Today from the Free Press. . . . Demystifying the Chabad tunnel in Brooklyn; Chris Christie’s hot-mic dropout; Gen X vs. Gen Z; and more.
But first, our lead story:
Last month, Free Press reporter Francesca Block revealed how public schools across America are teaching kids to hate Jews. Today, she has another scoop: at PS 261 in Brooklyn, an art teacher for kids aged 3 to 11 displays a map of the Middle East that completely erases Israel. What’s more, her “Arab Culture Arts” program is funded by Qatar Foundation International (QFI)—a nonprofit owned by the ruling family of the wealthy Arab state, which harbors leaders of the terrorist group Hamas.
“It’s not just that we’re experiencing Jewish hate in NYC public schools, we’re actually experiencing Jewish erasure. And here is proof of that,” said Tova Plaut, a New York City public school teacher for pre-K through fifth grade.
Read Francesca’s exclusive story here:
Can Dean Phillips pull off the impossible?
On this week’s episode of Honestly, Bari Weiss talks to Dean Phillips, the Minnesota congressman challenging Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination. He’s polling at 9.5 percent in New Hampshire, sure, but hope springs eternal!
Here’s Phillips on Biden’s decision to run again: “I don’t think he’s aware of how tragic this will be, both for his own legacy and for the country, because I think if he was, he would make a different decision. And the only reason I really do question anything about his competency right now is on this single subject, because it is so irrational, so counterintuitive, and so dangerous that I cannot quite reconcile it with the man I know.”
They also discussed the president’s fitness for office (“I do think there’s been a serious and quite obvious decline in his ability to communicate. . . . It is about just simply acknowledging the truth”); the Democratic Party establishment (“anti-democratic”); MSNBC (he says he hasn’t gotten a single invitation from the network since he entered the race); and Rashida Tlaib (“our relationship is complicated”).
In other campaign news. . .
Chris Christie dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday. Will this be Nikki Haley’s moment? Are the anti-Trump forces finally lining up behind a single candidate? Any excitement at the news at Haley HQ was presumably punctured by a hot mic incident for the ages ahead of Christie’s big announcement.
“She’s gonna get smoked,” said Christie to an unknown interlocutor, who evidently didn’t realize his mic was on. “And you and I both know it. She’s not up to this.”
Christie also said that DeSantis had called him and was “petrified,” before his mic was cut. Presumably it was the prospect of Christie endorsing Haley that the Florida governor was so worried about. Something tells me that ain’t going to happen now.
Is flying getting more dangerous?
Last month, we ran a story on “Why Flying Sucks.” Well, flying really sucked if you were on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 this past weekend, when a door of the Boeing 737 Max 9 jet blew off mid-flight, forcing an emergency landing in Portland. Tragedy was averted, no one died, and miraculously, even an iPhone that was sucked out of the plane survived the 16,000-foot fall.
The episode, coming so soon after a plane crash in Tokyo that killed five people, got us wondering: Is air travel getting more dangerous? We sent Free Press researcher Neeraja Deshpande to investigate:
I started my conversation with Amit Singh, a pilot and the founder of India’s Safety Matters Foundation, by confidently telling him that I knew that what had happened on Alaska Airlines was a freak incident that was in no way indicative of air travel at large.
I was humbled pretty quickly.
“This was not a one-off,” he told me. “Boeing has had a history of such accidents happening from when the 737s were built initially, in 1967.”
Singh explained that most of the problems relate to the 737 Max, which was introduced in 2017. The new model’s fatal-accident rate is 4 flights per million—twenty times greater than that of the original 737’s fatal-accident rate of 0.2 flights per million.
Back to the case of Alaska Airlines 1282. It turned out that the offending door had four bolts missing, a problem that United Airlines and Alaska Airlines have since found on several other Boeing 737 Max 9s. Relaxing!
On the one hand, commercial plane accidents were at a record low in 2023. On the other hand, The New York Times recently reported “an alarming pattern of safety lapses and near misses in the skies and on the runways of the United States.”
Got it, Neeraja. I’m bringing a wrench with me on my next flight.
Fight Club: Does Gen Z Suck?
In an interview with The Guardian earlier this week, actor Jodie Foster, 61, complained about working with Gen Z. “They’re really annoying,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Nah, I’m not feeling it today, I’m gonna come in at 10:30 a.m.’ Or in emails I’ll tell them this is all grammatically incorrect, did you not check your spelling? And they’re like, ‘Why would you do that, isn’t that kind of limiting?’ ”
The twentysomethings in The Free Press offices were shocked to see their own colleague, senior editor Peter Savodnik, 51, retweet Foster’s gripe, adding simply: “Amen.” Was this Peter’s view of his Gen Z colleagues? And did his tweet constitute an HR violation?
Rather than subject Peter to an afternoon of sensitivity training, we decided it was far better to settle this out in the open. And so, for the latest installment of Free Press Fight Club, Peter goes toe-to-toe with our Zoomer colleague Julia Steinberg, 21.
Today’s question: Does Gen Z suck?
Peter and Julia—have at it!
You can’t trust anyone under 30. They have negative attention spans. They’d rather go back to the womb. They don’t want to have sex. They don’t want to drive. They have weird neuroses. They know nothing about the Western canon. They think work is an affliction imposed on them by richer, older people who apparently never had to work. (Granted, we have one, maybe two, exceptions to this rule at The Free Press.)
They think that America is “systemically racist,” and that the only way they can transcend their racism is to embrace gender fluidity, so they cast about for a fake identity that, they hope, will differentiate them from their deeply ignorant caricature of white, bourgeois America.
The tattoos, the piercings, the SSRIs—yes, I know I sound old, I don’t care—it’s all a white flag. It’s what we do when we’re unable to differentiate our minds, our souls, from everyone else.
To be fair, they are functions of the world we’ve bequeathed to them, in which the old institutions and career paths and identities have been sapped or tainted or simply lost: organized religion, the Army, the middle class, the academy, men, women, even America.
I know, I know—I’m generalizing, making all kinds of unfounded assumptions. I hope! No doubt, there are lots of wonderful young people who defy expectations. One suspects they’re too busy translating Ovid to do battle with the fourteen-year-old TikTok edgelords.
Okay, Boomer. Or—okay, Gen Xer. We get it. Every generation reaches that age when they blame the kids for everything. But Gen Z gets a bad rap, especially compared to Peter’s generation, who are behind the flimsy self-help culture that encourages people not to go to work when they don’t feel like it (well-being guru Gwyneth Paltrow has a lot to answer for). Maybe that’s why Peter sometimes leaves the office at 4 p.m. I get it, you have kids, but being a hard worker means no excuses.
Gen Z is not a monolith. Sure, some of us have our issues. But we’re living in the world you and your buddies built, Peter. Covid lockdowns and the destruction of our educational system is not our fault.
Thankfully, many Gen Zers are forging their own path. My good friend, a week older than me, is starting a farm with her boyfriend in rural Pennsylvania. Another is building a drone company in L.A. Many are forgoing formalized niceties about how to succeed and doing what they want to because they can. They show up and work hard—and they’re too busy to subtweet their colleagues.
What will end this never-ending generational war? The answer, at least according to this Australian commercial, is. . . lamb burgers. Don’t miss it.
Why (almost) everything you think you know about the Brooklyn synagogue tunnels is wrong. . .
The bizarro story of the bootleg remodeling at Chabad-Lubavitch HQ in Brooklyn has captured the front page of the New York Post, and the imagination of memelords and conspiracy theorists online. (We’re not linking. That’s how insane they are.) But Eli Lake argues everyone is missing the point.
The most important thing to know about the viral story about a “secret tunnel” burrowed beneath the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in New York is that almost everything about it on social media is wrong.
The version that captured international attention goes like this. A secret tunnel was discovered underneath the Chabad offices and synagogue on Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. A group of Hasidic Jews refused to leave the area and clashed with police, who then arrested nine men between the ages of 19 and 22.
In an instant a new blood libel was born. Conspiracy theorists on Twitter speculated that the tunnels were part of a child sex-trafficking network. Photos and video from the scene showed a stained mattress. The tunnel allegedly connected a Jewish ritual bath for women, known as a mikvah, to the synagogue.
Stew Peters, the executive producer of the Covid conspiracy theory documentary Died Suddenly, posted on X: “Who is being forced to sleep on these child-sized soiled mattress (sic) hidden in illegal tunnels connected to a NYC Jewish temple?”
Jackson Hinkle, a vulgar nativist with 2.4 million followers on X, posted a fake map of sex offenders in Israel and asked if it was “connected to the secret underground synagogue tunnels.”
Needless to say—but apparently not needless given that the blood libel is back, baby!—this was not the story.
So what exactly was going on at the Chabad offices in Crown Heights? The answer is weirder than one might think.
The young men who were engaged in the destruction of walls in adjacent buildings were part of an extreme faction of the Lubavitch movement that believes the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, is the actual Messiah. Some even say the Rebbe is still alive, a Hasidic version of the persistent conspiracy theories about the “fake” death of Tupac Shakur.
So this group of young men believed they were following Schneerson’s instructions to expand the Chabad headquarters, which he spoke about at the end of his life. At least that is the theory.
Simon Jacobson, who published and transcribed Schneerson’s lectures and orations when he lived and is the author of a book about his teachings, Toward a Meaningful Life, told The Free Press that the group that knocked down the wall to the synagogue were best understood as mentally unstable.
“They grab this idea that the Rebbe had plans to expand the synagogue,” he said. But Jacobson added that Schneerson would never have condoned expanding the synagogue in this way. “If the Rebbe was here he would condemn these people. He would say, ‘Pack your bags and don’t come back here again.’ ”
Instead, a conflict between a handful of imbalanced extremists and the Chabad network has become fodder for a new slur against Jews.
Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad, told The Free Press that the initial coverage in the press is partly responsible for the slander. “The press has some culpability. The breathless, sensational headlines were not good,” he said. “And that provided fodder to antisemitic conspiracy theorists.”
Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor at The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman.
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