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The ‘Hanukkah Erotica Book Club’ aims to connect Jews — with romance novels

(New York Jewish Week) — First things first: Despite its name, there is no erotica and sometimes no Hanukkah in the Hanukkah Erotica Book Club.

Instead, the “book club” is actually a biweekly podcast about Jewish romance novels. Hosted by close friends and stepsisters Malya Levin and Rachel Mintz — who goes by her “Hebrew” name, Raizel, on the show — the duo discuss a different Jewish-themed romance novel each episode while simultaneously unpacking their Jewish identities and their experiences dating in New York City.

The podcast’s name, Hanukkah Erotica, came from a nickname Mintz coined for a genre that she didn’t even know existed until one year ago. That’s when she read her first-ever Jewish romance novel, “I’ll Be Home for Hanukkah” by KK Hedrin, about a big-city Jewish girl named Shayna Adler who finds herself living out a bizarre Hallmark Christmas-movie fantasy with a Jewish colleague when they get stuck in North Pole, Alaska over the holiday.

“I was very connected to the material,” Mintz told the New York Jewish Week. “It felt very nostalgic to the early 20s Malya and I experienced.”

Levin concurs. “Our relationship really formed during our early 20s on the Upper West Side, when we were coming into our own Jewish identities and having a lot of funny, stereotypical young single Jewish woman experiences,” she said.

Mintz and Levin, both 38, met shortly after they graduated college, when their parents started dating. They quickly became close as Mintz was looking to move to the Upper West Side. Levin was already living there, and as they became involved in the Jewish communities in the neighborhood, their social circles began to intertwine.

Now married with children — Brooklynite and elder abuse lawyer Levin has four and New Jersey-based Mintz has two — the podcast gives them an opportunity to spend time with each other, bonding over their mutually beloved book genre.

Jewish romance novels are a burgeoning genre that are written about Jewish protagonists, usually by Jewish authors. Like other publishing categories, romance has become more diverse in recent years, with novels centering on people of color, gay and lesbian characters and the neurodivergent. Authors like Elissa Sussman — author of “Funny You Should Ask” — and Jean Meltzer — author of “The Matzah Ball” and “Kissing Kosher” — have released best-selling novels in the last few years about Jewish protagonists seeking love. Jewish romance authors have attempted to change the narrative about Jewish stories to include joy and positivity — as the genre rule of romance is that there always has to be a happily ever after.

Then there’s The Ripped Bodice, a romance-only bookstore owned by Jewish sisters Leah and Bea Koch with locations in Brooklyn and Culver City, California. “We’re very passionate about fostering diverse narratives in romance novels,” Leah told the New York Jewish Week. “Highlighting Jewish representation in this genre is so important, especially for a group of people that is almost entirely represented by stories of tragedy. We love to introduce people to Jewish stories of love and joy.”

To that end, the Brooklyn bookstore is hosting Hanukkah Erotica’s first-ever live show on Dec. 13. Leah Koch calls the Hanukkah-themed event “a celebration of Jewish identity and inclusivity.”

“For us, it’s brought about a lot of thinking about our Jewish identity, Jewish practice,” Mintz said of the Hanukkah Erotica Book Club. “It sounds silly, but these books have made us think about a lot of aspects about Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood.”

Mintz, a preschool director and adjunct professor, told the New York Jewish Week she has read romance novels for as long as she can remember; she treated the genre as “a palate cleanser between ‘great books,’” she said.

Levin, meanwhile, had never read a romance novel when Mintz convinced her to read “I’ll Be Home for Hanukkah.” She admits she had many preconceived notions about the genre and was surprised by how much the novel resonated with her — right down to the protagonist bringing packets of tuna with her on vacation.

“Was this written for anyone except for me?” Levin recalls thinking. “That’s what it felt like.”

Mintz was shocked by the amount of feedback she got from friends after sharing passages and quotes from Jewish romance novels on Instagram — they were fascinated by these novels and wanted to know more about them, she said.

“It seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork and seemed interested in engaging in this conversation about this Jewish romance book,” Mintz said. “And I know Malya and I kind of banter and have this rapport. So when she said ‘this book is speaking to me,’ I knew we needed to book club this together and do it on a podcast.”

Now 38, the stepsisters and close friends, shown here in 2010, met as young women in the Upper West Side. (Courtesy)

Levin and Mintz give the impression of being in conversation with their audience, almost as if one is not listening to a podcast, but rather chatting with old friends.

That’s by design: The duo wanted “Hanukkah Erotica” to resemble a book club that discusses the books in the context of their lives. Both Mintz and Levin go into rambles about previous jobs, dating experiences and different segments of the romance community, giving listeners an insight into their lives. Their dynamic is casual and funny without trying to be.

“I don’t know that we could talk about these books without weaving our own personal experiences in, because that’s part of why we like these books,” Mintz said. “If they’re speaking to us, they’re probably speaking to other people.”

The stepsisters, while sharing a similar sense of humor and interests, grew up in very different Jewish communities: Mintz grew up Orthodox in Brooklyn and Passaic, New Jersey, while Levin was a member of a Conservative synagogue in Great Neck, New York. As Mintz and Levin draw upon their Jewish backgrounds, each host has moments when she can connect to aspects of a book that the other cannot.

On the podcast, which is produced by Levin’s husband, William, the pair often debate the novels’ depictions of Judaism and whether they find them to be accurate. They’ve taken on topics like whether an author took creative license when describing a Jewish deli that serves brisket and latkes with sour cream, or whether or not anyone goes to a Wednesday night Torah reading as a social event. (Turns out, said Levin, that some of their listeners do.)

One year and 25 episodes after starting “Hanukkah Erotica,” many aspects of the podcast have changed. What was initially conceived as a short-term podcast only focusing on Hanukkah romance evolved into a broader discussion about the Jewish romance genre.

“Once we finished Hanukkah, we didn’t feel done,” Mintz added. “Once we realized there was more out there in Jewish romance, we still wanted to have this conversation.”

They’ve since delved into High Holiday romances, Purim romances and Jewish summer camp romances. In the process, Mintz and Levin have realized that the world of Jewish romance extends into all the subgenres and tropes that non-religious romance does.

The podcast has also devoted episodes to Jewish romantic movies and television, featuring guest stars like Aleeza Ben Shalom from the Netflix reality show “Jewish Matchmaking” and Jonah Platt, star of Hulu’s 2022 holiday film, “Menorah in the Middle.”

With Hanukkah beginning on Thursday evening, Dec. 7, the pair are planning for their live Hanukkah episode to be about “Eight Kinky Nights” by Xan West, a novel described as “kinky polyamorous Chanukah f/f romance.” (F/f stands for “female/female.”) They also plan to cover “Round and Round,” the new Hallmark Hanukkah movie starring Bryan Greenberg — who they hope to get on the podcast — as well as “Eight Dates and Nights,” a new teen romance by Betsey Alderedge.

“For us, it’s brought about a lot of thinking about our Jewish identity, Jewish practice,” Mintz said of the Hanukkah Erotica Book Club. “It sounds silly, but these books have made us think about a lot of aspects about Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood.”

“The idea that Jewish Jewish readers like us can find themselves in any of these books, I think, is exciting. And we want to kind of broadcast that and highlight it,” Mintz said.


The post The ‘Hanukkah Erotica Book Club’ aims to connect Jews — with romance novels appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’

UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese, October 27, 2022 (Photo: Screenshot)

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.

Francesca Albanese responded to a long post by Alon Mizrahi, a far-left activist, arguing that the reason many Western nations support Israel is that they are colonial projects. 

She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”

” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs

— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024

The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”

Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”

The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.

David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”

An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”

The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.

It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”

Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”

Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”

Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.” 

When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”

The post UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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‘He Has Something to Say to Us Today’: Museum of Jewish History Set to Honor Legacy of ‘The Great Artist’ Arthur Szyk

Arthur Szyk, self portrait

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City is celebrating the 130th birthday of  the Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk with a special lecture series hosted by the world’s leading expert on his work.

Titled, “Commemorating Arthur Szyk’s 130th Birthday,” the lecture series will include four 90-minutes sessions led by award winning author Irvin Ungar, a former rabbi who has studied Szyk for over 30 years, publishing three books about him and hosting exhibitions of his art at museums throughout the world. Among art historians, Ungar’s scholarship and curation is credited with single-handedly fostering a “Szyk renaissance.”

Born in 1894 in the city of Łódź during the Russian Partition of Poland, Szyk, though his life ended prematurely in 1951, lived through a violent and epochal moment in history — an age of revolution, world war, and genocide. His works, from sketches of the Boxer Rebellion he drew at the age of six to his depiction of Hitler as Pharaoh — and later, Hitler as Anti-Christ — were expressive commentaries on troubled times.

After Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Szyk fled to England and then America, where he earned a reputation as a “soldier in art” for portraying the Nazis and Axis leaders as primal mad men and using irradiating imagery to alert the world to the plight of the Jewish people under Nazi occupation, an issue that affected him personally. In 1940, his mother, Eugenia, was murdered in the Chełmno extermination camp, just 30 miles from the city in which he grew up. Many more relatives, as well as those of his wife, were murdered during the Holocaust.

Arthur Szyk, Anti-Christ, 1942

Szyk’s contemporaries widely acclaimed his work, both for its creativity and social consciousness. In 1949, he published “Do Not Forgive Them, O Lord, For They Do Know What They Do!,” an anti-racist drawing condemning the bigotry that Black soldiers who fought fascism abroad faced in the segregated American south. In the piece, a soldier is on his knees and bound by rope while two hooded Klansmen holding shotguns watch him from a distance. His humanism once prompted allegations that he was a member of the Communist Party, charges which were entirely unfounded.

Today, Szyk is best known in the Jewish world for what is regarded as his magnum opus, The Haggadah, an “illuminated manuscript” which tells the story of Passover Seder in a series of watercolor illustrations. It was thoroughly anti-Nazi, linking the oppression of Jews in Nazi Germany with the enslavement of Jews in Egypt and, ultimately, their Exodus.

There is much more to learn about Szyk, Irvin Ungar told The Algemeiner on Thursday during a phone interview, including his tireless advocacy on behalf of the Zionist movement and the establishment of the State of Israel, as well as his “prolific” production of illustrations for modern editions of classic books such as Canterbury Tales and Anderson’s Fairy Tales.

“My job has been how to bring all these various aspects and dimensions of Arthur Szyk together and to present an unbelievably talented and creative artists who excelled in book illustration, religious art, and political art,” Ungar said. “He was excellent in all three. It’s very rare to find any artist who can excel in all three areas with the great degree of skill and craftsmanship which he did.”

Szyk, an “artist of and for the Jewish people and for the world,” transcended his time, Ungar added, and continues to speak to ours. Rising antisemitism, illiberalism on the far-right and far-left, and great power conflict were the major themes of his art and make him an invaluable resource for comprehending a world in peril.

“He has something to say to us today,” Ungar emphasized. “He had something to say about United Nations in 1947 and 1948. It applies today. He had something to say about antisemitism being the great softener of his democracy at that time, and that would also apply to our day. You can find numerous of his artwork and think ‘That was created for today,’ and that in my mind is why his artwork is eternal.”

Commemorating Arthur Szyk’s 130th Birthday, begins on Monday, February 26, at 7 PM. Ungar will give two more lectures in March before concluding the series on April 8 with an exploration of The Haggadah.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post ‘He Has Something to Say to Us Today’: Museum of Jewish History Set to Honor Legacy of ‘The Great Artist’ Arthur Szyk first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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The Serial Killer Who Might Be the First President of Palestine

Marwan Barghouti gestures as Israeli police bring him into the District Court for his judgment hearing in Tel Aviv, May 20, 2004. Photo: Reuters / Pool / David Silverman.

JNS.orgA Greek Orthodox priest named Georgios Tsibouktzakis was murdered for the crime of driving while mistakenly being perceived as Jewish. And now his killer is being widely touted as the likely first president of “Palestine.”

In recent weeks, pundits in The New York Times, The Guardian and other news outlets have promoted Marwan Barghouti as the best candidate to replace Mahmoud Abbas as head of the Palestinian Authority and then become the first president of the “Palestine” that they hope to establish.

Incredibly, many of these Barghouti enthusiasts make no mention at all of the innocent people he was convicted of murdering. That’s like murdering them twice. Here’s some information on one of Barghouti’s victims.

Georgios Tsibouktzakis was born and raised in the picturesque northern Greek town of Evosmos, a name that means “pleasant scent.” Among its notable sites is the Agios Athanasios Church, which is more than 200 years old.

The Tsibouktzakis family must have been impoverished because upon completing primary school, at age 12, Georgios set aside his studies and found a job in a local fabric factory.

At some point, young Georgios experienced a religious awakening. He adopted an extremely humble lifestyle, giving away his belongings, including his most precious possession—his bicycle—and entering a Greek Orthodox religious order.

After studying at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Georgios decided to go to Israel. And why not? Christianity was born in the Land of Israel. The Christian Bible is filled with references to Judea (although there is no mention of “Palestine,” for some reason). As a devout man of faith, he wanted to spend the rest of his life in the Holy Land.

In 1990, Georgios arrived in Israel and resumed his religious studies at a local Greek Orthodox seminary. After three years, he became a monk and was given the name Father Germanos. Eventually, he was ordained a priest and deacon. He was assigned to live at St. George’s Monastery.

A word about St. George’s. Despite the frequent lies by Arab propagandists and their supporters about Israel supposedly mistreating Christians, in fact, the country is home to numerous monasteries such as St. George’s, which all operate as freely as any Jewish religious institution. St. George’s is located on a prime piece of real estate just 12 miles outside of Jerusalem.

For many years, Father Germanos was the only resident of the monastery. He spent his days in prayer and study. When necessary, he would drive to nearby Jerusalem to run errands. It was a humble and peaceful existence. Until June 22, 2001.

On that evening, the priest was driving back from Jerusalem to St. George’s. A Palestinian Arab terrorist with a sniper’s rifle was hiding above the highway near the exit for the Jewish community of Ma’ale Adumim.

As Father Germanos’s car came into view, the terrorist saw his yellow Israeli license plates. So he opened fire. Because if you have Israeli plates, you’re probably Jewish, and if you’re Jewish, you deserve to be murdered. Thus, the clergyman’s life was taken at the age of 34.

Israel’s security services learned from their sources that the attack had been planned and carried out by Force 17, a terrorist unit of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party movement that was commanded by longtime “intifada” leader Marwan Barghouti. That information was confirmed by the apprehended shooter, a 22-year-old Fatah member Hassin Radeida.

Barghouti was arrested and indicted as the mastermind of the murder of Father Germanos, as well as a string of other murders. Barghouti had the opportunity to contest the charges and prove his innocence. But he refused to deny culpability and declared that the “Zionist” court had no right to prosecute him.

Of course not—since, in Barghouti’s view, murdering Jews is right and proper, then prosecuting anybody for murdering them is wrong and improper.

On May 20, 2004, Barghouti was convicted of the murders of Father Germanos and four other innocent people. He is serving five consecutive sentences of life imprisonment.

The various news columnists and others who have been building up Barghouti in recent weeks say that he is the only figure in the Palestinian Arab world who is popular enough to serve as head of the P.A., and then as the president of “Palestine.”

If that’s true, what does that tell us about Palestinian Arab society? Their single most popular political person is a serial killer. How sad that supporters of the Palestinian cause have decided to champion such a monster, while Father Germanos and the murderer’s other victims lie in their graves, forgotten and abandoned.

The post The Serial Killer Who Might Be the First President of Palestine first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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