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Perhaps the Mona Lisa is smiling about the fact that for the first time, an Israeli exhibition is on view at the Louvre in Paris.
Visitors to the museum between now and mid-August will be able to see a 1,700 year-old mosaic floor that is believed by antiquities experts to have been part of a wealthy man’s house. The mosaic was recovered from under a garbage dump in Lod in central Israel in 1996, and was excavated by Miriam Avissar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2009.
It is believed that the mosaic, measuring approximately 50 by 27 feet, was laid around 300 C.E., and that it was the floor of a large reception room in a private home. At the time, Lod was known as Lydda (or by the Roman name Diospolis) and was a Roman Christian city. The mosaic was preserved by the house’s fresco-covered mud-brick walls, which had collapsed on to it.
With its depictions of colorful fish, birds and animals, the floor is highly unusual in that it shows hunting and marine scenes (including sailing vessels) without human figures.
The relic, which has been previously displayed in Israel and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is being exhibited in the Louvre’s Roman art and antiquities gallery.
Earlier this week, Joanna Hershon wrote about an insult and a memorial service she attended for a friend’s father. Her new novel, A Dual Inheritance, was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. Her new novel, “A Dual Inheritance,” was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
My paternal grandparents lived across from a canal in Long Beach on Long Island. We went to their house every weekend and — at least in the confusing palace of memory — I spent much of my childhood sitting on their porch, rocking back and forth on a glider in the shade. I remember my grandmother’s pliant arms, her strong opinions, my grandfather’s worry, his strength, his pale blue eyes. I could have listened to them telling stories for hours, and often did.
Because my grandfather was religious, it’s him that I think of first when I think of being Jewish: his broad back in his gray suit and his quiet sense of bearing the weight of the world. I often think that if he were a foul-tempered man instead of gentle and beloved, I might have had negative associations with Judaism. But my grandfather trudging off to temple is linked for me to how he was a landlord who could never bring himself to collect rent if the tenant’s child played a musical instrument; it’s linked to the poetic stories he told me about how the bluebird became blue. His Jewishness is linked with his goodness, and I see him in every talis, every yarmulke.
“Covers,” a new production by experimental theater troupe the Lost & Found Project for the Russian division of the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene, attempts to breathe new life into two timeworn themes: young rebellious children and the clash of traditional values in the new world. Premiering May 22 to a packed (and largely Russian-speaking) audience, the show picks up where the troupe’s inaugural production, “Doroga,” left off — young Russian Jewish Americans in present-day Brooklyn, grappling with questions of identity and self-actualization while being smothered by the nagging disapproval of their immigrant parents.
Alex, a once-accomplished investment banker who suffered an emotional breakdown after losing his job, has just moved back in with his overbearing parents who, in proper Russian-Jewish fashion, do not take kindly to his decision to abandon his career and become a musician. His brother Misha, a successful lawyer, also endures their criticism for marrying a non-Jewish woman. Their family drama unfolds while two cousins next door, Sharon and Magda, fight over selling their late grandfather’s apartment.
Immigrant family dramas are by no means new, and though the play’s experimental, minimalist set and instances of breaking the fourth wall add flair to an otherwise tired plot, tropes of the genre are employed without reservation. For instance, the parents’ revulsion to Misha’s new and questionable lifestyle choices — chief among them, a vegetarian diet (clearly the influence of his American wife) — does not even attempt to challenge Russian immigrant stereotypes. In that regard, the roles undermine the message “Covers” strives so hard to convey — that we are all masters of our fate and identity; we choose our “covers” and are not dictated by our past, despite the bearing it has on us.
Last week, Rebecca Miller wrote about Gluckel of Hameln. She has been sharing texts that shed light on the history of Jewish life in France, the setting of her new novel, Jacob’s Folly. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
When I was researching my last novel, my friend Michael Rohatyn found a book at the Strand he thought I might like: “The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes,” by Edouard de Pomiane. De Pomiane (1875-1964), a physician, was also one of the most famous chefs and cookery writers of his day. Born Eduard Pozerski, he was born into the Polish aristocracy, brought up poor but refined. Both his parents were Polish patriots who fought against Russian domination of their homeland; his mother fled to France with the young Eduard when his father was deported to Siberia for insurrection against the Russians. Coming of age within the close-knit community of Polish exiles in Paris, he was sympathetic to liberal causes and was a proponent of the Dreyfus cause.
His ethnographic book about Polish Jewish culture and cooking, written in 1928, was originally entitled “Cuisine Juive; Ghetto Modernes” (“Jewish Cooking; Modern Ghettos”). It is, perhaps, the weirdest book I have ever read. A tantalizingly vague recipe for Carpe a la Juive (“Take a large, live carp. Kill it…”) follows a horrifying description of a pogrom, relayed to de Pomiane by a museum guide who had survived the massacre by hiding under a heap of hay in which his sister suffocated overnight: “A corpse, belly ripped open, lay with its guts wrapped around its neck…A child wandered aimlessly, haggard, mute, crazed, its body beaten to a pulp.”
Calling something “talmudic” is a bad habit among Jewish critics. It’s a way of saying that a work has complexity and Jewish relevance, but it’s not usually clear what resemblance, specifically, a given text has to the Talmud. “Arrested Development,” on the other hand — the cult sitcom that returns on Netflix May 26 after a seven-year hiatus — really does bear the comparison, however unlikely that may seem.
This idea occurred to me last week, when NPR released an app cataloguing every repeated joke and reference within the world of the show. These repetitions (155 of them, according to NPR’s count) were planned with what seems like tremendous foresight, and they are a major part of the show’s appeal. Every time the stair car is used for an escape, a lesson is taught through trauma, or Gob plays “The Final Countdown,” there’s pleasure to be had in recognizing those tropes from previous episodes.
The Talmud works in much the same way. Because it’s a collection of laws, arguments, stories and teachings collected over a period of several hundred years, there is no linear or chronological order to it. Material is organized according to subject, but the Talmud is famously discursive, and discussions wander into areas that are only tangentially related. Thus it often deals with the same questions more than once, necessitating reference to several volumes simultaneously. (That’s one reason why Daf Yomi, the practice of learning the Talmud straight through at the pace of a page a day, is not the best way to do it.)
“Good morning. My name is Nomy. I am a girl. Good morning, Moby! He is a robot.”
So begins the first section of YiddishPOP, a new educational website featuring animated videos whose main character is a robot. It’s the result of a project begun three years ago, long awaited by Yiddish students and educators.
The initiative for YiddishPOP came from Avraham Kadar, head of the online education company BrainPOP and husband of the late Naomi Prawer Kadar, a Yiddish teacher and researcher of Yiddish children’s literature. Prawer Kadar also worked with BrainPOP to create ESL (English as a Second Language) educational materials.
Following her death in 2010, Prawer Kadar’s family decided to develop a teaching program for Yiddish within their company. “We felt that the project was a fitting honor for the memory of my mother’s passion for Yiddish. She would have led such a project herself, had she been alive,” said her daughter, Maya Kadar.
BrainPOP, which produces animated teaching materials, was founded by Avraham Kadar in 1999. Though Kadar is an immunologist and pediatrician by profession, he undertook to create teaching programs so that “young patients could understand difficult concepts through creative means.” The programs on BrainPOP are designed to be used by both individuals and groups, including entire classes. The company sells its products to educators and schools, but the YiddishPOP program is available for free online. Every few months a new course-level will be released.
Earlier this week, Joanna Hershon wrote about a memorial service she attended for a friend’s father. Her new novel, “A Dual Inheritance,” was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
When I was 20, I met a charming elderly man on a train in Greece who told me I looked like an angel. He insisted on escorting me to my destination. At some point during our time together, during the man’s patient explanation of Greek history, he explained to me that the Jews were evil.
I looked him in the eyes and said: But I’m Jewish.
No, he said, no, no. As if I was merely confused.
Yes, I assured him. I’m a Jew. This was 100% true and my family (as far as we know) is 100% Jewish. There was nothing complicated about that fact.
And I was raised by my parents to marry someone Jewish. There was no ambivalence there, no liberal-minded wiggle room.
When I met my husband in my mid-20s, he was living in a small town at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula. He is neither Mexican nor is he Jewish. We fell madly in love and that was that. Though he is not a fan of organized religion, he agreed to raise our future children Jewish, but this was going to be my responsibility. How, I wondered, was I going to nurture a religious identity, when my own life didn’t include much in the way of religious ritual?
Orthodox filmmaker Rama Burshtein is a special case. Not only does she come from a community that frowns on film-watching — never mind film-making — but she has managed to create “Fill the Void,” a movie that has won awards and acclaim around the world. (You can read my recent profile of Burshtein here.)
Burshtein is not the only Haredi woman making movies, however, even if she is the most famous. In 2012 Tamar Rotem reported in Haaretz on the growing numbers of Haredi filmmakers in Israel, “a shadow industry in which the directors make films for women only, without subsidies and without establishment recognition.”
Such films, which must maintain a religious perspective, are usually not very good. Indeed, one of the most remarkable aspects of Burshtein’s film is that it breaks from the didactic mold, showing an artistically viable way for Orthodox artists to make films about themselves, rather than let others tell their stories for them. When I asked Burshtein about Haredi filmmaking, however, she argued against the notion that such movies represent some kind of “progress.”
“I’m not trying to connect with my Haredi community, they don’t need me for that,” she said. “It’s not about progressing or becoming ‘less primitive.’”
I have a lot of faith in the Coen brothers. But when I heard that their next film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” was going to be about a singer-songwriter in Greenwhich Village during the folk revival, I was a little worried. If there’s a period ripe for nostalgia among beardy folk music types, this one is it, and I didn’t want to see the Coen’s talent squandered on an excursion into hippy-folky sentimentality.
Fortunately, early reports on the film from Cannes, where it premiered May 19, indicate that such is not the case. According to CBS, the movie was “met rapturously” and talk has already begun of Oscar nominations. Writing in Indiewire, Glenn Heath Jr. describes the film like this:
Set in early 1960s Greenwich Village at the dawn of the folk music revolution, the film opens with the bearded Llewyn performing in medium shot in a smoky beatnik bar. From the outset, his raspy musical voice is honest and vulnerable, two traits that seem to vanish the second he must deal with the real world in any discernible way. Even more interesting, the audience in the film doesn’t quite jive with Llewyn’s brooding and inclusive musical persona. The crowd’s lethargic faces look on in jest, proving the lack of connection between performer and patron. Much of Inside Llewyn Davis is about the often-futile attempts at translating original artistry into mass emotional consumption.
“Blazing Saddles” is generally regarded as Mel Brooks’s best movie: It was ranked sixth on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American comedies and it was nominated for three Academy Awards. “Best,” though, is a relative term. Brooks’s Borscht Belt-meets-absurdism style is so unique and so indelible that what we call the “best” is usually the first of his movies we fell in love with.
It’s safer to say that “Blazing Saddles” was Brooks’s most timely movie, even his most serious movie. And it’s as safe to say that there wouldn’t be a Mel Brooks installment of PBS’s “American Masters” (premiering May 20; check local listings) without “Blazing Saddles.”
The opening scene is terrific and justifiably famous. We see a mix of Chinese and black workers pounding hammers under the desert sun. Their vicious and idiotic white overseers demand they sing spirituals like they did when they were slaves. The workers huddle, break apart, and slowly we hear a sweet, beautiful voice: “I get no kick from champagne.” Almost before we can process the joke, Brooks lays a second one atop the first: the black workers join in, harmonizing with the lead singer. This isn’t one person singing Cole Porter; this is a full, sophisticated a cappella routine. Brooks continues to add inversion after inversion, but the jokes work because the first few bars of that unexpected, anachronistic song say so much about racial ignorance.
A tragic love story between two Palestinians living under Israeli occupation received a standing ovation at the Cannes film festival on Monday and broke new ground as the first film fully funded by the Palestinian cinema industry.
“Omar” by director Hany Abu-Assad, known for the 2005 award-winning film “Paradise Now,” is a political thriller interwoven with a story of trust and betrayal as two lovers are torn apart by Israel’s secret police and Palestinian freedom fighters.
Omar, a baker, is in love with Nadia, the sister of his friend Tarek who is a Palestinian fighter on the West Bank.
Arrested and humiliated by the Israeli military police, Omar, played by Adam Bakri, joins Tarek and colleague, Amjad, in a mission to kill an Israeli soldier and ends up imprisoned, tortured, and under pressure to betray his friends.
Earmarked a traitor, he starts to doubt Nadia’s fidelity, especially as she is also pursued by Amjad, and his life falls apart as he is pursued across the ravaged Palestinian landscape.
Abu-Assad said he was delighted by the reception his film received at Cannes, where picky critics are known to boo films that do not meet their expectations, and he hoped the festival would help gain international attention for “Omar.”
Making Tel Aviv’s upcoming municipal election day even more exciting, Rihanna will be giving a public concert in the city’s Park Hayarkon as the ballots are being counted. Scheduled for October 22, the concert will be the pop star’s first public performance in Israel.
Rihanna has been to Israel before, but in a more low-key capacity. During the summer of 2010, she performed at a relatively small venue in Jaffa as part of a deal with a local cellular company. That concert was open mainly to the company’s subscribers. Although details about her upcoming concert in Tel Aviv are not yet available and tickets are not yet being sold, it is believed that tens of thousands of fans will come out to see her perform in October.
The singer’s star power has cranked up considerably since her last visit to Israel, with her “Loud” (2010), “Talk That Talk” (2011), and “Unapologetic” (2012) albums having zoomed to the top of the charts. Billboard has ranked her as one of the best-selling artists of all time, and Forbes named her the fourth most powerful celebrity or 2012 on the basis of her having earned $53 million between May 2011 and May 2012.
While many residents of metropolitan Tel Aviv are looking forward to an entertaining election day, some local authorities are somewhat less enthusiastic about the timing of Rihanna’s show. They are worried that the extra road traffic that will be generated by concertgoers will deter voters from trying to get to polling stations.
Another event has been added to Barbara Streisand’s busy schedule during her upcoming visit to Israel. In addition to singing at President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday party and giving two public concerts in Tel Aviv, she will receive an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The honor will be bestowed upon her on June 17, during the 76th Hebrew University International Board of Governors Meeting.
The honor recognizes Streisand for her professional achievements, human and civil rights leadership, philanthropy, and devotion to Israel and the Jewish people. In 1986, she established The Streisand Foundation, which is dedicated to fostering women’s equality and health, protecting human and civil rights, advancing the needs of at-risk children in society and preserving the environment. Since its inception, it has granted $25 million to more than 800 non-profit organizations around the world.
“Barbra Streisand’s transcendent talent is matched by her passionate concern for equality and opportunity for people of every gender and background. Equally important, her love of Israel and her Jewish heritage are reflected in so many aspects of her life and career. We are deeply proud to honor an individual who exemplifies these values which we at the Hebrew University share and uphold,” stated Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University.
Joanna Hershon’s most recent novel, “A Dual Inheritance,” was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I recently attended my friend’s father’s memorial. It was held at the Faculty House of Columbia University in a perfectly lovely nondescript room with a bar. An elegant man with an appealingly mysterious accent led the service. I imagined he’d been a student of my friend’s father, who was a playwright and professor, or perhaps he worked for the University in some capacity. As the memorial unfolded, three things immediately came to mind: the deceased was roughly the age of the two protagonists in my new novel, “A Dual Inheritance” ; like my protagonists, he’d gone to Harvard, and — though I knew my friend’s father was Jewish — there was no reference to it here. It was an entirely secular experience.
I thought of how my mother always says that there’s something cold and empty when an official service has no religious framework, and as so many friends and family paid loving and witty tribute to this obviously talented, stubborn, erudite, caring man, I carried on a mental argument with my mother, whose Judaism is expressed differently — more politically, more conservatively, less fraught — than mine is. I argued in my head for secularism. Here was a great example, I reasoned; here was a deep tribute without being defined by a religion into which my friend’s father happened to be born. He’d been orphaned fairly young, had a massive heart attack as a young man, had never thought he’d live past 40. He’d also been widowed young and had raised a daughter — my friend — who was now happily living in Berlin, raising a German-speaking son with a non-Jewish husband. You see, I told my mother in my silent protest, life can be so much bigger than religion.
Not everyone has Zack Galifianakis renting an apartment for them, or Renee Zellweger paying to furnish it. But then again, not everyone is Mimi.
Mimi is an 88-year-old woman who, until very recently, lived in a laundromat on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Calif. She is the subject of a film being made by Israeli actor and director Yaniv Rokah. Now entering post-production thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, “Queen Mimi” tells the story of how this feisty octogenarian, who was once a San Fernando Valley housewife, ended up living on the streets of Los Angeles for almost a decade before taking up permanent residence at Fox Laundry 18 years ago.
“When I first came to L.A. seven years ago, I would be heading every morning to work at Caffe Luxxe on Santa Monica Avenue. It was 5 a.m. and the street would be dark and empty, but I would always notice Mimi waking up in the laundromat,” Rokah recalled in a phone conversation with The Arty Semite.
“I started talking to her, and we became friends. She is such an interesting person, and I decided I’d better capture this before she’s no longer with us.”
In her first installments of “Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear,” Randy Susan Meyers wrote about an essay in which the writer met with an elderly former SS officer and the plight of ordinary German citizen during World War II. Her newest novel, “The Comfort of Lies,” is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
“The schools would fail through their silence, the Church through its forgiveness, and the home through the denial and silence of the parents. The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it.” ― Simon Wiesenthal
I worked for many years with batterers — men who were adjudicated into a program for domestic violence prevention, men who had beaten, hit, punched, and sometimes killed their wives. They sat and stared at me, denying with the most innocent of eyes the very crimes I had laid out in photos in front of me.
She ran into my fist.
I grabbed her arm and then she ran in circles around me, and that is how she broke her own arm.
She had a soft head, and that is why she died when her head hit the iron railing.
People ask if the men ever changed and my answer remains the same: only if they are able to face their crimes and cruelty. Denial, and the shame these men felt (whether shame at being caught, shame at hurting people they should have loved, or shame at their hidden crimes being brought into the bright sunlight), blocked their change. How do you change if you can’t admit what happened?
There was giant Hebrew letter Shin representing the Shekhina — the Godly presence — constructed out of large branches to be launched on a lake and set on fire, a 12-tone music system assigned to the Hebrew alphabet and the 72 names of God, and organic art installations hanging from trees in the forest.
These were just a few of the experimental pieces of land art being created by artists-in-residence at “The Jewish Waltz with Planet Earth Retreat,” a Jewish artists’ residency at the bucolic Eden Village Camp, in Putnam Valley, NY, during the month of May.
The retreat is the first artist colony run by Art Kibbutz NY, an organization set up to nurture Jewish artists and art collaboration, and to create a stronger community of Jewish artists.
“We’ve brought together a diverse group of Jewish artists, of all different disciplines, ages — from 20 to 70 — religious denominations, and from eight countries, and they’ve all engaged and formed a community. I didn’t even have to do much facilitating — art is such a common language, and through this they’ve built their own community,” said Patricia Eszter Margit, Art Kibbutz NY founder.
At an “Open Studio Day” on May 12 artists ran workshops, concerts and performances and presented their art to visitors.
Print-maker Nikki Green, collaborating on the “Shin” installation with fellow artist Asherah Cinnamon, was displaying her ornate prints of Hebrew letters enrobed in motifs from nature at her studio. “In my art, I look at the juxtaposition of the letter and the land,” said Green, who came all the way from Western Australia to participate in Art Kibbutz. Green’s work is inspired by, and created from, the landscape around her, using dyes from native flora for her Hebrew letters series. “I’m seeing flowers that grow here that I’ve never seen before. It’s very exciting!” she said.
“London seems to be in my bloodstream,” said artist Leon Kossoff. “It is always moving — the skies, the streets, the buildings. The people who walk past me when I draw have become part of my life.”
Kossoff’s current exhibition, “London Landscapes,” which opened in London May 8, includes over 90 drawings and 10 paintings in a retrospective that depicts the changing rhythm of the city’s urban landscape.
Apart from evacuation as a schoolboy and military service with the Royal Fusiliers between 1945 and 1948, 86-year-old Kossoff has lived all his life in the English capital. His work displays his observations of London — a lifelong subject — including the bomb sites of the early 1950s, the regeneration of Kings Cross and a recent return to Arnold Circus, in Shoreditch in the East End. That was where he was born to Yiddish speaking parents, and where he subsequently grew up.
Built in 1896, Arnold Circus was Britain’s first council housing estate, a Victorian social experiment. Today, red brick houses circle a bandstand and small park, much like they did then. The building where Kossoff attended school is still standing but the area, which formerly was occupied by immigrants, has now been gentrified.
The Cannes film festival may get some of its swagger back on Wednesday when it opens with Baz Luhrmann’s lavish 3D period drama “The Great Gatsby,” an opportunity to shed the caution of recent years overshadowed by broader economic gloom.
Leonardo DiCaprio and his British co-star Carey Mulligan will walk the red carpet on the French Riviera to promote the $105 million adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel which has already opened in North America.
Over 12 days of world premieres, champagne parties and sun-and-celebrity worship, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Ryan Gosling, Emma Watson and Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchanare among the big names in town promoting their latest pictures.
Festival veterans are eager to see if Luhrmann can top his opening in 2001, viewed as the last truly extravagant launch on the palm-lined Croisette waterfront, when he filled the red carpet with can-can girls to promote his movie “Moulin Rouge.”
“For a few years the mood at Cannes was a bit more subdued but the economy has picked up a bit and business is good so people are expecting a big opening,” said Wendy Mitchell, editor of trade magazine Screen International.
“The Great Gatsby” was seen as a surprise choice for Cannes, given that the prestigious opening slot is traditionally reserved for a world premiere and all the media buzz and excitement that can bring.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Academics and enthusiasts of Yiddish studies have long been pushing for the translation of Yiddish literature. Unfortunately, few efforts have met with much success, even among Jewish readers. The New Yiddish Library Series, from Yale University Press, had plans to translate and publish dozens of Yiddish books, but was forced to halt the project due to low sales.
Writer and translator Michael Wex hopes to change all that. On May 7, Wex, the author of “Born to Kvetch” and “Just Say Nu,” launched an indiegogo campaign to raise money to translate Yosef Opatoshu’s novel, “In Polish Forests.” Wex plans to render the book into English and then post it online for free. A comprehensive introduction will acquaint the reader with Opatoshu’s life and work.
Through this project, Wex hopes to “pioneer a new model for literary translation while rescuing a seminal work of modern Yiddish literature from undeserved neglect,” he writes on his indiegogo page.
In the novel, Opatoshu describes the decay of the Hasidic dynasty in Kotsk after the Napoleonic period, up to the Polish uprising of 1863. He focuses on the lives of backwoods Jews and their daily interactions with gentile Polish peasants. Contrary to the stereotype that Jews lived in constant dread of their Polish neighbors, Opatoshu shows us a very different reality: Jews interacting easily with Poles, and Poles displaying respect for their Jewish neighbors.
“Touching as it does on Hasidism, heresy, pre-Christian Polish folk customs, wife-swapping, messianism, and Polish nationalism, this book will change the way you think about Jewish life in Poland,” Wex writes.
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