The Arty Semite

A Life of Progressive Politics and All That Jazz

By Curt Schleier

Photo by Carol Rosegg

“Cafe Society Swing,” a new musical that opened in New York on December 21, has so many good parts it’s a shame they don’t fit together.

The play tells the story of Barney Josephson, the son of Latvian Jewish immigrants who scrapped together a few thousand bucks and, in 1938, opened a Greenwich Village nightspot he called Cafe Society. A fan of jazz, he wanted to bring downtown the music he’d seen uptown at Harlem’s Cotton Club.

But with a difference: In Harlem, the audiences were almost all white (black customers were seated in the back behind partitions) and the entertainers all black. Even legendary musicians such as Duke Ellington had to come in through the back door.

Influenced by the political cabarets of Prague and Berlin, Josephson integrated both the Cafe Society entertainers and audience. Billie Holliday, bluesman Big Joe Turner, gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, folk singer Josh White, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughn graced the club’s stage. Jack Guilford was a long-time MC, as was Zero Mostel. Imogene Coca and Carol Channing, among others, also appeared there.

Read more


It Was an Un-Orthodox Year

By Forward Staff

Photo copyright George Baier

Books by and about Jews who leave Orthodoxy have been around for years now — centuries, really — but in 2014 they reached a critical mass.

With new memoirs by Leah Vincent and Deborah Feldman, an academic study by Lynn Davidman, and scores of essays, articles, films, profiles and trend pieces, 2014 became the year of the “off the derech” story.

Will readers grow bored of the ex-Orthodox tell-all? The books are still being published for the time being, including a forthcoming memoir by OTD pioneer Shulem Deen.

Even if the publishing phenomenon has peaked, however, these stories illustrate the considerable and lasting impact of Orthodox defection on the Jewish cultural landscape.


The Year the Met Met Klinghoffer

By Forward Staff

Photo copyright Ken Howard/Met Opera

In the end, Marilyn Klinghoffer’s voice resonated most clearly in the controversial production of Alice Goodman and John Adams’s ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ at the Met.

There were, of course, the protests accusing the opera’s creators of, at worst, anti-Semitism, and at best, naiveté. And there were the counter-protesters who asserted that the opera’s critics had misconstrued its intentions. But those who saw the opera understood that the voice of Leon Klinghoffer’s grieving widow served as the opera’s conscienece.

For better and for worse, this was the first time in ages an opera made the front page of The New York Times.

We’d say the same thing about the Forward, but Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera “The Passenger,” made our front page in January.


#Pluslight Spreads the Hanukkah Cheer

By Forward Staff

With all of the candles, the menorahs and the doughnuts, Hanukkah is a naturally photogenic holiday. But now artist Tobi Kahn is putting party snapshots to a higher purpose than just showing your friends how many latkes you’re about to eat.

Together with the JCC of Manhattan, Kahn has created #pluslight, a social media project that collects contributors’ photos “as a way of documenting the light we see in the world during the holiday season.” And each night of Hanukkah, Kahn is choosing one of those photos to feature on the JCC’s Facebook page. You can check out — and contribute — more #pluslight photos by following the hash tag on your favorite social media platform, and also by following the Forward on Instagram. Happy Hanukkah, shutterbugs!


The Best 5 Jewish Art Exhibits of 2014

By Aimee Rubensteen

1. “Dani Gal: As From Afar,” The Jewish Museum

In its United States premiere, Dani Gal’s short video installation addresses the relationship between a Jewish Holocaust survivor/ Nazi hunter and Hitler’s chief architect/armaments minister. This fictionalized story draws from real-life conversations found in letters between the two men. The show compels the viewer to choose to agree or disagree with the relationship onscreen as it unfolds and knots back together.

2. “Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Read more


POEM: 'Ghazal: The Minimum Wage, 2014'

By Alicia Ostriker

Having dinner before the president’s state of the union address
My beloved produces a rant on the topic of raising the minimum wage

He fumes as he has fumed on more than one occasion
it would be fucking good for the economy, raising the minimum wage

only he does not use this language. We are microwaving the wild rice.
What would reduce income disparity, aid consumption? a higher wage.

We are finishing the Thai spicy beef dish our granddaughter made
when she stayed over with us last weekend, cooking for no wage

but our love. We are eating spinach cooked with onions, coriander,
cardamom and butter. We agree that raising the minimum wage

has been shown by studies to have no effect whatever on unemployment.
We fiercely interrupt each other to announce this, which is the wage

of marriage. Would congress approve a bill requiring companies like Walmart
and Target that employ more than x thousand people at minimum wage

to keep x percent as fulltime employees getting health benefits
along with their minimum starvation wage?

Not a chance, says my husband, not this broken congress, we pour another
glass of Argentinian Malbec, we drop the topic of the minimum wage,

I have a cookie with walnuts in it, the kind my granddaughter adores.
Soon we will see what the president says about the minimum wage.


5 Israeli Artworks You Should Have Seen in 2014

By Aimee Rubensteen

1. Omer Fast, The Casting

Omer Fast’s video installation “The Casting” questions the reality and fiction embedded in storytelling by recording an actor who plays the role of an American soldier in Iraq, and a casting for the role of the aforementioned soldier. Even with its abrupt, fragmented scenes that parallel the short attention span of the 21st-century viewer, the editing in “Casting” is not always obvious, since only two of the four projections can be viewed at once. This duality highlights the enigmatic barrier between the viewer and the artwork, and leaves an enormous space for speculation.

Read more


The Best Jewish Poetry of 2014

By Jake Marmer

Since 2010, it has become the Forward’s tradition to highlight five memorable poetry releases of the year — but this year we have six. Among this year’s selections are “Breathturn Into Timestead,” a collection of five final volumes of poetry by Paul Celan, newly translated by Pierre Joris, and three vastly different retrospectives by David Antin, Chana Bloch and Dennis Silk, as well as a posthumously published collection of Harvey Shapiro’s work. Alexander Nemser’s release, however, is a debut — and a most memorable one, at that.

Please note that the works below are listed in alphabetical order — there’s no ranking here.

How Long is the Present
By David Antin
University of New Mexico Press, 408 pages, $39.95

The story goes that one day, invited to a give a poetry reading at a university, David Antin showed up without the usual paraphernalia — books, notebooks, or anything he could read from. Instead, he began to speak. The result — a sort of improvisational speech that weaves together philosophy, literary criticism, anecdotes, witticisms — became an invention known as a “talk poem.” Worlds away from anything one would expect to hear at a regular poetry reading, Antin’s work is fascinating, masterful, and possibly one of the most stimulating challenges to a reader of contemporary poetry.

Read more


Ringo Starr, Lou Reed To Enter Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

By Reuters

Getty Images

Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, the late rocker Lou Reed, punk group Green Day and singer Bill Withers are among the 2015 inductees named on Tuesday to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, rockers Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, rhythm and blues band the “5” Royales and the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Cleveland on April 18.

Starr was selected in the music excellence category. He was inducted as part of The Beatles in 1988. His bandmates have since entered the Hall of Fame as solo artists - John Lennon in 1994, Paul McCartney in 1999 andGeorge Harrison in 2004.

Reed, whose work with The Velvet Underground made them one of the most influential groups in rock, Green Dayand “Ain’t No Sunshine” singer Withers were selected in the performer category, along with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, whose biggest hit “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” became a rock classic, were cited for their fresh sound and The “5” Royales were credited for creating some of rock’s first standards while performing from 1945 to 1965.

More than 700 artists, music industry professionals and historians help to decide who is inducted. The public also cast their votes in a “fans ballot.”

Artists are eligible 25 years after the release of their first record for induction into the Hall of Fame, which was established in 1983.


Portrait Painting in the Facebook Age

By Aimee Rubensteen

Anya Rubin, ‘Natalia,’ 2014

Red on black on crimson on white. Repeatedly layered color arrangements are typical in the work of Anya Rubin, especially when the Russian-born and New York-based artist is depicting her friend’s wine-stained lips or glittering eyes on a canvas. In this way, Rubin’s paintings produce interlocking patterns of abstract color studies that double as portraiture. Two of Rubin’s recent portraits were recently on view at Onishi Project’s current group show in Chelsea.

Titled “Images of Nature and the Nature of Images,” the exhibition explores the representation and function of the image, a Herculean task. The 11 artists’ work ranges from photographs to paintings to sculptures, but the variety in the show barely begins to decipher the age-old question of imagery’s presence and potential in our oversaturated world.

What the show lacks in answers, however, Rubin’s paintings provide in investigation. Do we see color before we see shapes? These two elements intertwine in Rubin’s patchwork painterly effect. Do two circles on a face always correlate and translate as eyes to the viewer? There are too many circles to count on Rubin’s paintings, but the eyes are immediately recongizable. Do we feel convinced or distracted by the illusion of depth depicted on a flat surface? This list of questions can become endless the longer the viewer looks at Rubin’s paintings.

Read more


The Best Jewish Music of 2014

By Jake Marmer

Photo: Anna London

1. Zion80, Adramelech: Book of Angels 22 (Tzadik, $13.99)

Jon Madof’s 12-piece super-group Zion80, whose debut release last year was hailed enthusiastically in the Forward, The New York Times and elsewhere, has now released its second album, “Adramelech.” It’s a departure from the original concept of bringing together Shlomo Carlebach and Fela Kuti; on this album, the band plays a set of compositions from John Zorn’s “Masada” songbook.

Indeed, the music on this record is in line with the rest of Zorn’s work, but set to irresistible Afrobeat arrangements. More complex, dark, and phantasmagoric than their first album, it is fraught with melodies reminiscent of the Middle East and North Africa. But what really makes this album so memorable is the interplay of the horn section as they roll through the melodies.

Read more


Adam LeBor: An Englishman in Hungary

By Dan Friedman

Courtesy of Szabolcs Dudas

Adam LeBor is an author and journalist who, as well as writing for outlets such as The Economist and Newsweek, has written books including “The Believers: How America fell for Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Investment Scam” and about a world bank in “Tower of Basel: The Shadowy History of the Secret Bank that Runs the World.” Most recently he has taken up his pen to write a series of thrillers about a secret U.N. operative called Yael Azoulay.

The London native became a foreign correspondent and moved to Budapest in the early 1990s where he covered the region after the fall of Communism, leading to “The Budapest Protocol,” his spy thriller about a Nazi conspiracy for an economic Fourth Reich.

On a recent visit to the Forward offices on his way to a speaking appearance in New York, LeBor spoke to Dan Friedman about his latest Azoulay book, “The Washington Stratagem.”

Dan Friedman: What’s a serious writer like you doing writing a series of thrillers like “The Geneva Option” and “The Washington Stratagem”?

Adam LeBor: My answer has two parts. Firstly, I believe that writing fiction is the greatest challenge for a writer. Having enjoyed reasonable success as a journalist and author of serious nonfiction books, I wanted to try something new. Fiction demands greater creativity, deeper and more lateral thinking, and even more self-belief than nonfiction. Would-be novelists have to be made of rubber and Teflon to keep bouncing back from the rejections. But if you get it right and sit at your desk or on the bus or in the bath, dreaming up vivid characters and enthralling stories to put them in, then publishers give you money and put your books on sale. What could be better than that?

Read more


'5 Cameras' Filmmaker Struggles To Get Funding

By Yael Even Or

Israeli documentary filmmaker Guy Davidi is struggling to raise enough money to finish his new film. A crowd-funding campaign that will end this weekend is still short of its goal.

Davidi’s “5 Broken Cameras,” which he co-created with Emad Burnat, was an Oscar nominee and won an Emmy.

But he’s having trouble raising the last $20,000 needed to complete the current project called “Mixed Feelings” — and the campaign on Indiegogo was still a few hundred dollars short on Friday afternoon.

“We’re very close,” Davidi said.

Why couldn’t such an accomplished filmmaker find more conventional funding sources in Israel?

“There are of a few reasons for that,” Davidi told the Forward in an email. “One is the controversial content of the film.”

Read more


POEM: 'Zohar'

By Alicia Ostriker

In the Shining
Book it says

Moses existed
before he existed

at first above
in the spirit world

and then among us
like a light

*

child of the Blessed Holy One
who is a man of war

and child of the Blessed Holy One
the glamorous moon

divine mother and lover, that had to be hidden

coupling with him
in both worlds

*

what did you see, Moses my teacher
in your descent from there

helpless as you were
like us then

were there animals
on the cave walls

did you see the lions
did you see the calf

this, this — a light


AIDS Crisis Through a Comics Lens

By Michael Kaminer

Joyce Brabner/Mark Zingarelli

“Joyce Brabner, best known as Harvey Pekar’s widow and collaborator, has released a graphic novel about early efforts in a New York gay community to fight the AIDS epidemic.”

So began a recent Cleveland Plain-Dealer review of “Second Avenue Caper” (Hill & Wang, $22), a deeply moving and bitingly funny new graphic novel authored by Brabner and drawn by revered comics illustrator Mark Zingarelli.

For a fan of Brabner’s work, the Plain Dealer’s praise feels double-edged. Three years after her late husband’s death, Brabner still gets tagged as his widow rather than a key comics figure in her own right.

Brabner’s actually been writing comics for decades, including 1989’s “Brought to Light: A Graphic Docudrama” and 1987’s acclaimed anti-war “Real War Stories,” drawn by legendary comics creator Alan Moore. She also co-wrote “Our Cancer Year” with Pekar, considered a touchstone in autobiographical comics.

Second Avenue Caper fits squarely in that tradition. Set in Manhattan in the darkest early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, Brabner’s vivid script tells the story of a band of friends – her friends – who plotted to smuggle illegal drugs from Mexico to help beloved comrades desperately ill and abandoned by the medical establishment. The story unfolds through the account of Ray, a male nurse and drag-show producer; his Jewish partner, Benny, becomes a collaborator.

Characters disappear the way Brabner’s circle did at the height of the epidemic. Zingarelli’s realistic, classical style gives the story an unsentimental edge that only amplifies its power.

Second Avenue Caper is Brabner’s first solo project since her husband’s death. The writer spoke with the Forward from her home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Michael Kaminer: Is it a stretch to say that in terms of fighting tragedy with humor, Second Avenue Caper feels like very Jewish story?

Read more


8 Biblical Movies To Watch Instead of 'Exodus'

By Curt Schleier

It isn’t as though the Lord said, “Go out and make motion pictures of my stories.” And yet, that seems to be what’s happening.

Both the Old and New Testaments have provided source material for dozens upon dozens of films, some better — and some more controversial — than others. Here are 8 of the best, from “The Bible” to “The Bible.”

1. The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966, John Huston)

A retelling of the first 22 chapters of Genesis, from creation to Abraham and Isaac, “The Bible” was supposed to be the first in a series of biblical films, but despite the numerous awards it received and its financial success, there were no sequels.

Read more


8 May-December Movies To Make You Re-Think Romance

By Curt Schleier

May-December relationships are a staple not just of the new “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks” (read our interview with director Arthur Allen Seidelman here but of many classic movies as well. The recent passing of Mike Nichols has brought one of the best to the fore. Here are 8 that will change how you look at Hollywood romance.

1. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967):

This movie tells the story of an aimless recent college grad, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) who is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Ann Bancroft) and then falls in love with her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross). It’s on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best movies of all time and was selected by the National Film Registry for preservation as a culturally significant film. Here’s to you Mrs. Robinson…

Read more


Never Too Old to Dance

By Curt Schleier

The banging you hear in the background? That’s the drumbeat for an Oscar nomination for Gena Rowlands. Rowlands stars in “Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks,” a movie about the impact an elderly south Florida widow and a much younger gay dance instructor have on each other’s lives.

Rowlands plays Lilly Harrison, the former wife of a conservative Southern Baptist minister. Cheyenne Jackson is Michael Minetti, a former Broadway hoofer reduced to teaching old ladies to dance.

The film is based on a play by Richard Alfieri and is directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman, who also directed the original stage productions in New York and Los Angeles.

Seidelman, who is also an Emmy-wining television director, spoke to the Forward about how he switches from one medium to another, his famous Yiddish uncle, and being held captive in a Lebanese refugee camp.

Curt Schleier: You are a multi-hyphenate director, working in TV, theater and film. Is it easy to switch between various media?

Read more


9 Palestinian Films Everyone Should See

By Anne Joseph

What constitutes a Palestinian film is a matter of huge debate. Some argue it is determined by the identity of the filmmaker, or by the film’s narrative. Others suggest it is production-led, and therefore depends on the financial institutions or individuals that back it.

Palestinian national cinema is a relatively young cinema, and it is unique in that it exists in the absence of statehood. This issue has led to controversy, as the Academy Award nominated film, “Divine Intervention” (see below) demonstrates. Here are 9 Palestinian films that can help you get up to speed on the best of the still-young tradition.

1. Wedding in Galilee (Michel Khleifi, 1987)

This was the first major Palestinian feature film made by an “insider,” and helped demonstrate the possibility of a Palestinian national cinema.

Despite being under curfew, a Palestinian mayor wants to celebrate his son’s wedding with a traditional ceremony. The Israeli military governor who rules the Palestinian village initially refuses, as he fears a political demonstration. Eventually he permits the celebration on condition he be allowed to attend.

Read more


Can a Palestinian Movie Take Israeli Money?

By Anne Joseph

“The war against Gaza finished and the war against me finished,” said Suha Arraf, referring to the controversy that had taken place during the summer over her directorial debut film, “Villa Touma.”

At the Venice Film Festival, the Haifa-based Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker and screenwriter had categorized her film as Palestinian — not an issue per se — but the fact that a significant portion of the film’s production budget had come from Israeli public funds made it a matter for debate.

Arraf’s decision provoked considerable dispute among members of the Israeli film industry as well as from Limor Livnat, Israel’s Minister of Culture.

Although Arraf had put in her own money and additional investment had come from Germany, other Israeli state institutions, including Mifal HaPayis (Israel’s national lottery) and the Ministry of Economy, had also provided funds.

In November, an Israeli Economy Ministry committee ruled that she would have to return the funding she had received from the ministry.

Read more


Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.