The Arty Semite

POEM: What I Remember

By Erica Kaufman

I am a member of the third generation, a term that is relatively new and refers to the children of the children of survivors. My mother’s father, Moshe Nemeth, is a Holocaust survivor, and, growing up, my grandfather was a very important part of my life. I was born in Bloomington, Indiana and my family moved (back) to the NYC area when I was not yet kindergarten age. My grandfather was always a short drive away from our home on Staten Island — first in Canarsie (Brooklyn) and then in Bayside (Queens).


I remember sitting on Grandpa’s porch on 86th and Flatlands in Canarsie with Great Aunt Betty.

I remember the green awning, the plaid folding chairs, and the way she described the train tracks entering Birkenau.

I remember writing my “autobiography” in the third grade, taping pictures to pink and purple construction paper, describing my grandfather as a student of engineering. Before the war.

I remember my grandfather describing how he would walk to the well to get water for his family in Slatvina, Czechoslavakia, also before the war.

I remember the inside of my grandfather’s fridge in Bayside, Queens, and how no matter how empty it looked he always had a container of boiled chicken and some tuna fish for protein.

I remember when Great Aunt Betty told me about how she and my Great Aunt Raiza were in line for the showers, close to the front, when an older woman switched places with them. Aunt Betty was only 9. They survived.


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Anton Yelchin on Playing Star Trek's Chekhov

By Curt Schleier

Anton Yelchin is on a roll.

His film, “5 to 7,” opened April 3, and another, “Broken Horses,” opened April 10. The 26-year-old started acting when he was just 9 years old. He’s appeared in over 40 films plus assorted TV shows since then. But stardom — at least in the traditional sense — has eluded him.

“I don’t really know what that means,” he said on the phone from Los Angeles. “If you define being a star as meaning work comes easily to you, you’re offered more opportunities, that’s definitely true for more successful actors and that’s nice.”

“But stardom is such a vague term. In the classic Hollywood period there were truly movie stars. The idea of a star mythologizes their existence in the sense that they are far away and unavailable. That was the myth of the classic Hollywood studio system to create these identities. But today where everyone has an Instagram account and every bit of information is available online, the idea of a ‘star,’ I don’t think about it.”

I suggest that he might in fact be avoiding it purposefully. He’s had big roles in big films: playing Chekov in the two most recent “Star Trek” movies and Kyle Reese in “Terminator Salvation.” These parts almost certainly put him on the frontal lobes of directors and audiences.

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5 Things About Lincoln and the Jews

By Michael Kaminer

Honest: Abe Lincoln made Jews part of his life and work at a time when we were a barely visible minority in the young nation. The Forward turned to renowned Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, chief historical adviser on the New York Historical Society’s exhibition Lincoln and the Jews, for five fast facts about Honest Abe and the Children of Abraham:

  1. Lincoln had a Jewish doctor — Issachar Zacharie, an English-born chiropodist who cured his corns and bunions.

  2. A Jewish photographer took the first picture of Lincoln with a beard — Samuel Alschuler, who made a portrait of the President-elect with the initial stubble in Chicago two weeks after his election to the presidency.

  3. Until Lincoln helped change the law, American military chaplains had to represent “some Christian denomination.”

  4. The last biblical quote Lincoln used in a speech came from the Old Testament — “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,” from Psalms — at his second inaugural

  5. Before the martyred Lincoln was eulogized at Easter Sunday services on April 17, 1865, he was memorialized at synagogues the day before — the final Sabbath of Passover week — and lauded as an American Moses.

How Abraham Lincoln Became America's Moses

By Michael Kaminer

Harold Holzer’s having a big year. “Lincoln and the Jews,” a new exhibition he helped assemble, is on through June 7 at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan. His book “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion” (Simon & Schuster) just won the $50,000 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, awarded annually to a scholarly work on Abraham Lincoln or the American Civil War era. And Holzer himself shook up the art world by announcing his retirement from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he’s been a highly respected public affairs official for 23 years. The Forward talked with Holzer about the New York Historical Society show — and Lincoln’s unusual affinity for Jews, who made up a tiny American minority in his lifetime.

The exhibition gathers original documents, artifacts, photos, and Lincoln’s own writings, many from the private Shapell Manuscript Foundation, which collects original manuscripts and historical documents related to both Jewish and American life. “This show is not just for Jewish visitors,” Holzer said. “I don’t think we’ll get the chance to see this much treasury in one place again, if ever.”

Michael Kaminer: Was there anything that surprised you — one of the world’s foremost Lincoln scholars — as “Lincoln and the Jews” came together?

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Judith Malina, Theater Rebel, Dies at 88

By Jon Kalish

Nate Lavey Photo

Judith Malina, an iconoclastic actor and theater world activist who founded the Living Theater, has died at 88, the New York Times reported. Here’s the Forward’s account of her battle to save the Lower East Side drama institution.

Judith Malina will not go gentle into that good night. The fiery 86-year-old director of the Living Theatre is losing both her apartment and the Lower East Side home of the world renowned theater troupe she co-founded 66 years ago. Later this week Malina will move into an elder care facility in New Jersey, but she’s vowing to commute into Manhattan a few times a week and work with the company that has championed her unapologetic anarchist-utopian vision.

“We did some great plays and we managed to keep a company going all those years,” Malina told The Arty Semite. “And it’s still going.”

The Living Theatre’s performance space on Clinton Street will host one last performance February 27 at midnight. Earlier that evening the veteran Lower East Side performance artist Penny Arcade is doing a benefit to raise money for Malina’s car fare, so she can get into Manhattan and continue working with the company.

“If this was France or Japan or almost anywhere else in the world, Judith would be considered a national treasure and she’d be supported,” Arcade said. “I think people don’t realize that she is one of the main architects of the counterculture and of experimental theater in this country.”

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POEM: 4/2/07 (for the New Haggadah)

By Hank Lazer

we pray to pray
to be able to

not a matter of if
but a matter of when

in hard times     in tough times
sing the blues     to the ones you love

begin with the love at hand
begin by listening     begin by saying

we pray to pray
to be able to

may we have the protective blood upon our doors
may the avenging angel

may the plagues
pass us by

these the days we treasure
simple days      without disturbance

family & loved ones
alert engaged on their way

in hard times    re-think the basics
breathing    sitting    exercising    eating    sleeping    dreaming    touching

we pray to pray
to be able to

learning from the Seder
that we have it within us

to sustain
one another

we pray to pray
to be able to

POEM: 'Canonical'

By Michael Heller

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws

— Psalm 119

Canonical hours, hours according to law when the world
stops for a pause that sometimes befalls us. Remember,
it was the ancient Jews who made these hours, hours
that were old before Calvary, those oldest matins, lauds and terce.
Dante invoked these sacred hours. In Inferno, Canto XXXIV
it is mid-terce of Holy Saturday and his “Dante” hangs suspended
in the lowest bolgia, bewildered his descent has brought him
so close to Lucifer’s waist. There, at Hell’s core, antipodal
to Jerusalem and to his slain and risen Christ, in the place
“where weight bears down from everywhere,” he begs Virgil
“lighten my darkness.”

Lighten my darkness–perhaps what is canonical
happens not in hours but in mere moments, in saintly accidental
moments when we swerve into deepest doubt. Today, just
as the Passover began, and seventy years after the event itself,
I heard a recording of the just-freed survivors of Bergen-Belsen
singing Hatikvah. And suddenly, I was outside of what exists.
I felt myself reduced to one enormous sob and could no longer
imagine my life or life on the planet. The rest of that day,
through its vespers, lauds and complines, my salubrious body
was in denial. It had gone into hiding behind itself.

It had fled this deluded world of canonical hours.
It shrank from time, from the unbearable time of that
unbearable singing. The singers sang for the dead,
and what inhabited this body of mine wanted to join them.
The moment had arrived to keep time with those clocks
that kept time in hell and in purgatory. In paradise,
the absent god could not hear those clocks tick.
Nothing that ever existed could time itself to
the beat of that song, that song sung so unbearably.

Shulem Deen On Leaving Hasidism — And His Children

By Julie Wiener

Shulem Deen // Photo by Pearl Gabel

(JTA) — Shulem Deen, the former Skverer Hasid who for years blogged under the pseudonym “Hasidic Rebel,” has just published a memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return” (Graywolf Press). Deen, now 40, describes his sheltered life in New Square, the virtually all-Hasidic village an hour north of New York City, and tells how he lost his faith and, ultimately, his five children. Deen, whose slight Yiddish accent shows his roots, recently sat down with JTA (the interview has been condensed and edited).

Julie Weiner: Most memoirs of leaving Orthodoxy include an anecdote about the first time the author ate non-kosher food or violated some other fundamental rule, but yours doesn’t. Do you remember those experiences?

Deen: I remember my first treif, but it was unimportant – a chicken quesadilla at a Mexican restaurant. But who cares? I was totally a nonbeliever by then, but there was nowhere to buy treif in New Square, and I still looked like a Hasid. As for Shabbat, I was ready to violate it way before I did. It just didn’t feel like anything to me.

So you didn’t half worry you’d be struck down?

That’s the term people use: “Oh, I turned on the light on Shabbat and wasn’t struck by lightning.” I get a little annoyed when people focus so much on that. I get that first steps are important to some people who felt really constrained by the rules; to some people it’s meaningful. It just wasn’t for me.

Your memoir tells how, despite an initially amicable divorce, your ex-wife successfully fought to curtail your custodial and visitation rights. Could you have done anything differently to prevent that?

When I left I knew very few people who were divorced, so it never occurred to me I needed to go to a lawyer. If I had gotten a properly executed agreement on custody, visitation and all that, it would’ve been difficult for anyone to go to court and want to change what’s been agreed upon just because my beard is no longer as long. My naivete was astonishing! Looking back, I don’t know where my mind was. But I’d been with this woman 15 years and thought I knew her. I’d gone on a journey that she watched. She didn’t come along, but she was there with me, and I thought she was somewhat empathetic to what I was going through.

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Why Medieval Art Is So Unflattering To Jews

By Robert Chazan (Haaretz)

Derick Baegert, ‘Crucifixion,’ Dortmund, ca. 1475. Propsteikirche, Dortmund.

“Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography,” by Sara Lipton, Metropolitan Books, 416 pages, $37

Those wishing to gain insight into the maturation of Jewish studies over the past few decades would be well served to immerse themselves in Sara Lipton’s recent book, “Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography.”

Lipton has amassed a rich trove of Christian art as data for her study, and has brought to bear on these materials the eye and mind of a well-trained and sophisticated art historian. She has analyzed Christian art and iconography from multiple and original perspectives, and used them to buttress some recent and important themes in the history of Europe and its Jews. At the same time, Lipton has raised serious questions with respect to well-worn and widely accepted perspectives on the history of Europe and its Jews.

Lipton’s early observations about the book’s title serve as a fitting introduction to the complex thinking that readers will encounter in its pages: “It is perhaps more than a little ironic that a book that often seeks to modulate the too-blackened canvas of medieval Jewish history with shades of gray should be entitled ‘Dark Mirror.’ I have chosen this title, overworked metaphor and all, in part because it acknowledges that Christian images of Jews were indeed often dark and hostile.

But it is also intended as a warning that these images provide only a distorted view of the period: that Christian art must not be seen as transparently ‘mirroring’ either prevailing Christian attitudes or actual Jewish status. Indeed, I argue throughout this book that anti-Jewish imagery was a significant factor in the creation of the attitudes and conditions it is often held to reflect.”

These ruminations serve as a warning to readers that they are about to be exposed to complicated and astute observations on the relationship of art to life, to the reinforcement of many prevailing modern stereotypes of anti-Jewish attitudes in medieval Christian Europe, and to the undermining of some of these stereotypes of ubiquitous and implacable Christian hatred of Jews.

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Sigalit Landau Brings Jerusalem Snow to Canada

By Michael Kaminer

Sigalit Landau is known for provocative work, like the notorious video piece that showed her spinning a barbed wire hula-hoop, naked.

But Landau’s new show might be her saltiest yet.

The haunting assemblage of objects in “Snow in Jerusalem,” which runs through April 25 at Toronto’s Olga Korper Gallery, includes a bridal gown, violin, and fishing net completely encrusted in gleaming white salt crystals from the Dead Sea.

While the works weren’t created with the Canadian city in mind, “ice, snow, and salt have meanings in Toronto that might have brought some kind of additional value,” Landau said. “Things have different meanings in different places. In Toronto, the work has its own radiance.”

It took years for Landau to perfect her technique of encasing objects in the Dead Sea’s mineral-laden salt; the effect is hypnotic, and a little disconcerting. “When something gets filled with crystals, it becomes part of memory, dysfunctional and quite beautiful,” she said. “I put the violin under the water for several months in the summer until it became encrusted. For the wedding dress, I copied a black dress that was used in a production of ‘The Dybbuk.’ I put it in the Dead Sea; we took high-res video of how this black dress transformed into white. It ended up weighing 300 kilos.”

The Dead Sea looms large in Landau’s new work. “It’s so close to Jerusalem, where I grew up,” she said. “It’s like being next to a volcano. Or an anchor — an archaic anchor. It grounds me.”

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Israeli Sculptor's Work Ain't In the Pink

By Michael Kaminer

A rendering of Ohad Meromi’s ‘The Sunbather’

Gumby’s grandmother. Pink poop. The Pink Panther on a bender.

The reviews are coming in for a new sculpture by Israeli-born, New York-based artist Ohad Meromi — and it hasn’t even been built.

Meromi won a coveted slot to create “The Sunbather” under the auspices of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, whose Percent for Art program taps the city’s construction budget to fund public art projects.

But while he may have won over Percent for Art’s judging panel, Meromi’s neon-pink, reclining colossus did not win over locals in Long Island City, the gentrified former industrial hub in Queens where “The Sunbather” is planned to occupy a busy plaza.

“While public art can be wonderful, this seems like an absurd waste of money and is rather infuriating considering that the community was left out of the decision,” ranted one commenter on LICPost, a local blog. As The New York Times reported, an artist from Bushwick even erected his own sculpture on the site in protest.

“This is the strongest reaction I’ve ever had,” Meromi told the Forward. “I mostly work with museums and galleries. It’s a whole different game.”

Image courtesy Ohad Meromi/NYC Department of Cultural Affairs

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Real-Life Lawyer Behind 'Woman in Gold'

By Tom Tugend

(JTA) — When attorney E. Randol (Randy) Schoenberg saw himself portrayed on the big screen by hunky Ryan Reynolds in the movie “Woman in Gold,” he immediately spotted a difference.

“Obviously, I’m not the sexiest man alive,” Schoenberg acknowledged in an interview at his West Los Angeles home, referring to People magazine’s designation of Reynolds in 2010. “I don’t look like Ryan, with a T-shirt on or a T-shirt off.”

Such differences aside, Schoenberg wasn’t bothered seeing his years of struggle and triumph portrayed by Reynolds in “Woman in Gold,” a new drama based on Schoenberg’s successful recovery of a world famous painting looted by the Nazis from its Jewish owners.

The movie focuses on the relationship between Maria Altmann, the elderly descendant of one of the wealthiest and most prominent Jewish families in Vienna, and a young, unproven lawyer who took on the Austrian and American governments to recover what was then the most expensive painting in the world.

“Woman in Gold” recreates an era when Vienna rivaled Paris as the cosmopolitan capital of the world, with Jewish talent, taste and wealth integral to its fame and lifestyle. Among the most prominent Jewish families of the time was the Bloch-Bauer family, headed by the sugar magnate Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.

Bloch-Bauer’s wife, Adele, reigned over a glittering salon attended by Vienna’s leading artists and intellectuals. A frequent guest was Gustav Klimt, the most sought-after painter in Austria, as famous for for seducing the subjects of his portraits as for his innovative style.

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POEM: One-Sixtieth Prophecy

By Janet R. Kirchheimer

Near the house,
next to the woodpile,
lies a dream

too weak to enter.

I hold my shadow down as it
tries to escape, shut the windows,
bar the doors, imagine myself
bright and shiny.

I am Joseph in the bor, the pit, empty of water,
but full of scorpions and serpents.

There is no one to listen

to my dreams, no one to interpret them but God.
Or I am Pharaoh.
The interpretations
do not satisfy me, I do not find any relief.

Who will interpret for me?

God will heal you with your own
wounds, declares the prophet Jeremiah.

Gerald Davis Showed the Strange Side of Celebrity

By Michael Kaminer

Nearly 18 years after his death, photographer Gerald Davis is finally coming into focus. A new collection of his photos, “Strange Stories,” (AMMO Books, $39.95) presents the world through Davis’ unflinching eyes, from hyperstimulated Palm Beach socialites to gleeful nudists to moribund celebrities. Todd Oldham, the designer and TV talking head, edited the book. “Looking at the images invites more questions than answers,” he writes in his introduction. “They are often subtle yet revealing in unintentional ways.”

Though his photos teem with commentary, Davis let subjects speak for themselves, approaching work as a journalist more than an artist. “I can only speculate, but as a visual artist myself, there’s a lot of power in taking a look at what’s around you and getting a kick out of it for what it reveals about itself,” said Vanessa Davis, Gerald Davis’s daughter and an award-winning cartoonist and illustrator based in Los Angeles. “You don’t have to force anything. You’re just showing what’s there. And it’s nuts, usually.”

Davis’s parents moved from New York to Florida in the 1970s. “My dad wasn’t as into Judaism as my mother was. She felt a lot of pressure. Even though Florida has a humongous Jewish population, she panicked — ‘What have I done, moving to this place with people driving pickup trucks and Piggly Wiggly everywhere?’”, Davis laughed. “But my father was a very Jewish person, in his own way. He was very New York, very worldly, and loved a lot of Jewish cultural pop things. But he never really sought it out for himself personally the way my mother did.” Karen Davis ended up running the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival until 2011.

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Why British TV Handled Race Worse Than Starbucks

By Karen E. H. Skinazi

As Americans were watching Starbucks unveil its short-lived “Race Together” campaign — a push to talk about race in classic coffee klatch tradition — Brits were watching Trevor Phillips, the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Head of the Commission for Racial Equality under Prime Minister Tony Blair, also talking about race, from the rather loftier platform of a Channel 4 television show, “Things We Won’t Say about Race That Are True.”

Phillips, a black Londoner who spent much of his career battling discrimination, seemed to be using the TV forum to reverse his life’s work. The show, in fact, suggested discrimination was key to British living. Phillips argued that blacks (and presumably other racial and ethnic groups) were once silenced, and that now it’s whites’ turn. But if Phillips wanted to move from silence to conversation, it was not clear how declaring racial and ethnic stereotypes “true” was going to do that.

Phillips began with a softball destined to offend the fewest number of viewers: “Jews are rich and powerful.” I was watching alongside my 9-year-old son, who looked up from constructing his paper Minecraft Creeper and asked me, eyes wide, “Mama, are we rich and powerful?” “No, sweetheart,” I said, “Sorry.” Luckily, he immediately decided the show was stupid and boring and wandered off.

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'The Dovekeepers' Turns Masada Into Melodrama

By Curt Schleier

It’s hard (and probably not kosher) to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

That’s largely the problem with CBS’s “The Dovekeepers,” airing March 31 and April 1. The filmmakers based this disappointing limited edition series on the best-selling Alice Hoffman novel of the same name, which chose to interpret the tale of Masada as a soap opera. An over-the-top, overwrought soap opera.

Masada is one of the most inspiring stories in Jewish history, an example to many of great martyrdom and courage. A companion documentary, “The Siege of Masada” (airing on the Smithsonian channel), calls it the “Alamo of the ancient world.”

That’s a flawed analogy, since the folks in Texas actually died fighting. But the point is that Masada is so ingrained in the Jewish psyche, it deserves better than this production.

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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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