The Arty Semite

In Song: Masei

By Martin Stone

James Tissot, ‘The Ark Passes Over the Jordan,’ 1896-1902.

Each week The Arty Semite connects the Torah reading — however tenuously — with a classic work of rock and roll.

This week’s parsha, Masei, traces the route of Israel’s travels through the desert over 40 years.

The tribal princes responsible for parceling out the land are appointed and the boundaries of the Promised Land are sketched. Forty-eight cities are to be given to the tribe of Levi, including six cities of refuge, three on either side of the Jordan River.

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Lebanese Belly Dancer Can't Go Home Again

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Lebanese-French belly dancer Johanna Fakhry has gyrated herself into some big trouble with her homeland. She has been barred from returning to Lebanaon following an appearance last month at Hellfest, an outdoor music festival in France, with the Israeli metal band Orphaned Land.

The Jerusalem Post reports that it was Fakhry’s idea to dance onstage with the Israeli musicians, and to hold up the Lebanese and Israeli flags side by side in a gesture of peace and brotherhood (though the Israeli one happened to have been much larger). Orphan Land’s lead singer Kobi Farhi was pleased to join forces with the belly dancer after she contacted him through Facebook. However, he warned her of his concern for her reputation and safety should she appear with the band, and especially should they wave their national banners together. Lebanon has technically been in a state of war with Israel since 1948.

“I know. Bring the flag — this is my choice, and I want to use my art for the sake of peace,” was reportedly Fakhry’s response to Farhi.

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Where Art Meets the Sea

By Noam Dvir

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Bar-On
Bat Yam’s abandoned Riviera nightclub gets an artistic facelift.

A makeshift artists colony arose last week on Bat Yam’s main beach, between the concrete skeleton of an abandoned hotel and a plastic playground. Over the next month it will host artists in various media as well as musicians from Israel and abroad.

The guests will stay in temporary structures, reminiscent of the beach huts on the Sinai Peninsula, and present their work in a new gallery erected in the abandoned Riviera nightclub. The Bat Yam municipality, which has in recent years worked to make the area a site for experimental urban architecture, is funding the entire project, including the establishment and operation of the gallery and the artists colony.

Read more at Haaretz.com


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Israel's Only Secular Yiddish Publication Celebrates 60 Years

By Itzik Gottesman

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

In May 1951, a group of immigrants to Israel, mainly Holocaust survivors, founded a social, political and cultural group based on the model of the General Jewish Labour Bund of pre-war Poland.

That group, which became the Israeli branch of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, bought a building on Kalisher Street in Tel Aviv, collected a Yiddish library of some 30,000 volumes, established a Yiddish chorus now directed by Aliza Blecherovitch, produced dozens of plays, and began publishing the monthly journal Lebns-fragn (literally “Life Questions,” but more accurately, “Essential Issues”).

On May 25, the magazine celebrated its 60th anniversary with a event that included readings by Shura Grinhoyz-Turkow, poet Rivke Bassman Ben-Haim, and a performance by the Mikhl Klepfish Choir, among others.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yitskhok Luden, Yiddish, Vladimir Medem, Lebns-fragn, Itzik Gottesman, I. Artusky, Forverts

Can a Polish Priest Be a Jew? Not According to the Law of Return

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy of Go2Films

One is tempted to declare that “Torn,” the documentary by Israeli filmmaker Ronit Kertsner making its American debut at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, is about the “Who is a Jew?” question. It is. But it is also about more than that.

The film tells the story of Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel, a Polish Catholic priest and philosophy professor in his late-60s who decides he wants to immigrate to Israel. In what is likely the last case of a European priest learning that he was born to Jewish parents killed in the Holocaust, Weksler-Waszkinel decides to embrace his Jewish identity and make aliyah based on the Law of Return.

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Improving Moral Vocabulary

By Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens is the author of “The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.” His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite, courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


In Tuesday’s post, I wrote about how stories give us strength in trying times. Stories also have the power to repair and transform the reader and the writer.

The Jewish word tzedakah is usually translated as charity, but the word actually has a root that is closer to “justice,” and in this sense, tzedakah is understood not as something that is extra, but as something that is required. The allied Jewish concept of Gemilut Chasadim refers to the spirit in which the highest form of tzedakah is given, a spirit of all-loving kindness. We are required not only to repair the world and make it just, but we do this work best when we act with the spirit of loving-kindness.

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Amy Winehouse and Her Father

By Ruta Kupfer

Crossposted from Haaretz

Getty Images

The only impressive thing about “My Daughter Amy,” the film about the British Grammy-winning singer Amy Winehouse, who died July 23 at age 27, are the photos of her infancy and childhood. The film, first shown on Britain’s Channel 4 about a year ago, is airing tonight and over the weekend on local Channel 8.

There is a frame of a baby carriage holding a baby with beautiful, flashing eyes, and in the corner of the frame is an odd date, 1992. It was surely a mistake recorded by the video camera of Mitch Winehouse, the singer’s father. This detail is just one that adds to the overall false and forced feel of the film.

Read more at Haaretz.com


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Out and About: Maurice Sendak's New Book; Israeli Raid on Jenin Theater

By Ezra Glinter

  • A new social networking site is based in the Proust Questionnaire.

  • Joel Schalit evaluates Berlin’s susceptibility to an Oslo-type attack.

  • Justin Bartha, who is currently starring in Zach Braff’s play “All New People,” will next appear in Jesse Eisenberg’s “Asuncion” at New York’s Cherry Lane Theater. The two actors last worked together in “Holy Rollers,” a film about Hasidic ecstasy smugglers.

  • The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, formerly led by slain actor Juliano Mer Khamis, was raided Tuesday night by Israeli Special Forces. Two people were detained.

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Crusading Editor Who Brought Orthodox Sex Abuse to Light

By Lillian Swanson

A courtroom sketch from Yisroel Shapiro’s trial on charges of sexual molestation. Courtesy of Bennett-Robbins Productions.

A handshake was all it took to set Scott Rosenfelt, an accomplished filmmaker, on a journey to break the wall of secrecy protecting child sex abusers in the Orthodox Jewish community.

The way Rosenfelt tells it, a friend, Phil Jacobs, then executive editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, was interviewing a sex abuse survivor in a coffee shop, when Jacobs introduced Rosenfelt to the survivor.

“Some new energy passed to me. I felt like I was shaking the hand of a shattered person,” Rosenfelt said June 29 at a screening of his film, “Standing Silent,” at the American Jewish Press Association conference in Dallas. From that moment on, Rosenfelt said, he had to make the film.

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How the Eldridge Street Synagogue Was Saved

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted From Samuel Guber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Beyond the Facade: A Synagogue, A Restoration, A Legacy: The Museum at Eldridge Street
By Roberta Brandes Gratz, Larry Bortniker and Bonnie Dimun
Museum at Eldridge Street and Scala Publishers, 176 pages, $45.00

Samuel D. Gruber

In “Beyond the Facade,” a history of the almost 30-year effort to restore New York’s Eldridge Street Synagogue, Roberta Brandes Gratz, one of the initiators of the project and the energetic organizer of the work in its early phases, writes: “There was no time to be discouraged. Restoring a landmark that has been abandoned by those most connected to it historically is only for the young, the persistent, and the deeply committed, and surely not for the faint of heart.”

Gratz was never faint of heart, and she committed a large chunk of her life to saving the grand synagogue and to telling the history of the building, its congregation and its role in the American immigrant saga. Gratz was helped by hundreds of people along the way, and was followed in her leadership role by Amy Waterman, who advanced the project by raising new awareness and large sums of money through various wards and grants.

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'Shoemaker' Drama Is Down at the Heels

By Jenny Hendrix

Danny Aiello tells Alma Cuervo he can’t fix her shoes in ‘The Shoemaker.’ Photo by Ben Hider.

The first act of Susan Charlotte’s “The Shoemaker,” directed by Anthony Marsellis and playing through August 14 at Theater Row’s Acorn Theater, wastes no time in establishing the symbolic level on which it will operate. The lights are barely up when Giuseppe, an Italian-American cobbler, finds himself barged in upon by a Columbia film professor with (ahem) a “broken sole.” Although the cobbler (Danny Aiello) insists that his shop is closed, the woman is persistent, and the two argue, eventually sharing stories of traumas past and present.

It is the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The woman has witnessed the tragedy of that morning, and her memory of it has become entwined with the thought of a film she had intended to show, Vittorio de Sica’s “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.” This permits an uncomfortable segue by the shoemaker into the story of his father’s death in the Holocaust. Meanwhile, a pair of heels wait for a customer — an investment banker called “teeny Louise” — who, it is assumed, will never return for them. On the wall, a framed photograph of the pile of shoes at the Washington, D.C. Holocaust Museum provides extra dramatic heft — if only it did not have to be pointed out so frequently.

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The Future of Israeli Design

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Sarif
Rotem Wilk’s spirally knitted fabric at Shenkar College.

What could possibly be done that is new at an exhibition of works of graduates of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design visual communications department — especially after the successful exhibition curated last year by Yael Burstein in the same space?

On the surface there is nothing revolutionary about what the curator, designer Michal Sahar, did in breaking down the walls between the classrooms. Maybe it is even banal. But Sahar has created one of the most impressive exhibition spaces in the country, one not inferior in quality to museum spaces here and abroad.

Read more at Haaretz.com


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Q&A: Photographer Annie Ling on the Residents of 81 Bowery

By Gabrielle Birkner

Annie Ling

The fourth floor of 81 Bowery, in New York’s Chinatown, is composed of narrow, ceiling-less cubicles that some 35 Chinese immigrants call home. After reading a Village Voice feature on the residence, photographer Annie Ling was inspired to capture the space and the hard-working men and women who inhabit it. The result was an absorbing photo essay, published recently on the website of The New York Times.

Ling’s images recall the dawn-to-dusk labor and cramped conditions that greeted generations of Eastern-European Jewish immigrants who settled, at the turn of the 20th century, on the Lower East Side — just a stone’s throw from 81 Bowery. Ling, who emigrated from Taiwan at age 7, spoke recently with The Arty Semite about the culture that exists within the tenement’s walls, the dreams that residents harbored upon coming to America, and how this project grew out of a need to share her own immigrant story.

Gabrielle Birkner: What drew you to this particular assignment?

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Canadian Jewish Author Nominated for Man Booker Prize

By Forward Staff

Kevin Kelly

Alison Pick, who won the Canadian Jewish Book Award earlier this year for her novel “Far to Go,” was longlisted today, along with 12 other writers, for the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Pick grew up not knowing that her father’s family was Jewish, and only learned the truth of her family’s history as an adult. That process of discovery is reflected in her novel, which is about a Czechoslovakian Jewish family on the eve of World War II. As she told Renee Ghert-Zand in an interview for The Arty Semite,

For me, because I’m a writer, part of the way I wanted to explore this background was by writing a novel that was set in the same time and place and same historical circumstance that my grandparents had lived in. That said, I was very clear from the outset that I didn’t want to write their story, so the characters in “Far To Go” share some of the characteristics of my grandparents, but beyond those surface details, the fate of the characters is very different from my grandparents’ eventual fate.

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Larry David on How to Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Nathan Burstein

Courtesy of HBO

The more Larry David pushes the envelope, the more his fans love him — and the more fans he seems to attract. That could help to explain the ratings bump for the July 24 installment of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” in which David mines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for laughs.

The episode, the highest-rated of the season so far, is called “Palestinian Chicken,” and focuses on the relationship between Larry and Shara, the owner of a Palestinian eatery called Al Abbas.

In keeping with his persona, David turns out to be less than an ardent Zionist, and finds Shara’s hostility toward Israel appealing. “You’re always attracted to someone who doesn’t want you,” he remarks. “Well, here you have someone who not only doesn’t want you, but doesn’t even acknowledge your right to exist, who wants your destruction. That’s a turn-on.”

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter One

By Ross Ufberg

Ed. note: There has always been a strong connection between Jews and baseball, but what would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite starting today, author Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of “The Lions of Zion,” an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933.

Opening Day, 1933: The Lions of Zion Take the Field


Getty Images

Reb Shlomo stood on a chair in the middle of the clubhouse and put his hand in the air. The room fell hushed — no small thing for a clubhouse full of Jewish ballplayers about to take the field for the first game of the season, and of their careers. We were as nervous as a groom on his wedding night.

Our manager’s eyes turned a fiery orange under the lights of the low ceiling — as orange as the lion emblazoned on his cap. That was our team emblem: a lion on its hind legs, paws in a fighting pose, proud mane and glorious tail.

“Ballplayers!” Reb Shlomo had the voice of a pulpit rabbi, for once he had been, and his beard was black as burnt wood.

“In a few minutes, we will walk out of this clubhouse and onto the baseball diamond. If you think about it too much, you’ll catch a fever and Talmed here — ” Reb Shlomo pointed to me, his former pupil, the youngest fellow on the team — “will have to get the Haddassah Sisterhood to wrap you in a blanket and take you away. Now, you know how to play ball with the best of ’em. For the past month we’ve been down in Tampa and we haven’t been sunbathing, have we? No. We’ve been shvitzing in the heat, working our tukheses off, and I expect us to play like a team. Keep your heads in the game. Butcher Block is starting on the mound for us. He’s as strong a pitcher as I’ve seen and I don’t care how big those Giants bats are, his cutter is something I’d bet my mother-in-law’s life on.”

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The Strength of Judaism and the Courage of Social Justice

By Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens‘s most recent book, “The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL,” is now available. His posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


In the preface to “The Heart and the Fist,” I explain to the reader that I’ve been lucky enough to learn from amazing warriors and humanitarians alike. Through this book, I hope to share how their work and their stories inspire me.

How do stories relate to the narrative of social justice and Judaism? The human mind is narrative; we tend to think in stories, and there is a strength in story and tradition. In some of our most dire times, we look to stories because they give us strength.

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Q&A: Zach Braff on Acting, Writing, JDate and Manischewitz

By Gwen Orel

Getty Images

The cliché is that every actor wants to direct. Sometimes they try their hand at writing too, and turn out predictable stories about a character played by the author. Zach Braff, star of the TV show “Scrubs,” seemed to do that with his 2004 film “Garden State” — except that the movie was actually rich, surprising and quirky.

On July 25 Braff opened his first play off-Broadway, at New York’s Second Stage Theatre, though he neither stars nor directs. Titled “All New People,” the story takes place on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Charlie (Justin Bartha) is in the process of attempting to commit suicide when he’s interrupted first by a ditzy British realtor (Krysten Ritter), then by her fireman friend (David Wilson Barnes) and finally by an escort (Anna Camp) sent by Charlie’s friend to cheer him up. The Arty Semite caught up with Braff in the play’s final week of previews, while Braff was in Detroit acting in Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” due out in 2013.

Gwen Orel: What made you decide not to act in your own play?

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Gilberto Gil's Party in the Park

By Ben Shalev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Tchetchik
Gilberto Gil performing in Ra’anana on Sunday.

One of Gilberto Gil’s first hits is called “Domingo no Parque” — Sunday in the park. Gil sang it in 1967 during a televised music festival with the fabulous Os Mutantes, and although another song won first place, “Domingo no Parque” launched the Brazilian’s career and became the signature tune of Tropicalia, the glittering genre Gil founded along with Caetano Veloso and other artists.

Gil didn’t sing “Domingo” here two days ago, but it was impossible not to recall this electrifying song, for the simple reason that the show took place on Sunday in Ra’anana’s Amphipark.

Only three months ago Gil gave a high level concert of refined, acoustic Brazilian pop at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. The show in Ra’anana, in the open air, was completely different: rhythmic and electric, with a party atmosphere and not that of a concert. Only one thing remained unchanged: the quality. This too was an excellent performance.

Read more at Haaretz.com


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How Lucian Freud Found His Faith in Realism

By Allese Thomson Baker

Getty Images
Lucian Freud in 1958.

In 1993, Lucian Freud, the painter known for his sharp psychological portraits of friends and family often sprawled nude in his studio, painted his own portrait. “Now the very least I can do is paint myself naked,” the artist said. Called “Painter Working, Reflection,” the work shows the artist, then 71, facing the viewer with a brush in one hand and a palette in the other. He is naked — starkly so — and his head slouches towards the ground, flesh sagging over his frame. The paint looks dry and flaky, creating the impression that Freud’s entire body is on the verge of crumbling into dust.

Perhaps it is fitting to remember this painting in the wake of Freud’s death on July 20. At 88, Freud, famous for his proudly reclusive ways (the artist did not possess a phone and his studio had no doorbell, but he had his own table at the uber-chic Wolseley restaurant in London where he dined several times a week), passed away in his home. He leaves a legacy of many children (one British paper estimates 30-plus), many more lovers, and many, many more paintings that are remembered as some of the most bewitching and valuable of his time. In 2008, the artist sold a portrait of an obese nude woman sleeping on a couch for $33.6 million, setting the world record for a work by a living artist.

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