The Arty Semite

POEM: 'Return From Elsewhere'

By Linda Zisquit

Don’t yell at me,
whisper: try to stop

I let him drink from me
I let him speed us up to the end

to extremes I couldn’t imagine—

(these are words
that cannot be written)

At the 7th Avenue station

drained and soiled
I forgot

what any child knows by heart

I couldn’t read the signs
it was late

I panicked

Where do you live, lady?

from the subway tunnel
a deep voice spoke to me

through the bars

dark, in shadows,

it should have scared me

but only an angel could have known
I was lost

I needed a ticket
he needed some change

(or was he there for another reason)

he swiped his card
guided me through the turnstile

I thanked him,
almost forgot to pay him

turned and went in the wrong direction

Where do you live, lady?

he shook his head, pointed up the stairs, across
and down—

he watched as I walked away

waited till I was safe
on the other side

and waved.

From “Return From Elsewhere” (Outriders Poetry Project, 2014)


Alan Dershowitz Talks Hamas, Terror and Abraham

By Curt Schleier

Alan Dershowitz spent 50 years on the Harvard University law faculty, including the last 20 as the Felix Frankfurter professor of law. In all that time, he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk, too, representing a number of frequently unpopular clients — Mike Tyson, O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bülow — in frequently landmark civil rights and civil liberties cases.

He has also been a voluble defender of the State of Israel and Jews worldwide, most recently with his new book, “Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas,” his 31st tome to accompany dozens upon dozens of articles and opinion pieces for newspapers and magazines the world over.

Dershowitz spoke to the Forward about Operation Protective Edge, the terror attacks and murders at a Jerusalem synagogue, and a recent client who has yet to pay his bill.

Curt Schleier: What is the case for Israel’s war on Hamas?

Alan Dershowitz: I was in Israel in mid-June and it was arranged for me to see one of the tunnels. It was recently discovered very close to a kibbutz kindergarden with 57 Israeli children. When I saw the tunnel and how sophisticated it was, with electricity and rails, it became crystal clear to me that we would have to send the troops in. A few days later, I had dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu and I could see how reluctant he was to send in ground troops. But when Hamas used the tunnels and killed israelis he had no choice.

In the book I raised the issue: President Obama, [British Labor Leader] Ed Miliband [both of whom criticized Israel’s response], what would you have done with the tunnels? I make the case that under the law and standards of morality, Israel did the right thing. And I have some pretty strong people on my side. Gen. [Martin E.] Dempsey [chairman of the joint chiefs of staff] said Obama was wrong. Israel did everything it could to protect civilians. And Gen. Dempsey sent American troops to Israel to learn how to fight terrorists in civilian areas. President Obama ought to reconsider his views, particularly since we’re fighting ISIS using those tactics. I just wrote an article in the London Times challenging Miliband on what he would have done under the same circumstances. It’s easy to criticize. Much harder to come up with policy.

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6 Things About Mike Nichols

By Reuters


(Reuters) — Few directors have moved between Broadway and Hollywood as easily as Mike Nichols. Here are six facts about Nichols, who died on Wednesday.

1) A bad reaction to a whooping-cough vaccine at age 4 left Nichols permanently hairless, according to the New Yorker magazine. Later he would come to rely on wigs and fake eyebrows.

2) Nichols told the New York Times that when he came to the United States from Germany in 1939 at age 7 as Michael Igor Peschkowsky, he knew only two English sentences: “I do not speak English” and “Please, do not kiss me.”

3) Nichols met ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer in 1986 in a Paris airport lounge as they waited for a Concorde flight to New York. He said he approached Sawyer and told her that she was his hero and she responded by saying he was her hero. In 1998 Sawyer became Nichols’ fourth wife.

4) Nichols and Buck Henry were boyhood schoolmates in New York. Later Henry would write the screenplays for Nichols’ movies “The Graduate,” “Catch-22” and “The Day of the Dolphin.”

5) When not directing, Nichols often concentrated on breeding prize-winning Arabian horses.

6) During a tribute to Nichols at the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, Meryl Streep and Candice Bergen read Nichols’ “Five Rules for Filmmaking”: 1: The careful application of terror is an important form of communication. 2: Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for. 3: There’s absolutely no substitute for genuine lack of preparation. 4: If you think there’s good in everybody, you haven’t met everybody. 5: Friends may come and go but enemies will certainly become studio heads.


My Year of Not Shopping

By Michael Kaminer

All images courtesy Sarah Lazarovic

Equal parts autobiography, treatise, art project, and social commentary, Sarah Lazarovic’s “A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy” (Penguin Books) chronicles a year in which the author sublimated consumer urges by drawing things instead of purchasing them.

But the book’s much more than a visual diary. Lazarovic’s elegant, witty illustrations, and her gimlet-eyed text treatments, offer a delightful take on what it’s like to try to think for oneself in a society where we’re programmed to consume from birth.

An acclaimed illustrator, cartoonist and teacher, Lazarovic has also written about pop culture for Canadian newspapers like The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. (Lazarovic is also one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated and the Forward sponsors).

“I didn’t want to write a stunt book about my year of not shopping,” she told the Forward from her home in Toronto, where she lives with her husband, National Post features editor Ben Errett, and their daughter Plum. “I wanted to examine how I got to that place. It’s my personal journey from voracious consumer to more thoughtful non-acquirer. The book is frothy and light, but underneath, there’s a secret covert message about not consuming so much.”

Michael Kaminer: Based on responses I’ve seen online, the book’s struck a chord. Why do you think people are reacting so strongly?

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Writers Line Up For Israel's Top Literary Prize

By Beth Kissileff

Reuven Namdar in New York. Photo by Beth Kissileff.

In a time when the famed British Man Booker Prize has been opened to writers in English from all countries, Israel too has achieved a milestone. For the first time in its 14 years, the Sapir Prize, given by Mif’al Ha-Payis (Israel’s national lottery), has on its long list of 12 novels one by New York based writer Reuven Namdar.

Though it is in part a meditation on the service of a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, Namdar’s novel, “The Ruined House,” takes place entirely in New York City, and is based in locales like the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights and Wave Hill in the Bronx (called View Hill in the book). This unprecedented level of recognition for Hebrew writers living and working outside of Israel speaks to a different side of Israeli literature and an awareness of how it is widening.

The rest of the list also indicates a sense of wide horizons. It includes past nominee and the author of over 20 books Lea Aini, for “Daughter of the Place”; veteran writer Galit Distel Etebaryan for “Peacock on the Steps”; Celine Assayag for “Overturned Cry”; Nir Baram for “World Shadow,” and Hagit Grossman for “Lila and Louis.”

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The Yiddish Path to Acting Fame and Fortune

By Jordan Kutzik

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here

Like all actors attempting to break into the notoriously difficult profession, Michael Levi Harris is seeking to stand out. Luckily, Harris has a talent that is almost unique: he has an exceptional knack for languages. Not only can Harris speak many tongues but he also has a rare aptitude for accents and can, with a little practice, perfectly mimic the sounds of languages that he doesn’t know.

Harris’s linguistic skills are highlighted in the new short film “The Hyperglot,” a romantic comedy in which the main character, Jake, a talented polyglot played by Harris, tries to locate a woman with whom he has instantly fallen in love after seeing her on the subway.

Because she left behind a book in Maltese, Jake begins to learn the rare language in case he ever meets her again. While Jake looks for the pretty Maltese woman, he stumbles into a series of comical incidents in which he has the opportunity to speak many languages. By the end of the film Harris’s character speaks Arabic, Icelandic, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, Norwegian, both American and British sign-language and finally, Yiddish. Watching Jake, the audience soon learns that although the hyperglot can speak at least 11 languages, he can’t properly flirt with girls in any of them.

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Why David Broza Still Has Hope for Peace

By Curt Schleier

Courtesy David Broza

David Broza is likely Israel’s most famous singer-songwriter. With a throaty Leonard Cohen sound and earthy Bruce Springsteen lyrics, Broza has recorded platinum albums and toured the world to great acclaim.

He is also among the nation’s most recognized peace advocates, a fact that fueled his most recent activities — an album, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” (S-Curve Records), and an accompanying documentary of the same name.

The film recently aired at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York, and at the ABC Foundation Conference in Miami. It is essentially a making-of-the-album film, but also focuses on Broza’s efforts to use music to bridge the gap between Israelis and Arabs.

The concept was simple. Broza rented time at the Sabreen studio in East Jerusalem, a center of the Palestinian music scene. He gave himself eight days and eight nights to record 13 tracks heavy on a peace motif. On each he is complemented by a number of Israeli and Palestinian musicians and singers, including Mira Awad. To add a bit of American flavor he brought in Steve Greenberg and Steve Earle to produce.

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PHOTOS: Warsaw's Graveyard for Gravestones

By Liam Hoare

All Photos: Liam Hoare

The histories of the Jews of Europe can often best be gleaned not from monographs, museums, or synagogues, but from cemeteries. The details of the matzevot, or tombstones — the size and shape, location, condition, detailing, symbolism, text and language of the inscriptions — can be decoded to reveal not only something about the deceased, but also about the community itself.

But what can be surmised of a community from its cemeteries when all the matzevot are gone?

Paweł Bysko, an official from the Jewish Community of Warsaw, recently unlocked the gates to the Bródno cemetery for me, in the Bródno district on the east bank of the Vistula river. It was a cold afternoon in late October, and as we traversed the central way that ran from one end of the graveyard to the other, the final hours of daylight sliced through the trees that today forest this defunct, desecrated site where the absence of tombs and stones say as much about the fate of Polish Jewry as if they were present.

Founded by Józef Samuel Jakubowicz in the late 18th century, Bródno cemetery officially opened on July 26, 1780, and was used as a regular burial site (in addition to the main cemetery on Okopowa Street on the other side of Warsaw) up until the Nazi occupation of Poland in September 1939. Prior to the beginning of the Second World War, there were around 300,000 marked graves within the walls of the cemetery.

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POEM:'This City [Jerusalem]'

By Tuvia Ruebner

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

1 Bound on Her Boulders
Bound on her boulders a burnt offering
in flames trampled by light of the daily sacrifice
this teeming city, longing
in its walls within walls
scattered towers
thin outcries
grey wind of the olives
torn among the hills yearned-for city of wings
from her red thicket eternity
blossoming
imprisoned
in gates straying at day’s end
to open and open

She is marked by a branding-iron in the Angel’s black hand

2 Stones Want to Flow
Stones want to flow
The olive tree wants to be stone
Churches long to fly
A cloud sits on the Temple Mount
Suns wandered on her outskirts, became thorns
Wars passed through and became dreams
Shadows walk around with bright faces
Her silence is bells and bells
Her stones flow
The olive tree is stone

He who sleeps and his heart is awake knows how at night
this heavy city ascends to walk with the moon

3 Day Like Night Like
Day like night like
sunfire
like voiceless cries this city where
we live in a dream like sown lights
freezing the stones eternal stones
like rock-eternity this city
caves or homes like
ruins like gravel like unending wind-thin dust
as though we were here
day or night
as though voiceless as in a dream we were really
here wandering through this city remnants
of muted cries like a dark entryway an alley
sunken in the alley wait
wait don’t vanish just one moment one more moment like
Life

4 Quiet and Open Skies
Quiet and open skies
above a City God’s treasured possession
above a City that was God-possessed
above a City that was possessed
above a City that was
open and quiet skies

From “In the Illuminated Dark: Selected poems of Tuvia Ruebner” (Hebrew Union College Press, in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014)


Sorry Jon Stewart, Don't Quit Your Day Job

By Anna Goldenberg

Gael Garcia Bernal in ‘Rosewater’

“Listen, Jews do a lot of things out of guilt. Generally it has to do with visiting people, not making movies.” That was everyone’s favorite Jon Stewart (née Jonathan Stuart Leibovitz) talking to New York Magazine last month.

Stewart, 51, writer, producer and award-winning host of the satirical “The Daily Show” was referring to his latest project, which is also his first excursion into filmmaking: The full-length feature film “Rosewater” opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday. It’s based on the autobiography of Iranian-born, London-based journalist Maziar Bahari, who went to Iran to cover the Iranian presidential elections and the protests that followed. Voters believed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory against the moderate Mir-Hossein Moussavi was due to election fraud in 2009.

Shortly after being interviewed by “Daily Show” correspondent Jason Jones in Tehran, a scene that is reenacted in the film, Bahari is arrested, and spends 118 days in Evin prison, accused of being a spy for America. Bahari is tortured and interrogated by a so-called “specialist” whose perfume preferences are reflected in the title of the film.

No question, “Rosewater” is a solid movie. There is some fine acting, with Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari, and Kim Bodnia as Rosewater. There are enough light-hearted moments, sophisticated editing and strong imagery to make the 103 minutes go by fairly fast. And the narrative has just the right amount of sadness and despair to make it feel serious, but not overly sentimental.

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6 Movies About Ex-Orthodox Jews Everyone Should See

By Anne Joseph

In contemporary cinema the representation of Jews is not so unusual. However, ex-Orthodox Jewish characters are portrayed far less often. Nonetheless, their role is significant and in some cases, iconic. (See my recent piece about Anna Wexler and Nadja Oertelt’s documentary ‘Unorthodox’ for one of the most recent examples.) Here are six of the best.

1. The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927)

Famous for being the first film with synchronized dialogue, this classic talkie stars Al Jolson as Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of a cantor who defies the traditions of his Orthodox parents because of his desire to pursue a career as a jazz singer. Following punishment by his father, Jakie runs away from home, but many years later his professional success comes into direct conflict with his religious and family responsibilities.

The film was remade twice — in 1952 (directed by Michael Curtiz) and again in 1980 (directed by Richard Fleischer and Sidney J. Furie), the latter starring Neil Diamond and Lawrence Olivier.

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Orthodox in Israel, Secular in Kathmandu

By Anne Joseph


Courtesy Anna Wexler

At 8 years old, Anna Wexler wanted to be a great Torah scholar. At 12 she started to question her faith, and by 16 she was an atheist. It was at this point that Wexler decided to break away from her Modern Orthodox, New Jersey upbringing, to live a life with no rules and no limits.

Gravitating towards others like her, she says they went “pretty wild.’” But during their gap year, a significant change occurred. While she was travelling in Kathmandu, her rebellious friends had “flipped out” in Israel. Having gone to yeshiva, they had become religious, and exchanged their former lifestyle for one of modest dress and Torah study. It led Wexler to question why, and forms the subject of her debut documentary, “Unorthodox.”

The film has had several successful U.S. film festival screenings, including at the Boston Jewish Film Festival and DOC NYC. It will receive its U.K. premiere later this month during the U.K. Jewish Film Festival.

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How Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis Got Past Race and Gender

By Aimee Rubensteen

Left: Lee Krasner with Stop and Go, c. 1949 (detail). Photographer unknown. © 2014 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Norman Lewis, n. d. Photographer unknown. From the Willard Gallery Archives. Collection of Kenkeleba House. Art © The Estate of Norman W. Lewis, Courtesy of Iandor Fine Arts, New Jersey

Look! It’s a white female artist! And, an African-American male artist! And, their art has something in common!

At face value, the painters Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Norman Lewis (1909-1979) share more than their paintings suggest. This fact is practically shouted by The Jewish Museum’s current exhibition, “From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945-1952,” on view until February 1, 2015. Bringing Krasner and Lewis from the fringes to the foreground produces a liberal parallel of exploration, experimentation and expression.

The recognition of these two painters who contributed to Abstract Expressionism is paramount, since Krasner and Lewis were once overlooked figures. But the way in which they are presented counterbalances the problem of marginalization. As the Museum’s didactic exhibition broadens the understanding of each artist’s development and artistic process, the wall text will not let you forget that you are gazing at a painting made by a woman or by an African American. The show opens with two self-portraits that not only show both artists’ colorful palettes, but also the identity of the sitter, as if to say: Look! Neither painter is a white, male artist.

The visual language of both artists is examined chronologically through the exhibition’s four sections: “From the Margins,” “Influence and Experiment,” “The Language of Painting” and “Evolution.” The paintings by Lewis, for the most part, are made up of softer hues and matted surfaces. In contrast, Krasner’s bright pigments shine and the canvases glow in the gallery.

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'Wiesenthal' Play Offers Emotional Dialogue, Dry History

By Curt Schleier

Photo: Carol Rosegg

In Tom Dugan’s play, “Wiesenthal,” the title character, Simon Wiesenthal (played by Dugan), describes a conversation with his wife, Cyla. She is ill and wants Simon to quit his work as a Nazi hunter and take her and their daughter to live in Israel.

Wiesenthal explains that he can’t:

“When we all meet in the next world, those who died in the camps will say, ‘Tell me what you did with this gift of life?’ One will tell of becoming a doctor; another a jeweler or a banker. When they ask me, I will say, ‘I have never forgotten you.’”

Then there was the time his 8-year-old daughter, the only Jew in her school, came home and asked why all the other children have family to spend holidays with. “Why do I have no one to visit?”

These are moments that will register with people of a certain generation. This play is important because there are other generations for whom this won’t register at all.

Unfortunately, emotional dialogue aside, the rest of the production comes off more as a dry history lesson than as an inspirational drama, lessening any potential impact it might have. The setting is Wiesenthal’s office at the Vienna Jewish Documentation Center in April 2003. It is his last day there and the show’s conceit is that one final group of visitors has come to hear him speak — or more accurately, recite.

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POEM: 'Signs'

By Linda Zisquit

It has to do with seeing. Light.
Or dark. It has to do with
knowing. Speak and prophesy,
darken and move:
But what I see is not what I know.
What I hear is not what I believe.
And now the first light is dark,
the morning has not yet lifted the night sky.
Chirping. At first many. Then few.
A call from a deeper-throated bird
till the others rest, and start again together.
Like a chorus with various parts assigned.
I never heard it this way before.
Rumble of planes.
Bees now. Little sounds.
And flaming purple spikes light the garden.

From Linda Zisquit’s recently published new collection “Return From Elsewhere.”


Maggie Gyllenhaal's Top 8 Roles

By Curt Schleier

It’s no surprise that the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” boasts Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Anna. She is a strong, intelligent activist and actor, a key player in this drama about marital love and infidelity. It’s the type of character Gyllenhaal regularly and successfully inhabits.

For the young actress, who recently discovered her birth name is Margalit (Hebrew for Pearl), it adds another star performance in her ever-expanding galaxy. Here are some others:

1. The Honourable Woman

Gyllenhaal played British business executive Ness Stein in this eight-part mini-series that aired originally on the BBC and last summer on the Sundance Channel. Stein, who is Jewish, works hard to build bridges of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but as soon becomes clear in this spy thriller, it is a complex and difficult task. But the series and Gullenhaal’s performance won raves, with The New York Times saying she played “a principled but conflicted woman whose quicksilver personality alters from hour to hour and flashback to flash-forward.”

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Bernice Eisenstein Plumbs Memory in 'Genizot'

By Michael Kaminer

The concept behind genizot is simple. These spaces, usually housed in synagogues, would store disused documents that contained the written name of God — and thus couldn’t be discarded.

But genizot also symbolize remembering. And that’s what Canadian artist Bernice Eisenstein so brilliantly explores in “Genizot: Repositories of Memory,” her new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

For Eisenstein, now artist-in-residence at Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Center, genizot become a launch pad to plumb the prismatic complexity of memory, whether personal, historical, literary, religious, or some combination thereof.

At first glance, “Genizot” seems like a loose assemblage of work. Eisenstein pairs her black-and-white portraits of figures like Antoine de St.-Exupery and Marcel Proust with elliptical text treatments; a glass display case houses casually arranged found objects. But as with all of Eisenstein’s work, there’s a compelling internal logic that unites the project into a powerful statement about memory, its weight, and its fluidity.

Memory is a favorite subject of Eisenstein, who created last year’s acclaimed “Correspondences” with Anne Michaels, and is the author of the award-winning graphic novel “I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors.”

“Genizot” was created for Holocaust Education Week in October, but the project will run through February 8, 2015 (Eisenstein is also one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated and The Forward sponsored.)

“I’m not didactic,” Eisenstein told the Forward from Toronto. “I want whoever sees “Genizot” to engage in it however their own memory works.”

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Learning Jewish History on 'Finding Your Roots'

By Curt Schleier

Photo Courtesy of WNET/Joseph Sinnott

Henry Louis Gates’ PBS series, “Finding Your Roots,” is invariably emotionally powerful. And tonight’s episode, which profiles the background of three leading Jewish Americans, is no exception.

Carole King, Tony Kushner and Alan Dershowitz are the subjects. As always, Gates and his research team have done an excellent job checking the roots of the participants’ family trees. They went back the furthest in King’s lineage, to late 18th-century Russia. But it is the Dershowitz and Kushner segments that prove the most fascinating.

Dershowitz’s mother’s family came from Galicia in the 20th-century when pogroms wrecked havoc there. His grandfather, Naftali Ringer, came first, followed two years later by his grandmother Blima. There was a problem at the dock when she arrived — Naftali had shaved off his beard. As a result she didn’t recognize him and, according to family legend, at first rejected him.

Blima ruled the roost in the Dershowitz household, and she remained observant. Dershowitz claims when he came home from Ebbets Field and declared “The Dodgers won,” she would ask “But was it good for the Jews?”

But she was also very American. “She made my brother and me recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day… America was everything Poland was not.”

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Elegy to 'Car Talk' Everyman

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

When Daniel Pinkwater learned on November 3 that Car Talk host Tom Magliozzi had died, he sent a one-line condolence to Doug Berman, the show’s longtime producer: “He improved the lives of millions. Weekly. For decades. They give Nobel Prizes to the wrong people.”

Tom, better known as Click (or was he Clack?), co-hosted the public radio call-in show Car Talk with his brother Ray for 35 years. The show still airs in reruns, though the two stopped producing new episodes in 2012. Pinkwater, the renowned children’s book author and radio personality, was a longtime friend of the program and a frequent guest.

“The crux of it was — this is basically what made them popular —they’re brothers and they get along,” Pinwater said. “People love that.”

Though the show as it aired was family-friendly, Pinkwater recalled Tom and his brother as having a wild sense of humor.

“They were out of control,” Pinkwater said. “They would say things and tell jokes and deliver of themselves remarks which, had they not been caught and edited out by the remarkable Doug Berman, would have ended my career as a children’s writer.”

When Car Talk was picked up by NPR in 1987, the ragged-voiced Magliozzi brothers didn’t sound like anyone else on the public radio roster. “My wife used to notice you couldn’t tell the speakers on NPR one from the other — except them,” Pinkwater said.

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Top 4 Christian Works By Jewish Composers

By Michael Kaminer

Everyone knows that the most popular American Christmas songs were written by Jews. But like Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” (see my piece on the recent Queens performance here) there’s a long tradition of Jewish musicians involved in Christian-inspired music — and even a few non-Jewish composers who’ve written for the Hebrews. Here are four of the most interesting:

1. Felix Mendelssohn wrote Christian music like Symphony No. 5 “Reformation,” St. Paul Oratorio along with other chamber and vocal pieces.

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