The Arty Semite

Toronto Deli Sponsors Palestinian Film Fest

By Michael Kaminer

It seemed like a great publicity stunt: Just as the conflict in the Middle East started boiling over, Caplansky’s Deli announced its sponsorship of September’s Toronto Palestinian Film Festival.

Except Zane Caplansky, the deli’s owner, inked the deal months ago. And while he expected some backlash, the war’s escalation has cast an outsized spotlight on his support of the tiny film fest in Canada’s largest city.

“This was not some grand political statement,” Caplansky told the Forward from Toronto. “I’m not taking sides. I have no agenda other than community building, cross-cultural understanding, and a nice gesture for this film festival.”

Caplansky said he reached out to festival organizers months ago. “Back in January, I was doing some work with an organization called Action Against Hunger. One of their staffers mentioned TPFF. I had no idea it even existed,” he said.

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Holocaust Victim, Artist Charlotte Salomon's Life Premieres as Opera

By Michael Roddy

Photo: Salzburger Festspiele / Ruth Walz

(Reuters) — The Berlin-born Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon left behind a body of watercolors and text she called “Life? or Theater?” before she was killed at Auschwitz in 1943 at age 26, carrying her unborn child.

Salomon’s life, which has inspired films, plays and a musical, was turned into an opera that plumbed the depths of human emotion in its premiere on Monday at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

With music by French composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie, staging by Swiss director Luc Bondy and libretto by German-Jewish author Barbara Honigmann, who used 85 percent of Salomon’s own text, the work was the season’s most anticipated opera at the prestigious festival in the city of Mozart’s birth.

It did not disappoint.

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When the Occupied Film the Occupiers

By Mira Sucharov

At its best, art is about connection. A new Israeli-Palestinian documentary short film exploits the natural three-way relationship between artist, audience and subject to reveal an unexpected source of real-life intimacy: that between occupier and occupied.

Produced by B’Tselem and directed by Ehab Tarabieh, Yoav Gross, and the al-Haddad family, “Smile, and the World Will Smile Back,” which screened July 16 at the Jerusalem Film Festival, is a study in understatement. As the opening sequence explains, under the terms of occupation, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to arbitrary IDF searches without a warrant, though the IDF legal advisor has ruled that residents may film such operations.

Over twenty minutes, with a hand-held camera passed from one family member to another, the viewer experiences the nighttime search of a Palestinian family’s home in Hebron by IDF soldiers. The result is a little gem of a film that tells a much larger story about power, adolescence, masculinity and nationhood.

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'Sam the Record Man' Sign Returns to Toronto

By Michael Kaminer

Rush frontman Geddy Lee called it “an important fixture on Toronto’s musical landscape.” Singer Feist wrote of the “importance of commemorating and protecting” it. Crooner Anne Murray called it “an integral part of music history in Canada.”

Now, after years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white Sam the Record Man sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch.

Toronto’s City Council voted recently to install the sign on the roof of the city-owned Toronto Public Health building, steps from where the retail chain’s flagship location once stood, Toronto’s City News reported.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of the sign for generations of Canadians who cherished Sam’s as a scrappy homegrown haven for music lovers. As the chain grew to 140 stores nationwide, the sign also came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses. Sam Sniderman died in 2012 at the age of 92.

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Manhattan Project's Forgotten Humanist

By Lisa Amand

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Growing up in Australia, Danny Ginges was both fascinated and fearful of the atomic bomb, and as an adult delved deeper into the story of the scientists who created the monster. The more he discovered of these men (and woman) and their top-secret Manhattan Project, the clearer it became that one name was lesser known than the others.

Ginges was working in advertising in Sydney in 2002 when he wrote a screenplay revolving around Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-American, Jewish physicist who conceived nuclear chain reaction. A decade later Ginges’s project has evolved into the big, polished, off-Broadway musical “Atomic,” on through August 16 at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre.

“When I came across Szilard’s story it both engaged me and enraged me,” Ginges said. “My anger that such an important figure should be forgotten by history is the fuel that’s driven me this far, and continues to drive me every single day. I feel very strongly that Szilard has a message for today. Fifty years after his death, it’s high time it was told.”

Oppenheimer, performed by Euan Morton, narrates the fleet-footed show that includes a surprising mix of gleeful dancing and rock music (by Philip Foxman), a daring contrast with the tragedies of the Holocaust and World War ll (cue “Springtime for Hitler”). Book and lyrics are by Gregory Bonsignore and Ginges, who hopes “Atomic” restarts a dialog. ”A lot of people don’t want to deal with this event, even after this much time. But it’s better not to have things locked up in a closet.”

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Seinfeld May Be Heading To Netflix

By Gabe Friedman

Sick of watching a random assortment of “Seinfeld” episodes on cable? Tired of watching the famous episodes over and over again?

In a Reddit AMA session yesterday, Jerry Seinfeld hinted that the show could make its way to Netflix’s online streaming service sometime in the future. When asked about the possibility of working with Netflix, Seinfeld said: “Those conversations are presently taking place.”

Nothing is for certain, especially as Netflix’s economic situation has been precarious lately. The company would presumably have to pay a large sum of money for the rights to the acclaimed “show about nothing.”

However, all fans are hoping that negotiations progress quickly. And who knows, maybe next summer could be the “summer of George.”


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POEM: 'Visit'

By Michael Heller

The descendant kings rule over rock-strewn littoral,
banked clouds, hyssop hills of Jordan, a shimmer
that concedes hope, which is bound unto the other,
to the sheer indecipherability of landscape.

Believe — some god behind the edged shrubs, the pebbles,
and near flat glassiness of sea. Human need contracts,
matters little. Curls of viscous foam at shoreline,
tour bus inching between wary-eyed soldiers.

Concede they grew from this hardened land, clad in khaki.
Pre-taped voice is provender: even this body of water excludes.
After the mudbaths of Ein Gedi — here David took refuge
from murderous Saul — conqueror trinkets on sale in the shop.

Martyrdom of Masada, of Herod’s palace further along this road.
Marker: 300 feet below sea-level. Around this lowest point, earth
is mere bowl. Bottom of the world, bottom of language.
Inscriptions in rock, echolalia in the caves of the Scrolls.


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'Shakespeare in Love' Adaptation Gets Rave Reviews in London

By Edward Baran

Courtesy of the Walt Disney Company

(Reuters) - The Disney-backed stage adaptation of the hit film “Shakespeare in Love” won nearly across-the-board rave reviews in London this week, to the relief of its creators who are pleased that their big gamble looks set to pay off.

The show, based on the 1998 Hollywood movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, received a standing ovation from its opening night audience on Wednesday at the Noel Coward theater in London’s West End theater district.

With the backing of the Disney organization, which is behind money-spinners like the “The Lion King,” and co-production by leading British producer Sonia Friedman, the stage revamp has gone straight to a commercial theater instead of having the benefit of a first run at a government-subsidized venue, as is common in British theater.

“Obviously something like this was such a huge production which is probably the biggest play that has even been put on in the West End,” playwright Lee Hall, who did the adaptation from the movie script that was in part written by Tom Stoppard, told Reuters on Wednesday.

“We have got 28 in the cast and a dog, quite a complicated set, it’s been years in the planning, and I am stunned to finally get here but it’s wonderful to get such a warm response,” he added.

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Naomi Foner on 'Very Good Girls' and Her Famous Children

By Curt Schleier

Photo courtesy Tribeca Film

Screenwriter Naomi Foner was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe for her original screenplay for “Running on Empty.” She also wrote other high-profile projects such as “Losing Isaiah” and “Bee Season.” So you’d think the Hollywood establishment would rush to sign on for “Very Good Girls,” her latest script.

Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

“I wrote this a long time ago, and it’s been in my drawer for many years,” she told the Forward in a telephone interview.

In some ways, it’s not surprising. The film is about two best friends, Lily (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen), who pledge to lose their virginity before they leave for college. Problems arise when they fall for the same guy and he prefers one over the other.

Though it sounds on the surface a lot like typical summer fare, it is an intelligent, affecting movie about friendship, honesty and family. Foner spoke to the Forward about getting the film made, how her grandfather used to write to the Forverts for advice on fishing and how proud she is of her children, Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Curt Schleier: I was really disappointed the other day. I went to McDonald’s and asked them for Lily and Gerry action figures. They didn’t know what I was talking about. I don’t understand. Did you actually make a summer movie without major tie-ins?

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Paul Mazursky Showed the Surface, and Went Deeper

By Eitan Kensky

Getty Images

Summer is the cruelest cultural season. With that in mind, ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) is a new occasional series highlighting movies, TV shows, books, comics and everything else we might have missed in the past few months that we can catch up on in the next few.

“It’s all Ralphie’s fault.” That was my macabre thought when I heard the news that Paul Mazursky passed away — or “disappeared” as our Yiddish ancestors would have said. Then my mind flashed to Mazursky lurched over the card table, his powder blue shirt stained by patches of make-believe red, the residue of the ketchup canon that off-ed his character.

Mazursky’s character was named Sunshine. He dealt poker on “The Sopranos.” He was an associate of Uncle Junior’s, though I don’t think that we ever saw the two together. Sunshine was only on two episodes: one to establish that he existed; a second to un-exist him. He spoke lines, but his main job was to look like Paul Mazursky. He was there for that big, beautiful ethnic face — a face equally at home in card rooms and strip clubs, around highballs and cigarettes, in the backroom of a pork store eating bulging Italian sandwiches with thick men, in a back booth at Fine & Schapiro and nursing a Cel-Ray under a framed, oversized portrait of a deli platter. Sunshine was a silent movie part in a spoken world, but Mazursky read the lines well.

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Meret Oppenheim’s Magical Tables and Teacups

By Menachem Wecker

Photo: Suzanne Khalil/NMWA

Although it stands still, Meret Oppenheim’s “Table with Bird’s Feet” (1983) brims with kinetic energy. The work comes exactly as advertised; had it not anticipated “Beauty and the Beast” by some eight years, it could have been a remnant of the magical castle’s set, and at first glance, the viewer is thrilled that the sculpture is encased in glass, as it appears on the verge of walking off of its podium and clear out of the museum.

An avian table is just the sort of thing one might expect from Oppenheim, whose plainly titled “Object” (1936) consists of a cup, saucer and spoon lined with fur. There is something foreboding about the table, which evokes, perhaps, the footed bathtub in Joanna Cole’s popular children’s book “Bony-Legs,” but the fur tea set has even less promise as a functioning object. It might hold water, but the drinker is sure to finish her snack with a mouth full of hair.

The hairy teacup does not appear in the exhibit “Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships,” on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. through September 14, but the table and a variety of other works and letters are present.

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Congress For Jewish Culture Leaves Its Office, But Not Its Mission

By Leyzer Burko

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

On July 17, the New York Times reported that the Congress for Jewish Culture, one of the few remaining Yiddish organizations in New York, would close their Manhattan office at the end of the month.

The Congress’s office space, on Broadway just off 26th street, was perhaps one of the last heymish places for Yiddish culture in New York. The walls were covered with bookshelves, and old pictures and posters hung on the wall. The Congress had only been there since 2009, but the room was previously occupied by Itche Goldberg, the longtime editor of the journal “Yiddish Culture,” who passed away in 2006 at the age of 102.

The day the Times article appeared, the Congress invited students from the Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture — a summer program run by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and Bard College — to come and take Yiddish books that remained on the shelves. The rest off the books will go to the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, and archival materials will be donated to YIVO.

It was depressing to see how the shelves were emptied, and how boxes of books and other treasures were scattered underfoot. It wasn’t the first time I had helped shut down the office of an old Yiddish organization. Around 10 years ago I helped empty the rooms of the Bund in New York, throwing out thousands of copies of the Bundist journal “Undzer tsayt.” When the Yiddish League moved to a smaller office a year later, we also had to dispose of many books, and I and other YIVO students carried away a bundle.

But the Yiddish League, unlike the Bund, is still active in the Yiddish world, and we hope that the same thing will be true of the Congress for Jewish Culture.

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A Refugee Pianist, Played by Her Daughter

By Curt Schleier

Lisa Jura was a talented teenage pianist who dreamed of one day performing the Grieg piano concerto with the Vienna Philharmonic at the famed Musikverein. It was a lofty ambition, to be sure, but she had the talent and will to make it happen.

Unfortunately, it was 1938 and her life and the lives of all of Austria’s Jews were about to be turned upside down. Her story is told in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” a powerful, emotional drama that runs through August 24 at the 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan.

The play is especially fascinating because not only is the story true, but it is told by her daughter, Mona Golabek, an extremely talented pianist in her own right. Golabek plays her mother and all of the show’s other characters. The play is based on a book, “The Children of Willesden Lane,” written by Golabek and Lee Cohen.

To a very sad degree, the narrative is familiar. The Jura family lived a comfortable middle class existence. Lisa’s dad had a successful tailor shop. Lisa herself went every Friday for piano lessons, until the Anschluss.

Lisa’s father, Mona’s grandfather, secured one pass on the Kindertransport. Perhaps because she was so talented, Lisa — and not one of her two sisters — was awarded the prize.

At the train station before leaving for England, Lisa’s mother tells her: “Never stop playing and hold on to your music.”

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Why 'Bert Berns Story' Is Best Summer Musical

By Curt Schleier

Photo: Jenny Anderson

Bert Berns is the best pop songwriter you never heard of.

“Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story” is the best new musical of the summer, and you heard that here first.

Berns was an angst-ridden Jewish kid from the Bronx, haunted by a weak heart and a doctor’s predictions that he wouldn’t live beyond 30. He died at 38, but not before writing a slew of hits including “Twist and Shout,” “Hang on Sloopy” and “Cry Baby” (among many others). He also produced early hits for Neil Diamond, Solomon Burke and Van Morrison (among others).

“Piece of My Heart” is a highly entertaining (if not entirely factual), toe-tapping retelling of Berns’s story. Book writer Daniel Goldfarb (“Modern Orthodox,” “Adam Baum and the Jew Movie”) has taken an imaginative approach.

Bert’s daughter, Jessie (Leslie Kritzler) gets a mysterious phone call urging her to return to New York, to her father’s office. When she gets there, she meets Carmine “Wassel” DeNoia (Joseph Siravo), her dad’s best friend, manager and supporter, who has mob connections.

He’s concerned because Jessie’s mom, Ilene (Linda Hart), is about to sell Bert’s catalogue. Jessie, who ostensibly was only 10 days old when her father passed away, knew nothing of this. She didn’t even know he had an office, so Wassel takes her on a journey into the past.

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Sephardic Legend Flory Jagoda Keeps Singing at 90

By Menachem Wecker

Photo: Tom Pich

Soon after she assumed the makeshift stage during her July 16 performance at the Washington D.C. JCC, Flory Jagoda, 90, lit a candle. “Sephardic women always believed in light, in a candle,” she told the audience of about 125 people. “With these candles,” the Bosnian-born artist sang in Ladino, “We pray to God … to grant us a healthy life.”

A few songs later, however, an accidental thrust of the guitar sent the candle flying, and for a split second before it was clear whether a firefighting team would need to be summoned, the assembly’s collective heart skipped a beat. “Let’s just sing,” said Susan Gaeta, one of the two musicians accompanying Jagoda, defusing the mood.

The candle was encased in a glass box, so catastrophic danger probably wasn’t too likely. And Jagoda, for her part, has seen music do the exact opposite of destroy. “I did save myself with music,” she said, recounting her parents placing her alone on a train out of Croatia in 1941. “Don’t open your mouth,” her father had told her. “Just play your harmonica.” (Throughout the performance, Jagoda used the word “harmonica” to refer to an accordion.)

At 90, Jagoda appears to have a healthy sense of humor about her performances. In response to a false start on one song, where the trio wasn’t in the same key, she told the audience, “You know at my age, I don’t hear good.” Eying her colleague Howard Bass, she said, “He’s going to play beforehand, which is good, because it leaves me a good in.” Without batting an eye, Bass told her, “I’m just playing what you wrote!”

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When a Terrorist Is Not a Terrorist

By Curt Schleier

Image courtesy of HBO

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

That’s the question asked and answered in the important HBO documentary, “The Newburgh Sting,” which debuts July 21 at 9 p.m.

It’s been over five years. Still, many people are likely to remember how a joint terrorism task force arrested four men before they could bomb a Bronx synagogue and JCC, and fire a missile at military aircraft at Stewart Airport in upstate New York.

The government gratuitously went through the process of a trial, but the men, who became known as the Newburgh Four, had already been convicted in the media.

However, an investigation by filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner suggests that the four men were not terrorists, but dupes in an elaborate plot set up by an FBI informant.

Following 9/11 (which the FBI missed), the Bureau set up a network of informants to root out home grown terrorists. Most (if not all) of these informants were set loose on mosques. This certainly isn’t politically correct, and no U.S. mosque has yet ben implicated in any kind of terrorist plot. But the FBI seems to have adopted a “We screwed up and now we have to catch up” attitude that made its agents willing to overlook such niceties.“The rules are off,” was a common refrain in FBI offices.

Important, too, these undercover informants were financially rewarded. Previous criminal activity was overlooked. So, if they couldn’t find genuine terrorists, they were potentially motivated to create them, or else lose their jobs. And that seemed to be the case here.

Newburgh, 60 miles north of New York City, is an impoverished community. Shahed Hussain, an informant and shady character, visited the local mosque and asked the Imam if he knew anyone interested in Jihad.

The Imam suggested congregants stay away from him, but Hussain kept showing up in fancy suits, fancy cars (plural) and flashing wads of cash.

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POEM: 'The Necessary Killings'

By Rodger Kamenetz

We have to kill them the President said because they are killing us before we can kill them.

In that case said the other president, why don’t we kill them yesterday, in which case their children won’t have a chance to grow up.

We tried that before said the President, but their children were carrying jelly beans which spilled on the floor and made a mess difficult to clean up. They trampled them so.

What color were the jelly beans asked the reporter.

You know — the President said, his head turning bright red with rage. It is the color of stop signs.

Then why didn’t you stop said the other president.

There you have it, said the President, the jelly beans were delicious!

That’s probably against the law said the giant media head. Her television was full of eyes and ears.

There were many people underfoot clamoring to be heard but their voices added up to a whisper so they could hardly be seen.


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POEM: From 'Portable Folia'

By Carole Birkan Berz

Israel greet me once a month
let every being with a soul praise god
& his spouse
Your wives are your securities
a fuselage to die for
Open air relentless inventive
elation the measure of measure
400 OVERNIGHT
You can have free ovaries
but it’ll cost ya
Can you plan on pleasure or pain?
Earn a degree under happy duress
THE BEST DISH EVER
don’t check too often or not often enough
& don’t multitask in meetings
with the Almighty
Call her as soon as possible
communicating calamitously
alter not your task
i could text you (thy byron or thy goethe)
unfurl the scroll
DISPELL after use


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Szymon Szurmiej, Jewish Actor and Polish Leader, Dies at 91

By JTA

Wikipedia

(JTA) — The Jewish actor and director Szymon Szurmiej, the longtime head of Poland’s State Jewish Theatre, has died.

Szurmiej, a leading Jewish figure for years during the post-Holocaust communist era, died Wednesday in Warsaw. He was 91.

He survived the widespread anti-Semitic purges of 1968 and, in addition to heading the theater since 1970, served as the longtime president of the Social and Cultural Association of Polish Jews, or TSKZ, a secular, state-allied body that was one of the few Jewish organizations permitted to operate under communism.

Szurmiej also served as a member of Poland’s Parliament in the 1980s and represented Polish Jewry in international Jewish organizations.


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When Music Is the Best Medicine

By Curt Schleier

Photo courtesy of BOND/360

Carly Simon recently told The New York Times that one of her goals this summer was to see “Alive Inside” again. She calls the documentary, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, “an extremely moving depiction of the power that music has.”

She’s right. And so were the Sundance folks who selected the film as a favorite. It’ss a tear-jerker of a magnitude to raise the stock price of Kleenex Corp.

The movie chronicles Dan Cohen’s efforts to bring music to dementia patients in nursing homes and the extraordinary impact his project has had. It’s not just any music, but an iPod full of songs the patients grew up with.

Cohen, 62, posses a master’s degree in social work, but spent most of his professional life working for a tech company. In 2006 he read an article about how ubiquitous iPods had become, and wondered if he’d have access to his iPod if he were ever confined in a nursing home.

Cohen spoke to the Forward about his project, how the documentary came about, and forming the charity Music & Memory.

Curt Schleier: What happened after you read that article?

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