The Arty Semite

How Italy Saved Its Jews

By Allen Ellenzweig

The vagaries of international film distribution may produce the impression that the French have created a more significant body of work examining their nation’s moral failings under Nazi Occupation than any other European country. We have, for example, feature films like Louis Malle’s “Au revoir, les enfants,” Truffaut’s “Le Dernier Metro,” or Rose Bosch’s recent “La Rafle,” as well as magisterial documentaries like Marcel Ophuls’ “The Sorrow and the Pity” and “Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbi,” not to mention Claude Lanzmann’s singular “Shoah” and his recent, if problematic, “The Last of the Unjust.” It may be my lapse, but I can immediately think of no other European national cinema that has produced a documentary that takes its own Nazi period and examines it with the moral depth and complexity of “The Sorrow and the Pity” or “Hotel Terminus.” It could also be that significant works of that kind have simply not reached the international market.

With this in mind, it may be unfair to approach Oren Jacoby’s modest and nobly intended “My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes” by the barometer of the best that has already been produced in another national context. “My Italian Secret” tells stories of bravery by ordinary Italians in saving their Jewish friends and neighbors; it does so by following several Jewish survivors who return to Italy in their late adulthood to revisit the scenes of their worst nightmares: hidden in terror, fleeing in desperation, separated from loved ones, saying final goodbyes without knowing they were final. But Jacoby also threads through his documentary the story of a uniquely self-effacing man, the ruggedly handsome Italian bicycling idol Gino Bartali, whose athletic success before the outbreak of war imposed on him the burden of being used as a paragon of Mussolini’s fascist ideology. This is a position from which Bartali shrank, preferring to keep his own counsel and avoid any apparent endorsement of Il Duce’s project.

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How Jerry Adler Became Hollywood's Go-To Jew

By Curt Schleier

Photo: Joan Marcus

Jerry Adler is probably best known for his role as Herman “Hesh” Rabkin, Jewish adviser to Tony Soprano on the worldwide HBO hit “The Sopranos.” Adler, 86, currently appears in “Fish in the Dark,” the Larry David comedy on Broadway. It’s a small but pivotal role as Sidney Drexel, father to David’s character, Norman. It is Sidney’s death that sets up the ensuing rigmarole.

Though Adler also has a recurring role on CBS’s “The Good Wife” and appeared recently in the critically acclaimed film “A Most Violent Year,” acting is actually his second career. He began his professional life behind the scenes, as a stage manager and director, with more than 50 Broadway shows to his credit. “I’ve been around, kiddo,” he said to the Forward.

“Fish in the Dark” is only Adler’s second Broadway show as an actor. His first came in 2000, when he appeared in Elaine May’s short-lived comedy “Taller Than a Dwarf.” With a $13 million advance, though, Adler knows that this time around will last a bit longer.

Adler spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about his “easy” new job, how he got started as an actor and how he landed “The Sopranos.”

Jerry Adler: This is for the Forward? Oh, wow. I remember, when I was a kid, my grandfather reading it all the time. He used to call it the Forverts.

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How Ziggy Gruber Became a 'Deli Man'

By Jordan Kutzik

Photo courtesy Cohen Media Group

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

Like many other aspects of Ashkenazi Jewish culture, old-time Jewish delicacies are becoming harder and harder to find. In 1931 there were more than 2,500 delis and 150 kosher dairy restaurants in New York City alone; today there are only 21 delis left in the Big Apple. Erik Greenberg Anjou’s film “Deli Man,” which is now playing nationwide, explores the history of the American-Jewish deli and its precipitous decline through the men seeking to keep deli culture alive, chief among them “deli man” Ziggy Gruber.

Gruber, a 40-something New York Jew, has run Kenny and Ziggy’s Delicatessen in Houston, Texas for the past 15 years. Gruber grew up in the deli industry. “How did I start working in delis?” Gruber repeated the question during a telephone interview. “Well, when I was 8 my grandfather threw an apron at me and said ‘come with me. It’s time to make a living.’ And he taught me how to cook real heymishe (down-home) Yiddish food and work in the deli.”

Ziggy Gruber has an impeccable pedigree in the world of Jewish delis; his family is made up of three generations of “deli men.” His grandfather Max came to America from Budapest at age 16 and soon began working in Jewish restaurants. Together with his brother-in-laws Izzy and Morris Rappaport, Max opened the first deli on Broadway, the famous Rialto Deli in 1927. The restaurant was a huge success and they soon opened other popular delis, including Berger’s Delicatessen on 47th street, Wally’s Downtown and The Griddle on 16th street. Their delis attracted some of the biggest celebrities of the time, including Milton Berle and the Marx Brothers.

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Can '2000 Year Old Man' Live Without Mel Brooks?

By Anne Joseph

Photo: Blake Ezra

Comedy history was made in 1961 with the creation of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s classic routine, “The 2000 Year Old Man.” Brooks played the oldest Jewish man in the world, interviewed by Carl Reiner in a series of skits that appeared on television and five award winning albums. Topics ranged from the earliest known language — “basic Rock” — to the Old Man’s relationships with Joan of Arc and Helen of Troy’s sister, Janice, who apparently was “not quite as pretty.” And the secret to his longevity? “Never run for a bus. There will always be another.”

Now the character has been reprised in the first ever stage re-creation, at JW3 in London, thanks to the Canadian-born stage and radio actor, Kerry Shale. Shale secured the rights from Brooks and Reiner and has adapted the routine into what he has described as the comedy duo’s greatest hits. Shale has also taken on the role of the Yiddish elder while writer, comedian and broadcaster Chris Neill plays The Interviewer. But can a comedy routine still feel fresh over 50 years later, particularly one that was originally largely improvised?

It is a laudable effort.

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New Festival Celebrates Hebrew Language and Culture

By Rukhl Schaechter

Photo: Larson Harley

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

As the musicians began playing the first strains of Sergei Prokofiev’s classic children’s symphony, “Peter and the Wolf,” on the stage of the Steven Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan on March 15, the hundreds of children in the large, awe-inspiring sanctuary stopped their squirming, and their parents eagerly pulled them onto the seats next to them. Israeli actress Shira Averbuch began narrating the familiar story of an enterprising little boy named Peter who, together with a duck, a cat and a bird, outsmarts a wolf. But this performance was different than most others in New York: the narration was all in Hebrew.

The show, called “Music Talks: Peter and the Wolf,” marked the opening of a remarkable two-week Hebrew festival called “Hagigah Ivrit” taking place in Manhattan until March 30. The festival, which hopes to raise the profile of the Hebrew language in North America through a variety of artistic and academic events, is sponsored by the Council for Hebrew Language and Culture in North America, the World Zionist Organization, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, and the Israeli-American Council.

Similar festivals are being planned in Toronto, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It was clear from the Hebrew chatter echoing through the hall both before and after the performance that almost all the families attending were Israeli expats grateful for an opportunity to share a Hebrew cultural experience with their children.

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How Jews Made Marriage Glamorous

By Anne Joseph

“No man in Whitechapel drives a busier or a more paying trade than does the shadchan,” observed the writer Louise Jordan Miln in 1900. In fact, a ledger belonging to a shadkhen, or matchmaker, is one of the objects on display for the first time in “For Richer For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled,” the latest exhibition at the Jewish Museum London. Written entirely in Yiddish, the 1940s ledger shows a list of his prospective clients. A stamp depicting two hands shaking next to the names of a couple indicates when a successful match had been made.

“For Richer For Poorer” celebrates the story of the Jewish wedding in Britain’s Jewish community from the late 19th century to the mid-20th, focusing in particular on the immigrant community who settled in London’s East End. It showcases a range of objects and artifacts, including wedding dresses, photographs and hand-designed ketubot. Invitations, seating plans and menus provide further examples of how the community went about marking the occasion.

Many of the exhibits are from the museum’s own collection but have remained hidden until now. Their inclusion demonstrates a historic partnership with the public, says Abigail Morris, CEO of the Museum, and provide an insight into the traditions, cultural norms and social aspirations of the community. There are some real gems, such as the wedding dresses, which have been painstakingly restored for the exhibition and date from the early 20th century.

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Jewish Art Historian Takes the Reins at Met Museum

By Michael Kaminer

Photo by Don Pollard

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new president is an MBA-toting medieval art historian who links his relentless curiosity and academic passions to his Jewish background.

Dr. Daniel Weiss, who will replace Emily Rafferty in the top administrative job at one of the world’s leading — and largest — arts institutions, told the Forward he grew up “in a culturally Jewish family with no religious tradition, but with a serious interest in ideas, history, and issues of justice, as I have been in my own scholarly and professional interests. It was an environment with lots of Jewish values.”

A onetime management consultant who rose to become president of Haverford College before accepting the Met position, the Newark-born Weiss began his career managing museum shops at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. A Yale MBA, Weiss then joined management consultancy Booz, Allen & Hamilton in New York.

Leaving to pursue art studies, he earned a PhD in Western Medieval and Byzantine Art before landing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “What makes my appointment unusual is the fact that I have significant experience as an art historian and a working scholar,” Weiss said. “It’s a happy marriage.”

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Ari Shavit's 'My Promised Land' Will Be HBO Doc

By JTA

Sharon Bareket

“My Promised Land,” a best-selling book about Israel by journalist Ari Shavit, is being made into a documentary for HBO.

Shavit and HBO Chairman Richard Plepler announced the project on Monday at a conference in Jerusalem by the Israeli media company Keshet. The project does not yet have an air date.

“The great hope is that the HBO documentary ‘My Promised Land’ will be able to open people’s minds and hearts to realize once again that, with all its flaws and problems, Israel is a man-made miracle and an astonishing human endeavor,” said Shavit, who writes for the Haaretz newspaper.

“My Promised Land” delves into Israel’s turbulent history through Shavit’s family story. His great-grandfather was one of the earliest Zionists to visit the region that would become the state of Israel.

Plepler said that when he first approached Shavit, “I told him that I’ve waited my whole adult life to find this book.”

The HBO chief said the book “captured both the objective truth and the emotional truth, the psychological truth of how I love Israel and ponder its challenges, and wrestle with its obvious mistakes and foibles. And I thought, my goodness, what a privilege, to capture the essential truths of this book and to make a film that could reach millions of people not only in Israel and the U.S., but all over the world.”

Dan Setton, a veteran Israeli filmmaker, will direct the film and Keshet’s Avi Nir will serve as executive producer, Variety reported.


Did 'The Jinx' Just Convict Robert Durst?

By Cynthia Littleton

(Reuters) — Among the many questions raised by the dramatic conclusion of “The Jinx,” HBO’s six-part docu-series on suspected killer Robert Durst, was the issue of when law enforcement officials were made aware of the damning materials gathered by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki.

In Sunday’s finale episode, Durst appears to acknowledge his role in three murder cases that he has been linked to since 1982. The heir to a real estate fortune was arrested in New Orleans on Saturday in connection with the murder of his friend, Susan Berman, in Los Angeles in 2000.

“Killed them all, of course,” he says while talking to himself in a bathroom in a moment captured by the still-live microphone after he squirmed during an interview where Jarecki presents him with handwriting evidence pointing to his guilt in the shooting death of an L.A. woman in 2000.

The timing of Durst’s arrest and the finale of “Jinx” has raised suspicions that the filmmakers and Los Angeles County law enforcement officials coordinated for maximum dramatic effect, but during a Monday appearance on “CBS This Morning,” Jarecki said that law enforcement officials have had the audio recordings and other materials for “many months.”

“The truth is we hoped that Robert Durst would be arrested as soon as possible, and we were sort of amazed ourselves that he hadn’t be been arrested for so long, but the authorities were never communicating with us other than in their normal cordial way,” Jarecki admitted. “They were going through their investigation.”

He also clarified that he and his producing partner Marc Smerling discovered the bathroom audio tape of Durst “months” after the interview was first conducted, not two years later as reported Sunday night by the New York Times.

“We actually interviewed Bob Durst two times. The first time was for about three days back in 2010, and we were surprised that he made a whole bunch of admissions and said things that were kind of shocking and we thought we would go back to them again at some point,” Jarecki recalled.

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The French Comedy Too Controversial for America

By Andrew Lapin

The French comedy “Serial (Bad) Weddings” opens with a white Catholic couple grimacing in church as they marry off their eldest daughter to an Arab. In the second scene they grimace once again, as their second daughter marries a Jew.

Not hot-button enough yet? A third daughter then marries a Chinese man, and the film’s conflict is thrust into motion when the fourth daughter becomes engaged to an African. He’s Catholic, but still, the parents weep over losing their final shot to have a white Frenchman son-in-law. Soon the parents may not be the only ones with an uncomfortable look on their face: American audiences will join them.

At least, that’s the fear of international film marketers who have declined to release “Serial (Bad) Weddings” stateside, according to TF1 International, the movie’s distributor. Released in France last year under its original title, “Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?” (literally, “What Have We Done To God?”), the movie grossed more than $104 million in its native country, becoming the highest grossing film of the year.

But speaking to French magazine Le Point last fall, TF1 Head of Sales Sabine Chemaly said agents in the U.S. and U.K. had deemed the film too politically incorrect for the English-speaking market. Some of the fear may have to do with the fact that another recent French culture-clash comedy, 2011’s “The Intouchables,” weathered charges of racism from several American media outlets following its release.

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How Graphic Novels Grew in Israel

By Liam Hoare

When the artists Rutu Modan and Yirmi Pinkus formed the publishing house Actus Tragedus in 1995, it was, in Pinkus’s words, “an effort to find ourselves readers outside of Israel” for their comics and illustrations. Actus published books in English, an act that Modan and Pinkus said was seen at the time as snobbish and unpatriotic, even anti-Zionist.

But for Modan, publishing in English found her an international audience for her two graphic novels, “Exit Wounds” — published in the early 2000s, a love story whose themes reflect the impact of the Second Intifada on Israeli society — and “The Property,” which takes a young Israeli woman and her grandmother to Warsaw, ostensibly in order to pursue the restitution of lost property.

“In Israel — a country almost entirely bereft of homegrown graphic novels — Rutu Modan is a one-woman industry,” Tal Kra-Oz wrote when he interviewed Modan for the Forward in 2013.

“I wrote what I consider to be my first graphic novel when I was in second grade during the Yom Kippur War,” Modan said at London’s Jewish Book Week earlier this month. “I grew up in a hospital because my parents were both doctors. During the Yom Kippur War, soldiers were coming back from the front, with the helicopters landing in my neighborhood.” Her drawings were generic, rather than of that war Modan was too young to comprehend, but they depicted “dead people and wounded people, as seen through the eyes of a child.”

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How London Fell Hard for Middle Eastern Food

By Liame Hoare

Getty Images

“Quietly, unexpectedly — and without anybody bothering to consult me — Jewish food has become really, really good,” The Guardian’s food critic Jay Rayner said at London’s Jewish Book Week earlier this month. “Frankly, I’m appalled.” Rayner was referring to London’s new love affair with Middle Eastern food. Salt beef and bagels and lox are out – Israeli cuisine with bold and aromatic Sephardic flavors is in.

Yotam Ottolenghi was the one who started it all. His eponymous delis in Notting Hill, Islington and Belgravia introduced Middle Eastern flavors to London in a way that was inciting, healthy and bountiful, working with eye-catching platters of fresh vegetables in a way opposite to how English cuisine treated (and still treats) fresh produce. His cookbooks “Plenty” and “Jerusalem,” as well as his television series on Middle Eastern food, brought his passions and ideas to a wider audience.

Ottolenghi is to London today what Gordon Ramsay was (more broadly) a decade or so ago, in the sense that those who have worked and trained with him have gone on to found their own establishments. Sarit Packer and her husband Itamar Srulovich opened Honey & Co. in 2012, a tiny restaurant with only 10 tables on Warren Street. Such has been their success that they signed a book deal back in 2013; “Honey & Co.: Food From the Middle East” was published last year.

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Behind the Scenes With The New Yorker's Fiction Maven

By Anne Joseph

Photo courtesy Jewish Book Week London

As fiction editor of The New Yorker, Deborah Treisman’s job is one of the most enviable in the literary world. It is certainly one of the most influential. In fact, The New York Times described it as a job that carries the literary clout equivalent of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. On March 1, Treisman was at Jewish Book Week in London, in conversation with Guardian columnist and feature writer Hadley Freeman, discussing the merits and challenges of the job she has held since 2003.

Treisman was born in Oxford and moved to Vancouver at the age of 8. She comes from academic stock — both her parents and siblings are renowned professors and her stepfather, Daniel Kahneman, shared a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Instead of academia, she decided to go into publishing. After graduating in Comparative Literature at University of California, Berkeley, Treisman worked at the literary magazine, The Threepenny Review and then moved to New York to intern at Harper’s Magazine. This period was followed by a year at The New York Review of Books and subsequently four years as editor at Grand Street. Treisman was deputy fiction editor for five years at The New Yorker before becoming the magazine’s first female fiction editor since Katherine White in 1925.

Treisman admitted that she had probably not written a story herself since she was 11, telling the packed audience that she had submitted it to The New Yorker, only for it to be rejected. But anyone hoping to have the definitive answer to how the magazine picks its stories would have been disappointed. There is no “one thing,” and there is no trademark piece, according to Treisman. The range is extreme and Treisman stressed that what is important is that a published story must “achieve on its own terms.” The styles and approaches can be different but for a story to be effective it “must do what it set out to do.”

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'When Blood Ran Red' Drama Wins Playwriting Prize

By Anna Goldenberg

Ben Gonshor

The first-ever David and Clare Rosen Memorial Play Contest, an international playwriting competition for projects with Jewish and Yiddish themes, has chosen its winner, Montreal-based Ben Gonshor. His historical drama “When Blood Ran Red” chronicles the friendships between African-American actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson and leading Soviet Jews after World War II. The driving point of the action deals with the removal of the Russian Yiddish theatre and purge of Yiddish and Jewish culture and life in the Stalin era.

“I am so incredibly honored to be moving onwards to the next stage of development,” the press release quotes Gonshor. “I’m ecstatic. The finalist pieces were so well written. It was a privilege to see them all come alive and share that experience with the talented men and women who gave them life.”

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Major UK Grant Will Unearth Forgotten Music

By Anne Joseph

A major international research arts project, “Performing the Jewish Archive,” has been awarded a grant of just over £1.5 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the U.K., under the theme, “Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past.”

The project, headed by Russian music specialist Stephen Muir, a senior lecturer in Musicology and Performance at Leeds University, will bring rediscovered music and theatrical works by Jewish artists to the attention of academics and the public. As well as performing material that has lain dormant, forgotten, hidden or lost, Muir says that the grant will enable the creation of new works out of existing archives.

Muir, who is not Jewish, became interested in Jewish music approximately six or seven years ago. “For some reason the subject grabbed me, shook me up and made me think and I can’t let it go,” he said. His recent research has focused on the musical documentation of Russian and Polish Jewish composers who found their way to South Africa through displacement and migration. An opportune trip to Cape Town led to the discovery of a manuscript by Dovid Ajzensztadt, a major figure in Polish music in the 1920s who was murdered by the Nazis. Ajzensztadt’s lost Passover cantata, “Chad Gadya,” was performed for the first time since the Holocaust at a concert in Leeds earlier last year.

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Do We Focus Too Much on Auschwitz?

By Liam Hoare

The emphasis placed on Auschwitz-Birkenau as a place of remembrance has skewed the way we understand the Holocaust, Professor David Cesarani told attendees on the final day of London’s Jewish Book Week on March 1.

Speaking with reference to his forthcoming book, “Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-49” — which is due to be published in September and will seek to demonstrate the surprising lack of inevitability in the events that culminated in the Holocaust — Cesarani said that while “Auschwitz is tremendously important, it has created the sense that the Holocaust started in 1933 and inevitably led to Auschwitz.”

Rather, he said, “anti-Jewish policy evolved haphazardly between 1933 and 1937, when organizations and individuals competed with each other to deal with the Jews.” Emigration “only turned into an exodus late into the 1930s.” Jewish suffering during the Holocaust itself, Cesarani went onto argue, was a consequence of German military failure in the first half of the Second World War and Allied military failure in the second half, turns of events that made the fate of European Jewry “something catastrophic.”

In the dispute between the functionalist and intentionalist schools of thought over the origins of the Holocaust, Cesarani — Research Chair in History at Royal Holloway, University of London — would seem to be lining himself up with the functionalists, albeit moderately.

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Joshua Fishman, Yiddishist and Linguistics Pioneer, Dies at 88

By Jordan Kutzik

A version of this piece appeared in Yiddish here.

Sociolinguist, Yiddish scholar and advocate for endangered languages Joshua (Shikl) Fishman died March 1 in New York. He leaves behind his wife of more than 60 years Gella Schweid-Fishman, three sons, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is predeceased by his sister, the Yiddish poet Rukhl Fishman (1935-1984).

Fishman was born on July 18, 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine and Bessarabia. His father Aaron Fishman was a staunch Yiddishist who would ask the young Shikl every evening: “What did you do today for Yiddish?” At the age of four he began his Yiddish education in the Workmen’s Circle schools of Philadelphia. He would often accompany his father when he went knocking on the doors of nearby houses in an effort to convince Jewish neighbors to send their children to Yiddish afternoon schools. While a student at Olney High School in Philadelphia he also studied at the city’s Yiddish high school and ran the Peretz Youth Club, which published the first version of the youth-oriented Yiddish-language magazine Yugntruf, which is still published today.

As a teenager Fishman befriended the future linguist and Yiddish scholar Uriel Weinreich and his brother Gabriel, who were then recent arrivals from Vilna. During a visit to the Weinreichs’ home in New York their father Max Weinreich, then director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, invited Fishman to attend a YIVO conference. It would mark the beginning of Fishman’s decades-long association with YIVO and he would remain close to Uriel and Max Weinreich personally and professionally for the rest of their lives.

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Cantor by Day, Moroccan Pop Star by Night

By Michael Kaminer

Samy Elmaghribi was a hugely popular Moroccan-music star. Salomon Amzallag was a beloved Sephardic cantor in Montreal.

That the pop star and the liturgical giant were the same person has inspired a new exhibition that opened in Montreal February 25.

“Sacre Profane: Samy Elmaghribi” explores the “seemingly opposite” notions of sacred and secular in Elmaghribi’s career; the show also delves into the rich cultural and spiritual life of Moroccan Jewish Montreal.

Posters and ephemera from Algeria, Morocco, France, Israel and Montreal “express Salomon Amzallag’s migration back and forth between these places,” said Stephanie Schwartz, curator of the exhibition and research director of the roving Museum of Jewish Montreal, which organized the show. The singer “was never happy getting cornered into one thing,” Schwartz said. “He was moved by the arts. And he was an observant Jew. But he was still able to tour as a popular singer.”

Yolande Amzallag, Elmaghribi’s daughter, agreed. “It was never a dichotomy in his eyes,” she told the Forward by phone from downtown Montreal, where she works as a translator. “In his life and practice, he didn’t see or live a contradiction. He blended both aspects very harmoniously. The only thing he didn’t reinterpret is some of his earlier songs — they’re more explicit, more erotic.”

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POEM: 'Emuna'

By Alexander Dickow

Again and again we’ve risen and run
Our rain wept lips against the same whisper,
Against another haggard weather in
The high hush of praise we’ve given over
And over and held out, our every hand
A still refrain, a hand woven in two;
And our windy hearts vaults broken into
Answers and hope beckoning to the land;
Again and again we’ve risen and run
Our rain wept lips against the same whisper.


10 Food Movies Everyone Should See

By Curt Schleier

While it may seem as though deli food is the only grub worthy of cinematic treatment, some foolish auteurs have tackled others. Here are some of the best food films ever, in our humble opinion.

1. The Hundred-Foot Journey (Lasse Hallström, 2014)

Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) is not pleased when Indian immigrants open a restaurant 100 feet across the road from her small Michelin-starred establishment. Did I really have to say more than Helen Mirren?

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