Even if you’re not a theater nerd, Warren Hoffman’s “The Great White Way” (Rutgers University Press) makes a fascinating read. The book’s subtitle, “Race and the Broadway Musical,” only hints at its breadth, and the depth of Hoffman’s laser-sharp analysis of an all-American art form. Billed as “the first book to reveal the racial politics, content, and subtexts that have haunted musicals for almost one hundred years,” “The Great White Way” also delves into Jewish contributions to the musical stage, including a kind of myopia around race and ethnicity as Jews fought to fit in themselves. Hoffman, a playwright himself, works by day as associate director of community programming at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. He spoke to the Forward from his Philly office.
MIchael Kaminer: It’s hard to believe that no one’s explored a topic this ripe. Why is that?
Warren Hoffman: Until recently, musical theater hasn’t been given real attention. People looked at it as a fluffy art form with nothing to say of real significance. “Oh race, that’s too serious, how can a musical be about that?” But it’s all over the place. Because you don’t see African Americans or Asian Americans when you look at show like “Hello Dolly,” people ask how it can be a show about race — there are no people of color present. But that’s almost a misstep. People have missed some of what’s actually in front of their faces.
Every year, of the 75,000 young Israelis who complete their military service, it is estimated that around one third leave everything behind to go backpacking. The nomadic ramble through Southeast Asia and South America in that indeterminate period between youth and adulthood is hardly unique to Israel, but it takes on its own characteristics at the end of mandatory service — a break from order and a getaway from the confines of a small state under siege.
While one can escape Israel, one cannot escape Israeliness. On the road, for linguistic, cultural and emotional reasons, Israeli backpackers have come to constitute their own community. Along the so-called “hummus trail,” as Dor Glick reported for Ha’aretz, there has built up “a chain of laid-back refuges in which the sacred tongue rules in loud tones and the de rigueur item of clothing is a T-shirt signifying the conclusion of an army training course.”
This poem’s “head” (first three lines) are attributed to Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twerski of Chernobyl (1730-1798).
Peter Greenberg has what may be the world’s best job. He is travel editor of CBS News, a post he’s held for the last 13 years. Before that he spent a combined 21 years in the same job at the Today Show and Good Morning America. He also has a syndicated radio show on travel and, for PBS, hosts “Royal Tour” specials, where Greenberg visits a nation with an unusual tour guide — the nation’s leader.
On previous Royal Tours Greenberg, 64, visited Jordan, Mexico, Peru, Jamaica and New Zealand. His latest special, which premiered March 6, was to Israel, where his escort was Benjamin Netanyahu. The Prime Minister proves a gracious host and takes Greenberg and his large crew to a host of traditional tourist sites — the Dead Sea, Masada, Caesarea — as well as providing personal insights about his experiences in the military.
Greenberg spoke to the Forward about his job, the show, and the secrets of a frequent flyer.
Curt Schleier: How much traveling do you do?
Peter Greenberg: I travel almost 400,000 miles a year. Today is the only day this week I’m not an airplane.
Literature is in Zeruya Shalev’s genes. Born in Kvutzat Kinneret in 1959 — a kibbutz by the shores of the Galilee where the songwriter Naomi Shemer was also born — Shalev grew up with a father who was a literary critic and an uncle who was a poet. Her cousin is the acclaimed novelist Meir Shalev, author of “The Blue Mountain” and “Four Meals.” Her husband, the writer Eyal Megged, is himself the scion of writers Eda Zoritte and Aharon Megged.
Writing, then, for Zeruya Shalev was practically predestined. “Encounters with pain and sorrow made me want to write. When I was 6, I was already writing sad poems about cats and dogs that had been killed and soldiers that were dying in war,” Shalev said at a recent event at London’s Jewish Book Week. “It’s in my DNA.” During the Six Day War, she composed poetry while cocooned in the bunker at Kvutzat Kinneret, verse that she still remembers to this day.
After failing in her training to be a therapist while conducting her military service, Shalev sees now that her career is to be “a therapist for literary figures. Normally the characters I create are busy in some sort of crisis and, as a literary therapist, it is my job to help them overcome it.”
Toronto isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of Pharrell Williams, the peripatetic Grammy winner and Daft Punk collaborator.
But this spring, Williams’ name adorns the marquee of the city’s Design Exchange museum. And it’s Shauna Levy, the museum’s new director, who’s responsible for the coup.
“THIS IS NOT A TOY,” a blockbuster show of toys as art, includes work from Williams’ personal collection, and from artists around the world who blur art, design and street culture. The exhibit, whose centerpiece is a $3 million, diamond-encrusted sculpture by Japan’s Takashi Murakami, is Levy’s latest swipe at clearing the dust from what had been an esoteric gallery with a wonky reputation; last year, she shook up the staid DX with a retrospective of French shoe guru Christian Louboutin.
A Montreal native, Levy founded Toronto’s popular Interior Design Show, which she sold to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties in 2012. “I started to feel restless for a great big new challenge,” she told the Forward from Toronto. “Days after I acknowledged this to myself, I was contacted by a recruiter on behalf of the Design Exchange board. There is something to be said for putting it out there.”
Michael Kaminer: You’ve scored big with Pharrell Williams as guest curator for “This Is Not a Toy.” How did you get him?
Washington Hebrew Congregation Flag-Raising, April 8, 1917. // JHSGW Collections.
Zachary Levine may have just landed a curator’s dream job: Conceiving a museum from scratch. The former associate curator at Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan, Levine this month joined a team that will expand the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington from a smallish non-profit to a major museum dedicated to Washington, D.C.’s Jews. The museum will occupy part of Downtown Crossing, a new neighborhood slated to get built over a sunken highway in an undeveloped part of Washington.
After decamping from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn last month, he and his wife Allison Farber — program director of a new master’s program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts at The George Washington University — have settled in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of D.C. with their 14-month-old, Misha.
Before he joined YUM in 2010, Levine was a PhD candidate at New York University studying Jewish aid to Eastern Europe during the Cold War. For his master’s degree in history from Central European University in Budapest, his thesis covered clandestine Jewish social organizations in Communist Hungary. The Forward caught up with Levine from his D.C. office.
Synagogue being moved in 1969.// JHSGW Collections.
Michael Kaminer: What is the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, and what will it become over the next few years?
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
Menachem Kipnis is known to Jewish history as a cultural figure who worked across several fields. Born in Uzhmir, Ukraine in 1878, Kipnis distinguished himself as a singer, ethnomusicologist and journalist. As a singer he was the first Jewish tenor in the Warsaw Opera (1902-1918) and along with his wife, Zimra Zeligfield, he was among the most important early singers of Yiddish folksongs.
As an ethnomusicologist Kipnis collected songs all over Europe and published them in two important pioneering anthologies of Yiddish folksongs. As a journalist he wrote articles about music in various Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers. He was also well-known for his reportages, which recounted the lives of ordinary Jews whom he encountered on the streets of Warsaw. For these articles, which were published in the Warsaw-based newspaper Haynt as well as in the New York-based Tog, as well as occasionally in the Forverts, Kipnis took his own photos of his interview subjects.
Kipnis died in the Warsaw ghetto of a brain-aneurysm in 1942. After his death, his wife Zimra kept his massive archive of papers, diaries, music and photographic negatives with her in the ghetto. She refused to turn her husband’s archive over to Emanuel Ringelblum, who had asked her to let him preserve it as part of the secret archive he administered called “Oyneg Shabbos.” Kipnis’s archive disappeared without a trace after Zimra Zeligfield’s deportation to Treblinka.
Copyright William Klein/Courtesy HackelBury Fine Art, London
At almost 86, the pioneering photographer, artist and filmmaker William Klein, continues to draw a crowd. On February 23, Klein was at Jewish Book Week in London discussing his life and work with Alan Yentob, creative director of the BBC and editor and presenter of the television arts series, “Imagine.” The event was a sell-out — a testament to Klein’s extraordinary contribution, influence and sheer range of work.
Klein may have appeared physically frail, but his humor and renowned feisty nature were evident throughout. Yentob described Klein as “a pioneer of the photobook,” a person who refused to be pigeonholed. People are willing accomplices in his pictures, he said, they are participating with him. Klein’s early, raw, energetic and at times, angry 1950-‘60s images of the street are illustrated in his series of books about cities — firstly New York, then Rome, Moscow and Tokyo. These were a dramatic contrast to the classical composition epitomised by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. While Bresson kept his distance from his subjects, Klein came after people with his camera, a master of the close-up.
Klein’s work as a filmmaker included the first ever documentary about the fighter Muhammad Ali (1969) as well as a controversial political satire about the fashion industry, “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?” (1966), which starred his favorite model, Dorothy McGowan. There were “no rules as far as he was concerned,” she has said of Klein’s work.
(JTA) — With Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio both in the running for best actor for playing Jews behaving badly — the Forward has released its “11 Best Performances by Non-Jewish Actors Playing Jews in the Movies.”
There is nothing like a movie list to send me down the rabbit hole (see my magnum opus on Tablet’s 100 best “Jewish” films). But it’s late and I have way too much to do.
So I will limit myself to three of the most outrageous omissions, saving the worst snub for last.
Jason Biggs playing Jim Levenstein in “American Pie” (1999): Biggs’ Levenstein is to apple pie what Alexander Portnoy is to liver. I know. Hard to believe. But it’s true. Italian Catholic. Talk about method acting — check out this pic from his son’s bris?>
Brendan Fraser as David Greene in “School Ties” (1992): Fraser plays a working-class scholarship Jewish stud/quarterback capable of kicking the asses of every singly anti-Semitic WASP at his elite prep school. What more could you ask for?
John Goodman as Walter Sobchak in “The Big Lebowski”: Do Polish Catholics who convert to Judaism not count as Jewish characters? After dedicating so many words to the Pew study, how does the Forward ignore one of the greatest calls for Jewish continuity in our time: “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax… You’re goddamn right I’m living in the f*cking past!”
And just when you thought there was not much else to add to our glorious tradition, Walter gives us this (warning: more f’ bombs):
Photographing graceful male dancers in New York may seem a long way from taking pictures of gruff IDF soldiers in Israel. But for 27-year-old lensman Nir Arieli, the progression makes perfect sense. “I always had an agenda to find that gentleness and sensitivity hidden in the soldiers I photographed,” he says, “which is something I do in my current work.” For his new project, “Inframen,” on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Arts in Chelsea through March 8, Arieli used an infrared technique that emphasizes imperfections like scars, stretch marks, and sun damage on dancers; the effect’s beautiful and a bit spectral.
Born in Tel Aviv, Arieli served as a photographer for Bamachane, the official magazine of the Israeli army; after emigrating, he earned a BFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His career’s steamrolled since then, with clients including the Juilliard School, the Alvin Ailey school, and his alma mater, The School of Visual Arts, among others.
Michael Kaminer: You launched your career as military photographer for the IDF magazine Bamachane. How did that experience influence your work now?
The idea that the trial of Alfred Dreyfus inspired Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” is “simply not true,” Shlomo Avineri declared in a pointed, fluent, and well-received lecture that opened the first full day of London’s Jewish Book Week on February 23.
Discussing his biography of the father of modern Zionism, “Herzl: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State,” Avineri asserted that through examining Herzl’s diaries and letters, he concluded that the Dreyfus affair did not preoccupy Herzl’s thoughts at that time. Only in hindsight would the fate of Alfred Dreyfus come to be seen as a pivotal moment both for European Jewry and the history of the Zionist movement.
Rather, the background to “The Jewish State” was the collapsing scenery of 19th-century Europe and specifically the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had, up until that time, been “the best country for Jews in Europe” and had been referred to as the “goldene medine,” even before the United States. Emancipation began towards the end of the 18th century, while in the 19th century the Emperor Franz Joseph I obtained the moniker “Froyim Yossel” from his Jewish subjects who during his reign became more equal members of his multi-national, multi-ethnic empire.
During the 1890s, however, “nationalism threatened the unity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire,” while the advent of democracy resulted in the emergence of “racist, populist, and anti-Semitic candidates” for office. This affected Herzl’s city of Vienna, where Karl Lueger of the Christian Social Party won municipal elections in 1895 by decrying “corrupt liberalism” and charging that Jews controlled the Austrian economy and the press.
Thank you, commentators, talkbackers, bloggers, and writers, for so passionately sharing your thoughts with me following the publication in the Forward of my interview with Racheli Ibenboim.
Honestly, I was not prepared for such a reaction. A couple of you were on my side (thank you!), but many hundreds of you were against me. And what was all this rage about?
Well, during the interview I asked Racheli, a member of a Hasidic group that does not allow any intermingling between the sexes, how she felt on her wedding night being with a man she didn’t actually know. To you, this was obviously a vulgar question and a horrible crossing of the lines. To convince me of how vulgar I was, one of you called me Arschloch, which is of course a very kind word to show displeasure. Others have accused me of sexual harassment and one advised Racheli to contact a lawyer and the police. Another claimed to have “puked from the inappropriate questions” and called me a “crude and despicable man.”
What have I done?
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, ‘piETa’ (2007), image courtesy Art Gallery of Ontario.
The Pietà, or the Virgin Mary mournfully cradling Christ’s dead body, is an artistic invention, which, as the Encyclopedia Britannica explains, “has no literary source.” One of the most important representations of the Pietà is Michelangelo’s late 15th-century marble sculpture at St. Peter’s Basilica. Michelangelo’s Christ lies on the Virgin’s lap, as limp as the folds in her flowing dress; Mary is not only a particular mother grieving for her dead son, but all mothers who have ever grieved for a child.
Sacred cows, however, are particularly prone to reappropriation and, on occasion, mockery. Denver-based artist Cedric Chambers’ “The Prophets” shows Darth Vader holding the dead Christ over a pile of skeletons in front of the toppled Twin Towers, some parts of which resemble crosses. (It seems that a Huffington Post write-up at one point questioned whether it was “the most offensive painting ever,” although that grandiose claim no longer appears.)
In 1939, Cuba’s Batista government, in collaboration with the government of the United States, delayed a ship called the SS St. Louis, which carried 937 Jewish-German refugees, in the Havana harbor. Despite assurances that they would be granted asylum, the refugees were told that they could not enter Cuba without a visa. Twenty-two were eventually allowed to come ashore. The rest were sent back to Germany, where they were interned at Mechelen and put to death.
This shameful event in the history of American-Cuban relations provides the back-story for “Sotto Voce,” the new play written and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Nilo Cruz, now running at Theater for the New City. The play follows a young Cuban-Jewish student, an aspiring writer named Saquiel Rafaeli (Andhy Mendez), who has come to New York City to track down the acclaimed German novelist Bemadette Kahn (Franca Sofia Barchiesi) after discovering that she was once the lover Ariel Strauss, one of the passengers on the SS St. Louis. After gradually earning her trust, and seducing her sassy but sentimental illegal immigrant housekeeper Lucila Pulpo (played by Arielle Jacobs, whose model good looks belie the play’s descriptions of her as plain and possibly overweight), he unlocks Bemadette’s repressed memories the war and the role her family played in Strauss’s death.
(JTA) — With all the recent news in Germany about the search for heirs to art taken during the Nazi era, a recent announcement about a 300-year-old violin caught my eye.
A Nuremberg-based foundation for music students was hoping to find descendants of Felix Hildesheimer of Speyer — a musical instrument dealer who bought the violin in 1938 and took his own life the following year, when he was unable to follow his wife and daughters to safety abroad.
At present, the violin — made in 1706 by Italian master craftsman Giuseppe Guarneri — belongs to the Franz Hofmann and Sophie Hagemann Foundation, having been purchased in 1974 by the late Nuremberg virtuoso Sophie Hagemann.
But to find potential heirs, it turns out it helps to look for them. Which I did. Within three days of my first inquiry, I managed to reach the grandson of Hildesheimer in the United States and put him in touch with the foundation. There was delight and gratitude all around.
I wondered why the foundation failed to find the relatives themselves. It was almost embarrassingly easy. All it took was a little Internet research and a few emails.
Foundation board member Fabian Kern told me that it was obviously easier for an American and a journalist to figure things out.
The foundation and family are now planning to discuss what should be done with the instrument.
Kern said the foundation would like to restore it and turn it into a “Violin of Reconciliation,” to be used by students at the Nuremberg Conservatory with the caveat that they learn the story of the Hildesheimer family.
All the foundation knew at first was that Hildesheimer had bought the instrument in 1938. The foundation later found out he had bought it from a known Nazi dealer, Fridolin Hammer. So far no one knows how Hammer got it himself — and no one knows what happened after Hildesheimer bought it.
It’s always possible that descendants of other past owners could come forward. But for now, Kern told me he’s pleased to have found descendants of Hildesheimer.
At age 19, Graham Gouldman scored his first U.K. top-10 hit with “For Your Love,” the ageless tune first recorded by the Yardbirds. He went on to write smash songs for the likes of Herman’s Hermits, Jeff Beck, and the Hollies before forming the band 10cc — a hit factory in itself — in 1972.
This month, Gouldman added another distinction to a stellar resume. He’s one of four tunesmiths who’ll get inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame at a ceremony this June in New York. The Kinks’ Ray Davies, “Midnight Train to Georgia” writer Jim Weatherly, and Elvis Presley collaborator Mark James will also be honored.
Born in Manchester, England, Gouldman started playing guitar at age 11 after a cousin returned from Spain with a cheap acoustic guitar. “As soon as I held it, I was gone,” his bio says. Gouldman left school “as soon as was legally possible,” joining a band called the Whirlwinds. After a stint with another band, the Mockingbirds, music manager Harvey Lisberg hired him to write songs for one of the biggest acts to break out of Manchester — Herman’s Hermits.
These days, Gouldman continues to tour tirelessly with 10cc; in 2012, he released “Love and Work” (Rosala Records), a solo album. The Forward caught up with Gouldman by email.
Michael Kaminer: What does the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame honor mean to you?
Racheli Ibenboim chats with writer Tuvia Tenenbom./Photo by Isi Tenenbaum
For those who haven’t read much of the work of Tuvia Tenenbom, his most recent column has understandably raised some eyebrows and not a few tempers. Asking a Haredi politician, or any public figure, about her personal life (and her wedding night) would seem to be, at best, an indelicate journalistic approach to gaining wisdom about the practices of her community.
This particular column has led to an unusual outpouring of displeasure directed at the traditionally (and perhaps unfortunately) uncontroversial arts and culture section here at the Forward. And as the editor of this section (albeit one on vacation in Chicago this week) I take the concerns of our readers seriously.
My own relationship with Tenenbom is about one year old. I encountered him first as the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room,” a rollicking travelogue about anti-Semitism in Germany, which also raised eyebrows and tempers while becoming an unlikely bestseller in Germany. When I learned that Tenenbom was planning a sequel, this one set in Israel, I was eager to have him on board as an occasional contributor, filing his impressionistic reports about the individuals, controversies and circumstances he encountered.