The Arty Semite

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 Salamon Amzallag’s migration back and forth between these places,” said Stephanie Schwartz, co-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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'Deli Man' Pays Homage to Jewish Comfort Food

By Curt Schleier

Photo courtesy Cohen Media Group

For many Jews, much of their identity revolves around a bagel with shmear or a hot pastrami sandwich.

And in mid-20th-century America, there were plenty of places they could indulge their cultural-culinary passions. In 1931, New York City alone was home to over 1,500 kosher delicatessens.

Today, not so much. According to the new documentary “Deli Man,” there are only about 150 kosher delis in the entire U.S., and less than two dozen kosher and non-kosher delis within the five boroughs.

Filmmaker Erik Greenberg Anjou takes us on a mouthwatering journey from the Carnegie Deli in Manhattan to Nate and Al’s in Beverly Hills with a stop at Manny’s in Chicago.

“Deli Man” is Greenberg Anjou’s third work on Jewish culture, including “The Cantor’s Tale” and “The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground.” They were both top-notch, moving films, but this one — you should pardon the expression — is even more delicious.

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The Sway Machinery's Expanding Cantorial Epic

By Hillel Broder

The Sway Machinery promises that its 3rd LP, “Purity and Danger,” is its “most chiseled enunciation of its foundational concept” yet — and it delivers on this promise. In a return to Afro-pop infused cantorial traditionals and modern blues myth-making, The Sway Machinery comfortably resettles into its epic vision, though this time with even more variance in vocals, guitar styles, and layered and progressive sound structures.

It’s been nearly five years since Sway’s second album release, “The House of Friendly Ghosts,” an ambitious collaboration with Khaira Arby, of Malian fame. With Arby, Sway sought out the consonance and even fusion possible between traditional cantorial music and Malian beats and chanting. Yet, while this global endeavor across nations and religions underscored a shared contemplative vision via the common language of Delta blues, this second album still felt like a departure from Sway’s original vision, even as it excavated its own historical roots.

With “Purity and Danger,” Sway turns from referencing its African influence to self-referencing the cantorial roots established on its 2008 debut album, “Hidden Melodies Revealed.” Once again, animated and deconstructed renditions of traditional hazanut are backed by a complex synthesis of percussion, brass and twang. A tapestry of Western forms inter-play, making it all new again, though this time in a consistently upbeat key — one that sometimes references popular blues and contemporary rock.

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Why Ayelet Tsabari's Sami Rohr Win Is a Victory for Arab Jews

By Sigal Samuel

Sami Rohr Prize winner Ayelet Tsabari / Elsin Davidi

Ayelet Tsabari, author of the short story collection “The Best Place On Earth” (HarperCollins 2013), has won the prestigious Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature — and I couldn’t be happier about it.

A couple of months ago, I issued one of those pre-New-Year’s calls for a cultural shift in focus, titled Let’s Make 2015 the Year of the Arab Jew. “I’m often dismayed by how ‘Ashkenazi’ becomes a stand-in for ‘Jewish,’ while Sephardic and Mizrahi voices fall by the wayside,” I wrote. “What if Arab Jewish artists decided to make art that represents us?”

That’s exactly what Tsabari has done in “The Best Place On Earth.”

Here’s how I summed up her project when I reviewed the book for The Daily Beast in 2013:

An Israeli of Yemeni descent, Tsabari is not interested in writing, shall we say, your bubbe’s fiction. She’s interested in cataloguing the experiences of the Mizrahi community — a population rarely represented in Israeli literature, never mind Jewish Canadian literature. In her stories, you won’t find matzo ball soup, Yiddish, or the Holocaust. Instead, you’ll find fenugreek, Arabic, and tales of forced conversion to Islam at the hands of Yemeni authorities. You’ll also see the effects of longstanding discrimination against Mizrahim, and of some Israelis’ refusal to even recognize “Arab Jew” as a category.

Tsabari, who identifies as an Arab Jew and finds the term “romantic and wonderfully controversial,” tackles Israeli resistance to it in her story “Say It Again, Say Something Else.” When teenage narrator Lily tells her friend that “my grandparents came from Yemen, so we are Arabs in a way, Arab Jews,” her friend immediately dismisses the category with a laugh. “No, that’s impossible,” she says. “You’re either an Arab or a Jew.”

Tsabari’s stories dissolve that false dichotomy, giving voice to an underrepresented and marginalized community. And writing stories about that kind of community is not easy. First, you have to get over the fact that you’ve got almost no models in contemporary literature to help inspire or guide your work. Then you’ve got to get over the fear that your work won’t be seen as marketable, and won’t be well received even if and when it does get marketed, because people like to read and review what they know, and they know what they’ve already had modeled for them, and… Are you sensing a vicious cycle here?

It takes a lot of guts to break that cycle — to decide that yours is a book that the world needs, even if the world doesn’t quite know it yet. And it takes even more guts to do this when what you’re working on isn’t your gazillionth book, but your first, your debut.

The good news here is that when the rare writer comes along who’s willing to do this, and when a major establishment voice like the Jewish Book Council rewards her gutsiness (and also, of course, her damn good writing), the cycle gets broken down even further as other writers begin to sense that hey, maybe they can write about this stuff, too. Maybe they’re actually allowed to write from their own experience, instead of trying to achieve what Zadie Smith ironically calls “the mythical ‘neutral’ voice of universal art.” (Read: white, Western art.)

That’s why Tsabari’s victory isn’t just a victory for her (though of course it is that, too!) — it’s also a big win for all of us Arab Jews.

Let’s keep it coming, 2015 — so far, we’re off to a great start!

POEM: 'Waken'

By Seymour Maine

For Shirley Kaufman


Gary Shteyngart's Love-Hate Relationship With (Russian) TV

By Anthony Weiss

Gary Shteyngart from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

(JTA) — Novelist Gary Shteyngart has made his reputation with wry explorations of ambivalent, conflicted, often frustrated love. Now he is launching into a new affair with television, and it seems that he’s carrying a full freight of mixed emotions.

Last week came the news that Ben Stiller has signed on to executive produce and direct a television adaptation of Shteyngart’s most recent novel, “Super Sad True Love Story.” Shteyngart is co-writing the pilot with Karl Gajdusek for production company Media Rights Capital, which also produced the Netflix hit “House of Cards.”

“Super Sad True Love Story,” published in 2010, is set in a dystopian near-future where the economy verges on collapse, the search for love is channeled through an electronic device called an “apparat” that biometrically measures levels of attractiveness, and the practice of reading is an outmoded embarrassment. The tale follows the misadventures of Lenny Abramov, a balding, bookish, 39-year-old Russian-American-Jewish man who falls in love with a Korean-American woman. (Note: Shteyngart is a balding, bookish now-42-year-old Russian-American-Jewish man who is married to a Korean-American woman.)

The show is being described in the press as a one-hour dramedy, although The Telegraph hopes that the resulting show will retain more of Shteyngart’s acid wit than the term “dramedy” — typically applied to feather-light fare — implies.

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Nick Kroll's Ode to L.A. Delis

By Anthony Weiss

Comedy Central

(JTA) — Comedian Nick Kroll, host of the eponymous Kroll Show, recently aired a heavy-metal ditty in homage to the pleasures of rocking it late-night in LA’s delis:

Kroll, a former Solomon Schecter student and the squeeze of comedy titan Amy Poehler, name-drops a few LA delis, including Jerry’s, Greenblatt’s, and Langer’s, but the obvious inspiration for the sketch is the connection between Guns N’Roses and Canter’s Deli — as successful a union, in its own way, as that between pastrami and rye. (In case you doubt that’s the inspiration, check out not Kroll’s wig, but also the band member sporting a top hat in clear homage to Slash.)

Dating back to the grade school friendship between delicatessen scion Marc Canter and GNR guitarist Slash, Canter’s Deli was the home of Guns N’Roses from the band’s earliest days. In fact, Canter is such an obsessive and authoritative fan that he’s even written a book about the band’s formative years, stuffed with his own photographs (and available for sale at Canter’s, of course).

Of course, delis have always been a part of the scene for LA musicians. Dr. Dre, for example, used to be a regular at Junior’s Deli (since replaced by Lenny’s Deli), which was near his office.

But Canter’s has two additional advantages over its rivals when it comes to wooing the rockers. One is that it has its own venue, the Kibitz Room, to host rock shows. And the other is that since it’s open 24/7, you can truly rock all night long. Don’t try that at Langer’s. They close at 4 PM.

A Spice Box Fit for a Pope

By Menachem Wecker

Courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Part of the Havdalah ritual, which bids adieu to the departing Sabbath, recognizes the divine separator between sacred and profane, light and darkness, Israel and the nations, and the seventh day and weekdays. The second to last distinction is deemphasized in a unique Jewish circa-1800 spice box currently on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

A recent museum acquisition, the box was created between 1798 and 1810 by Giovacchino Belli (1756-1822), then Rome’s leading silversmith who typically worked for Pope Pius VII and for aristocrats. (The artist’s work is also represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cooper Hewitt, and includes other Jewish content.)

A few months after acquiring the box, Eike Schmidt, James Ford Bell curator of decorative arts and sculpture, saw another work by the artist: a travel pyxis, or receptacle which holds the consecrated host in Catholic services, in an auction catalog. Making a pair was a no-brainer.

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For 'Aya,' From Israel to the Oscars

By Anthony Weiss

Image courtesy Cassis Films

(JTA) — The idea for “Aya” began with a daydream: What if you were waiting for someone at the airport and instead you picked up a total stranger? What then?

That wisp of a fantasy, dreamed up by Mihal Brezis many years ago while waiting with a friend at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has carried her and her partner, Oded Binnun, to an Oscar nomination for best short film.

“This film keeps surprising us with its journey,” Brezis, 37, told JTA in advance of the 87th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday.

She was sitting in a cafe in Griffith Park here while Binnun, 39, her co-director and co-writer, was taking their son, Nuri, on a pony ride nearby.

“The most touching fact is that we get to travel this far with a film that is small and intimate,” Brezis said.

“Aya,” as it exists, was never even supposed to be made. Brezis and Binnun were working on a feature film when a French producer who had worked on their last film called and told them he had money to make another short film. They told him they had no short film ideas, but ultimately decided to distill part of their feature idea into the short that became “Aya.”

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Lesley Gore's Defiant Jewish Voice Stilled

By Benjamin Ivry

Lesley Gore, the singer best known for ‘It’s My Party,’ has died after a battle with lung cancer. Benjamin Ivry took a look back in 2010 at her very Jewish career.

From her earliest hits, like 1964’s defiant “You Don’t Own Me,” Gore was at once independent, self-assured, and linguistically gifted, as evidenced by her recordings of the same hit in French and Italian.

Gore expressed dissatisfaction with social conventions of her day (cf. “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To,” expressing open scorn for insensitive machismo. She even sang about her overt desire to be male, so some fans were not astonished in 2005, when Gore officially came out as a lesbian.

Yet Gore’s Jewish roots from growing up in Tenafly N.J. have been equally influential, and add to the delight of her ongoing creativity.

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POEM: 'Cusp'

By Seymour Maine


7 Best Jewish Bromances of All Time

By Philip Eil

Jewish buddy stories are having a moment.

Last month’s high-intellectual-octane dialogue from David Shields and Caleb Powell, “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel,” received rave reviews, and a film adaptation from James Franco is scheduled for release later this year.

Meanwhile, the film “The D-Train,” starring Jack Black and co-directed by Jarrad Paul (whose screen credits include a turn as a mohel in the show “Rude Awakening”), generated some early buzz at Sundance, where Vulture described it as “the rare mismatched buddy comedy that finally has the guts to follow through on its central bromance.”

And then there’s “Broad City,” the fearless, raunchy, marijuana-fueled series that kicked off last year on Comedy Central with an episode hinging on a Craigslist ad posted by “2 Jewesses tryin’ to make a buck.” Since then, the show — and its co-creators/stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer — have more or less taken over the world (more on that in a moment).

But what is a Jewish buddy story, anyway? Certainly the “Lethal Weapon” series is out, for obvious reasons. But do, say, “Ghostbusters” and “Midnight Cowboy” make the cut for having Jewish directors and a Jewish co-star? The lines aren’t always clear.

Nevertheless, we did our best to trace the genre’s evolution over the last half-century. We admit that this list isn’t definitive; think of it, rather, as a springboard for further debate with your buddies.

1. The Producers (1968 film, Mel Brooks)

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Ben Stiller Wants to Bring 'Super Sad True Love Story' To TV

By Anne Cohen

In what is perhaps the most nebbishy duo in TV history, Ben Stiller will be adapting Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story” for the silver screen.

The Hollywood Reporter writes that Media Rights Capital, the company behind Netflix’s House of Cards, is interested in Stiller’s idea, though they haven’t officially signed on.

Shteyngart has reportedly co-created the adaptation with Karl Gajdusek (“Dead Like Me”). They will also write the script together and exec produce.

“Super Sad True Love Story” tells the tale of Lenny Abramov, a typical Shteyngart protagonist (Read: Russian-born Jew with a mountain of insecurities), who falls in love with Eunice Park, a Korean-American woman 15 years his junior — all against the backdrop of a tech-obsessed nightmare society.

In his review for the Forward, our own Gal Beckerman described the plot as “a dystopia to rival Orwell’s. No surprise that it’s hilarious, but it’s also as finger-waggingly disapproving a vision of the technologically addicted, oversexed, dumbed-down world we inhabit as I’ve ever read.”

Sounds binge-worthy to me.

Will People of the Book Become People of the iPad?

By Aimee Rubensteen

Reinier Gerritsen, ‘Hundred Years of Solitude,’ 2014

Glued to multiple gadgets and a perpetual news cycle, the 21st-century reader has challenged authors to write books that trump text messages. It’s no easy feat to find such a book, and then, to read it in its printed form. Fortunately, however, the New York City subway seems to be a moving library with its books intact, perhaps only because there isn’t yet WiFi onboard.

Reinier Gerritsen spent more than 10 years on subways, discreetly observing commuters and inspecting the act of reading bound books with his camera. Gerritsen’s project is displayed in his new new solo exhibition at The Julie Saul Gallery titled “The Last Book.” As the gallery notes, the Amsterdam-based photographer worked on this project as “an elegy to the end of bound books.” His photographs serve as a reminder to future generations of digital readers, who may never dog-ear their favorite passage by actually folding the corner of a page between their fingers.

In addition to their sense of urgency, Gerritsen’s pictures serve as stories of their own. Within his claustrophobic compositions, Gerritsen focuses on the juxtaposition between the identity of the reader and their chosen book. In his pigment print, Hundred Years of Solitude (2014), the colors are as bright as the details are crisp. The photographer’s keen attention invites gallery-goers to observe these book-readers as specimens, alluding to their presence in a somewhat distant history once filled with libraries and bookshops. But one reader, who is not documented in the series, poses a potential solution to the preservation of bound books.

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When 'Alice in Wonderland' Turns 150

By Jon Herskovitz

As the celebrated children’s book of Britain’s Victorian era turns 150, an exhibit in Texas traces its history to show how “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” adapted and transformed through now-familiar concepts of merchandising and multimedia.

The Lewis Carroll book swept children’s literature when it was published in 1865, and the popular work was soon adapted for the theater, Alice-themed toys and eventually films during the early days of the industry.

“The book did not have a conventional moral. Carroll played with standard moral tales of his day and turned them on their heads,” said Danielle Brune Sigler, the curator who helped put together the exhibit that opens on Feb. 10 at the University of Texas in Austin.

The exhibit, at the Harry Ransom Center, a global leader in its holdings of manuscripts and original source materials, contains more than 200 items, including rare publications, drawings and letters and photographs by Carroll, the pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

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Amy Pascal Ousted at Sony Pictures

By Mary Milliken and Lisa Richwine

Amy Pascal will step down as co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment after hackers angry about a movie she championed mocking North Korea’s dictator exposed a raft of embarrassing emails between Pascal and other Hollywood figures.

One of the most powerful women executives in Hollywood, Pascal had kept a low profile since her emails were leaked by hackers and widely reported by media, particularly one in which she made racially insensitive remarks about President Barack Obama’s taste in films.

Sony Pictures said Pascal, who is Jewish and won the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanitarian Award in 2008, will step down from her current post in May to launch her own production venture on the studio lot with its financial backing.

Sony Pictures Chief Executive and Chairman Michael Lynton told Reuters the emails leaked late last year played no role in his and Pascal’s decision not to renew her contract in March 2015.

The entertainment arm of Sony Corp was victim of the most destructive cyber attack on a private company on U.S. soil.

The U.S. government has blamed the hack on North Korea after the reclusive nation was angered by a Sony comedy “The Interview,” depicting the fictional assassination of leader Kim Jong Un.

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POEM: 'Looking Out'

By Seymour Maine


Comics, Motherhood — and Charlie Hebdo

By Michael Kaminer

Miss Lasko-Gross’s shrewd, poignant “Henni” (Z2 Comics) arrives at a charged moment for cartoons and religion. In the graphic novel — a marked departure from Lasko-Gross’ acclaimed autobiographical comics “Escape from ‘Special’” and “A Mess of Everything” — the female lead abandons her village in a quest for knowledge. The blind followers, cynical leaders, and “disruptors” she meets along the way enact a sly parable for the chains of religious absolutism — and the book sounds a call to reject mindless submission to dogma of any kind.

Lasko-Gross’s painterly style and unflinching eye make “Henni” as hard-hitting as it is heartrending. And like all of her work, it avoids easy answers to complex questions. The artist spoke to the Forward from her home and studio on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Full Disclosure: Lasko-Gross is one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” the traveling exhibition which I curated, and the Forward sponsored.

Michael Kaminer: Resistance to religion is at the center of “Henni”; has the Charlie Hebdo attack galvanized your feelings around the message and the medium?

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