palestinian support for the kind of horrifying attack that we saw on October 7 is by showing Palestinians that by ethical resistance, resistance that follows international law, that they can actually achieve their freedom.”

All of these commentators ignored the Hamas Charter, which states, “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it….” It further states, “The Prophet, Allah’s prayer and peace be upon him, says: ‘The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: “Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,” except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews.’”

When the people of Gaza had freedom, in 2006, that is who they elected.

The war is not a consequence of the people of Gaza having been denied freedom by Israel, as so many of the MSNBC contributors want their viewers to believe. The war is a direct consequence of what happened when the people of Gaza had freedom. When MSNBC anchors allow guests and commentators to ignore Israel’s 2005 disengagement and Gaza’s 2006 election, they are promoting a form of misinformation.

Karen Bekker is the Assistant Director in the Media Response Team at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

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Norman Finkelstein’s Anti-Israel Rhetoric Given Center Stage in Biased Gaza Report

Norman Finkelstein at Solidarity stage in 2013. Photo: Wiki Commons.

In both a televised segment and online report on the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, Boston 25 News interviewed controversial academic Norman Finkelstein, presenting him as a “noted expert on Gaza.”

According to Finkelstein himself, this was the first time that he had ever appeared on American television.

There’s a good reason for that.

While Boston 25 News presented Norman Finkelstein as a dispassionate scholar capable of giving an objective analysis of the current war as well as South Africa’s allegation of genocide against the Jewish state at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), this is far from the truth.

In the almost half-century of his career as both an academic and a public persona, Norman Finkelstein has made a name for himself by engaging in the trivialization of both the Holocaust and modern-day antisemitism; the whitewashing of terrorism; and the vilification of the Jewish state.

In his controversial 2000 book The Holocaust Industry, Finkelstein asserted that the Holocaust is exploited by Jewish organizations and Israel in order to shield the latter from criticism.

In more recent years, he has made the same argument about allegations of a resurgence in antisemitism, claiming that there is no “new antisemitism” and that it is merely a cynical ploy used to defame critics of Israel.

In the past, Finkelstein has also invoked classic antisemitic stereotypes, claiming that “Jews are over-represented in the media” and “Jews are tapped into the networks of power and privilege” in the United States.

In 2020, Finkelstein even went so far as to assert that Holocaust deniers should not be considered antisemites and praised renowned Holocaust denier David Irving as “a very good historian” who “produced works that are substantive.”

Norman Finkelstein says infamous #Holocaust denier David Irving is a “very good historian” who “knew a thing, or two or three”. He said that at a meeting of @LAW_witchhunt which #antisemite Jackie Walker says was the “best” she attended this year. Golly.

— Campaign Against Antisemitism (@antisemitism) August 13, 2020

When it comes to internationally-recognized terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, Finkelstein has gone on record as justifying their actions against Israel.

In a 2011 interview, Finkelstein said that “it is impossible to justify terrorism” but, one sentence later, stated, “I do believe that Hezbollah has the right to target Israeli civilians … until Israel ceases its terrorist acts.”

In the same interview, he denied that Hamas uses human shields.

In response to Hamas’ brutal invasion on October 7, Finkelstein’s initial response was to say that the attack “warms every fiber of my soul.”

Two weeks later, as the full gravity of the attack was becoming more known, Finkelstein said it was difficult to “morally evaluate” those who committed the atrocities and also called into question certain aspects of the massacres themselves.

Along with venerating terror organizations, Finkelstein has referred to Israel as a “Jewish supremacist state,” accusing it of practicing apartheid.

In the past, Finkelstein has also referred to Israel as a “lunatic state” and accused it of committing a “holocaust” during its defensive military operation against Hamas, Cast Lead, in 2009.

Boston 25 News’s Biased Reporting

The uncritical reliance of Boston 25 News on Norman Finkelstein’s “expert” analysis is not the only concerning issue with this report.

In both the televised segment and accompanying article, Hamas’ brutal invasion is casually referred to as a “sneak attack.”

In addition, the article puts doubt into its readers’ minds as to the extent of Hamas’ atrocities as it claims that “it’s not clear whether friendly fire played a significant role in the bloodshed.”

Referencing those killed on October 7, the article says that “some 1,200 Israelis were killed,” minimizing the fact that the majority of those killed were civilians.

However, in the next paragraph, it states that “Israeli armed forces have killed more than 20,000 Palestinian civilians, most of them women and children.” There is no mention that a substantial percentage of this number (which is provided by the Hamas-run Ministry of Health) includes Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.

Similarly, the article notes that “hospitals, schools and refugee camps have been bombed,” and also that “Israel cut off water, food, medicine, electricity and fuel to Gaza after the October 7th Hamas attack.”

This picture of Israel’s activities in Gaza is deficient without mentioning how Hamas uses civilian infrastructure as cover for its terrorist activities, and how Israel has been cooperating with the international community to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza for use by the territory’s civilian population.

Additionally, both the televised segment and the article give voice to Finkelstein’s false claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, while the article goes further, uncritically parroting his assertion that the power of the Jewish communities in some of the ICJ justices’ home countries might affect their adjudicating South Africa’s case against Israel.

When a media organization gives a platform to the likes of Norman Finkelstein to provide the sole analysis of such a contentious topic, the report will ultimately fail to meet any journalistic standards of objectivity.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The post Norman Finkelstein’s Anti-Israel Rhetoric Given Center Stage in Biased Gaza Report first appeared on

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The Quest to Understand God Is the True Journey of Religion

A Torah scroll. Photo:

“I am Ad’nai, your God, who took you out of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2).

One of the most difficult subjects to write about is God. There are seven different names for God in the Torah, and some people like to cite this as evidence that the early Israelites worshiped several gods. But it is just as possible to explain this by saying that God is multifaceted, and that we can relate to God, or God can engage with us, on a personal, national, or universal level.

As the great scholar Umberto Cassuto said, God has a generic name and a person-specific one. But whenever you ask people to explain what they mean by God, you will find that no two people can come up with the same description of what they believe. Belief is such a very hard term to define.

Thanks to Maimonides, the idea of “believing in God” has become deeply embedded in Jewish religious life. But what do we mean by belief?

The Hebrew word emuna means to agree; be certain about something; or to trust. A nurse is an a’omenet –someone you trust to look after your children. When Moses’ hands got tired during the battle of Amalek, Aron and Chur held them up. As we learned last week, the Torah says that his hands were emuna, strong until the sunset when the battle was won. It is a conviction. It is not a rational, theological proposition, but a question of faith.

This makes sense. You can command somebody to do something, to keep the Shabbat, honor your parents. But how do you command somebody to believe in God?

Belief is not an action. It is a thought process, and we know how difficult it is sometimes to control our thoughts.

Significantly, the first of the Ten Principles (העשרת הדיברות) does not say “You must, or you are commanded to believe in God.” The Hebrew words that are used are simply, “I am the Lord your God.” This is a statement of the fundamental principle of the Torah.

But then how do you engage with this idea? We humans are very different. Some of us engage through feeling and emotion, and some of us through rationality and logic. Some of us have sophisticated brains and others are less complicated. Some of us are attracted to music and art, others to practical things. But in every case, the Divine dimension is fundamental to Judaism.  This spiritual dimension complements and adds to the physical.

The value of the Torah is precisely that it is more than just rational. There may be a rationale to a lot of the laws, but there are a lot of laws without rationale. All human moral systems so far have been shown in one way or another to come up short, partly because we humans have this capacity to convince ourselves of anything. A religion based in pure belief is different.

The challenge is for each one of us to find that relationship with God, whether it is rational or mystical, that suits our personalities and mindsets. Such a relationship is a very personal one. For some, it is inspirational, for others it is comfort. The idea of God, or an experience of God, is a quest. This is the true journey of religion. It can be taught. But it cannot be forced.

The author is a rabbi and writer, currently based in New York.

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