The Arty Semite

Leonard Cohen's Yiddish Song

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images

We were remiss in not wishing Leonard Cohen a happy birthday yesterday, but the 77-year-old Montreal poet, novelist and singer-songwriter has other consolations.

On October 11, Legacy Recordings will re-release 17 discs of Cohen’s back catalogue as a box set, including all of his studio albums and a few live ones, as well. The “Complete Albums Collection” will also include a 36-page booklet containing a 1,300 word essay by Pico Iyer.

As a personal tribute, though, I’d like to quote my favorite Leonard Cohen anecdote, about the 1972 “Songs of Love and Hate” tour, which comes from Ira Nadel’s 1998 biography, “Various Positions”:

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Bob Holman's Poem for Rosh Hashanah

By Jake Marmer

Bob Holman is one of New York’s poetry legends. He pioneered the performance poetry scene a few decades ago, opened and is still running his world-renowned Bowery Poetry Club, is a professor, publisher, lecturer and much more.

‘Rain, 1954’ by Arthur Leipzig

Today, in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, The Arty Semite is featuring Holman’s 1994 poem “A Jew in New York.” The author points to a wonderful connection between the mood of the High Holy Days and the New York weather: “Moody and gray, with dashes of absolute / Clarity.”

There’s also something quintessentially New York about the way Holman’s meditation on his Jewishness is intertwined with references to other identities — a Latina friend, the Chinese new year, and his own “coalminer” lineage. Holman’s mode of introspection, in the spirit of the upcoming holidays, lies in the openness and receptivity to his own history and the free-associations that come as he recounts it.

Bob Holman’s most recent book is “Picasso in Barcelona” (Paper Kite Press).

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How Felix Lembersky Smuggled Jewish Motifs Into Soviet Art

By Ori Z. Soltes

Felix Lembersky ‘Building After Gun Fire,’ Leningrad, 1959.

The Ukrainian Jewish painter Felix Lembersky (1913-70), whose works are currently on view through December 23 at the Rubin-Frankel Gallery at Boston University, offers ideas and issues to contemporary viewers aside from the simple beauty of his work.

As I will explain in a lecture this evening, Lembersky came of age and spent his career in the Soviet World of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, in which, with the exception of a few moments of “thaw,” visual art was frozen by the Stalinist dictum of Soviet socialist realism. Photo-perfect representation of smiling, healthy young people engaged in the noble work of building the Soviet state or enjoying the produce of its sweeping countryside was the only acceptable form of aesthetic expression. Soviet artists typically had to choose: They could create art acceptable to the regime or be ignored — if not persecuted — for inappropriately avant-garde or socio-politically critical work.

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In the Beginning There Was Abstraction

By Maya Klausner

It may be a miracle: A biblically themed exhibit has opened in Brooklyn without any mention of Adam and Eve. This month the new “Genesis” exhibit opened at the Hadas Gallery in Fort Greene. The absence of the imagistic leaf-clad duo on the white walls of the intimate space was a welcomed departure from typical portrayals of the lofty and iconic religious book.

But that is not to say artist Ora Bialik did not cleverly disguise the ill-fated pair in her contemporary, abstract work. Such ambiguities and interpretive knots are left for the viewer to comb through in the series of 30 paintings that climb chronologically throughout the space.

The gallery, a non-profit educational and cultural organization under the umbrella of the Rohr Jewish Student Center at the Pratt Institute, nurtures an open philosophy that encourages creative expression centered on Jewish themes. The mission statement’s spirit springs to life in the diverse artworks that revolve in and out of the space, varying from sculpture to photography to figurative exhibits to group shows.

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Palestinian Anthem for Statehood

By Haaretz

A Palestinian living in France has written a song that has arguably become the anthem for the upcoming Palestinians bid for statehood in the United Nations later on this week, according to a Ma’an report.

The songwriter, Ahmed Dari, who worked for the United Nations’ Educational, Social and Cultural Organization until recently, composed “Mestani Dawla be Aylol” — “I Am Waiting for a State in September” — in a witty way, using a tortoise to symbolize the slow pace of the Palestinian quest for statehood, Ma’an said.

The song has over 20,000 hits on YouTube, and Dari says he wrote the song to give hope to Palestinians in the run-up to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for UN recognition in New York this week, the report said.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: World's Oldest Actress; Heart of Harold Bloom

By Ezra Glinter

  • Israeli Hanna Maron has become the world’s longest performing actress after 83 years on stage.

  • William Deresiewicz explains why Harold Bloom is much like Conrad’s Mr. Kurtz.

  • A new collection by Shel Silverstein is coming out this month, 12 years after the author’s death.

  • Can Mel Gibson actually be good for the Maccabees?

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Art Spiegelman: ‘Why Comics? Why Mice? Why the Holocaust?’

By Ezra Glinter

The book trailer is out for Art Spiegelman’s much-anticipated “MetaMaus,” a look at the creation of his iconic “Maus” graphic novel, now celebrating its 25th anniversary.

In the video Spiegelman says that “Maus” is more about the relationship between a father and son “trying to understand each other” than it is about the Holocaust. In the original “Maus,” Spiegelman tells the story of his father, Vladek, from before the Holocaust to his later life in New York.

In “MetaMaus” Spiegelman portrays himself dealing with the unexpected success of his creation and always having to answer the same three questions: “Why Comics? Why Mice? Why the Holocaust?” “MetaMaus,” Spiegelman says, is an attempt to answer these questions once and for all.

Watch the book trailer for ‘MetaMaus’:

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Impressionistic Paintings With a New York Kick

By Jenny Hendrix

‘Braiding Hair’ by Dena Schutzer

The rhythm and verve of working-class New York street life is vividly displayed in artist Dena Schutzer’s new solo show at the Bowery Gallery in Chelsea. In almost two dozen drawings and oil paintings — on view through October 1 — Schutzer gives an impressionistic glance into daily urban life: a woman braids a man’s hair on a stoop; a man cleans the windows of a shop; boldly lit umbrellas pass in the rain.

Schutzer, who chairs the art department at the Abraham Joshua Heschel High School, has illustrated several children’s books, and it is easy to see how her keen eye for movement would translate into illustration. Her paintings are alive with squirming color and form. Unlike her children’s drawings, these paintings have a harshness of a particularly New York kind. The drawings are somewhat more hospitable, though less evocative of the way this city’s small dramas carry a weight all their own.

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An End to Chickens as Kapores?

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Getty Images

When Alexis de Tocqueville traveled around America in the 1830s, what most impressed him was the nation’s penchant for sociability. “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations… religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive,” he wrote bemusedly. “The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes.” Antebellum America was nothing if not a nation of joiners.

The keen-eyed Frenchman did not have America’s Jews in his sights when he put pen to paper, but he might well have. In the years that followed the publication of Democracy in America, they took to organizational life like a duck to water. From coast to coast, the American Jewish landscape was awash in voluntary associations.

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An Arrogant Revolution

By Lucette Lagnado

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, “The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn,” is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.” Her 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:


I couldn’t seem to escape Egypt this year — though I never set foot outside New York.

For months, I worked fiendishly to finish “The Arrogant Years,” my memoir which takes place in Cairo and New York. But whenever I’d put the book aside, I would follow news of the revolt unfolding in Tahrir Square. The revolution was addictive — I couldn’t seem to get enough of it. I found myself constantly clicking on online news of Cairo, or tuning in to CNN. It was all so exciting.

And terrifying. Even as I witnessed the euphoria, I felt a strange sense of alienation — I couldn’t feel much joy or passion, couldn’t quite cheer the protestors as the entire rest of the world seemed to be doing.

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Czeslaw Milosz Honored at Festival in Lodz

By Michael Handelzalts

Crossposted from Haaretz

Janusz Szymanski

Since 2002 Lodz, an industrial city in western Poland, has been holding a festival called Four Cultures, which packs into a few days in September events from all areas of the arts, including interdisciplinary arts, representing the four major cultures of the inhabitants that make up the city: Polish, German, Russian and Jewish. This year the festival added a subtitle, “Master Artists.”

The Polish hosts were represented by poet Czeslaw Milosz, whose centenary was marked this year. A book of a selection of columns Milosz wrote during the last years of his life in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza was published recently, and the newspaper’s editor Adam Michnik was hosted at an evening in Milosz’s memory.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Q&A: Cellist Alisa Weilerstein on Winning 'Genius Award'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein was at the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival last week when she received an unexpected phone call from the MacArthur Foundation telling her she was a recipient of their 2011 fellowship. The “Genius Award,” as it is called, is a no-strings-attached grant of $500,000, paid out over five years.

Weilerstein, 29, is a rising star in the classical music world. Though she plays compositions dating back to the 16th century, she also enjoys commissioning pieces by contemporary composers. In 2007 she worked closely with Osvaldo Golijov on a major revision of his “Azul,” a concerto inspired by a Pablo Neruda poem. Recognized for her precise and passionate playing, Weilerstein has appeared as a soloist with some of the most prestigious orchestras and collaborated with some of the greatest living conductors, including Daniel Barenboim.

Though music is central to her life, Weilerstein also pursued a bachelor’s degree in Russian History at Columbia University, which she received in 2004. She performs in over 100 concerts a year and has been an artist-in-residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Weilerstein’s recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto is forthcoming from Decca Classics.

Weilerstein spoke with The Arty Semite about getting the surprise phone call, working with other Jewish artists, and another reason why her parents are proud right now.

Renee Ghert-Zand: What was it like to find out that you had been named a MacArthur Fellow?

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Slideshow: Leon Bibel's Artworks for Social Justice

By Ezra Glinter

Leon Bibel, ‘Descending,’ Silkscreen, 1938.

The Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration is well known for having supported artists such as Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston and Mark Rothko, and for having helped produced some of the most significant American artworks of the 20th century.

One of the less-known WPA artists was Leon Bibel (1913-1995), a painter, printmaker and sculptor who worked in California with the likes of Bernhard Zackheim, and in New York with many WPA-supported colleagues. Now Bibel is being celebrated in his own right with an exhibit at the Borowsky Gallery of the Gershman Y in Philadelphia, “Leon Bibel: Art & Activism in The WPA,” on view until November 20.

Born in Szczebrzeszyn, Poland, Bibel came to the U.S. with his family and trained at the California School of Fine Arts. During his time in California he assisted Zackheim with the frescos at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center and the University of California at San Francisco’s Toland Hall. In 1936 he moved to New York where he worked as an art teacher before moving to South Brunswick, New Jersey, where he took up chicken farming and became a friend of sculptor George Segal.

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Bob Dylan's Asia Paintings Go on View in New York

By Ezra Glinter

Bob Dylan, ‘The Monk,’ 2009, Acyrlic on canvas. Photo by Joshua White.

While you have to admire Bob Dylan’s persistent touring now that he’s in his 70s, even die-hard fans admit that the singer-songwriter’s voice is pretty much shot. If you’re not likely to get much aesthetic pleasure out of a Dylan concert these days, however, there are other ways to appreciate his recent work.

Starting today, Dylan’s paintings are being shown for the first time in New York in an exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery titled “The Asia Series.”

For decades Dylan has dabbled in drawing and painting, creating album covers for The Band’s 1968 “Music From the Big Pink” and his own 1970 album, “Self Portrait.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Dylan also credited the success of 1975’s “Blood on the Tracks” to his studies with New York City painting teacher Norman Raeben.

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The 'Christian Jew' Who Told the Truth About the Holocaust

By Jenny Hendrix

Jan Karski with a wall-map of the Warsaw Ghetto at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo by E. Thomas Wood.

Fiction has a long history of trying to negotiate its way into and around atrocity. So, we sometimes forget, does fact.

Knowing that something unbelievable is true does not make us more able to believe it, just as knowing it is fiction does not make it seem less real. This unsolvable yet ever relevant conundrum was underlined last weekend by Arthur Nauzyciel’s site specific staging of Yannick Haenel’s “Jan Karski (My Name is a Fiction),” presented by the French Institute Alliance Française as part of it’s Crossing the Line 2011 festival.

The reading, based on Nauzyciel’s earlier staging of Haenel’s book (released here as “The Messenger”), concerned the life of Jan Karski. A Polish Catholic, Karski was charged by that country’s Underground during World War II to carry news of the massacre of Poland’s Jews to the governments of England and the United States in order to convince Allied leaders to act in their defense.

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David Guetta, Morrocan-Jewish Producer to the Stars

By Moshe Kutner

Crossposted from Haaretz

Ricky Gest

It is just as well that David Guetta, the child of a Moroccan-Jewish restaurateur in France, chose not to take over the family business. Thanks to that fateful decision Guetta turned into one of the most sought-after producers in the world. His main contribution is to the pop sound that currently dominates pop and hip hop songs interspersed with dance and club beat productions.

The 2009 song, “I Gotta Feeling” that Guetta produced for the Black Eyed Peas was the first to break through and instill dance in the American mainstream. The song became the most frequently downloaded clip in the United States up until then, and turned into the prototype for dozens of clips that followed. From that moment on, pop stars, primarily of the urban genre, who hoped to match the accomplishment, have stood in line to arrange a production with Guetta. Kelly Rowland, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Kelis and the rapper Flo Rida have all appeared in Guetta clips over the past two years. He himself does not stay behind the scenes, but stands out front and stars in the clips alongside the artists, usually as the DJ getting the masses to move while flailing his arms with his mane of hair flying in all directions.

Read more at Haaretz.com


The Lions of Zion, Chapter Nine

By Ross Ufberg

What would have happened had there been a Jewish team in the Major Leagues? In an original novel serialized on The Arty Semite, Ross Ufberg imagines the trials and triumphs of The Lions of Zion, an all-Jewish team competing in the National League in 1933. Read the first eight chapters here.

Cincinnati Hanky Panky


It was Khetzke’s turn. We were shooting pool in the lounge of the Hotel Sinton in Cincinnati, where we stayed while playing a series with the Reds. Run-the-Numbers Cohen and Khotsh were on a team against Pretty Perchik and Khetzke. Mosie Schreiber was there, too, notebook in hand, getting copy for the next day’s article. The Forverts was calling his column on the baseball team “Der Leybs Dunern,” or the Roar of the Lion.

“Hey, Nosie Mosie, don’t forget to include the part where I slid into home for the go-ahead run,” said Khetzke.

It was a jovial atmosphere. We’d won that day’s game by a score of 5-2, with a second splendid performance by Butcher Block, and we were off to a 3-1 start. Now we were relaxing.

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'Rachel Corrie' Controversy Comes to LA

By Ed Rampell

Ian Flanders
Samara Frame as Rachel Corrie at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum.

The controversy surrounding “My Name is Rachel Corrie” has followed the play to Los Angeles. The one-woman show, starring Samara Frame as the 23-year-old American activist who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003, opened this month at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, an outdoor theater space in Topanga Canyon.

According to artistic director Ellen Geer, the theater decided to go ahead with the production despite pressure — and threats — from pro-Israel activists.

“The pressure was directed to me,” Geer said. “They were personal to me, saying my own father [Will Geer, who played Grandpa Walton on the 1970s TV series “The Waltons”] would be upset.”

Geer said that the pressure came not from organized groups, but from pro-Israel “individuals acting on their own.”

“We had a wonderful, wonderful conversation with the Jewish Federation,” she said. “They of course couldn’t back the production because they don’t agree with it. But they talked about how they understood what it was we were doing; I was quite impressed with them.”

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Monday Music: Making a Loving Mockery of Modern Orthodoxy

By Binyomin Ginzberg

It all started with a video that went viral.

Shortly after The Groggers’ frontman L.E. Staiman got back from studying in yeshiva in Israel, he began recording punk songs with quirky Jewish-themed concepts. The demos got positive feedback from friends, but he was told that there was no demographic that would “get” his songs.

Then he wrote “Get,” an anti-love song about how a husband in a failing marriage needs to give his wife a get (bill of divorce). The song featured a hooky chorus: “You gotta get, get, get, get, give her a get… ’cause she don’t love you no mo’.” A quickly produced, low-budget music video for the song, directed by a film school student and featuring a pick-up band of musician friends, went viral when it was released in early 2010.

Agunah activists quickly adopted “Get” as an anthem and the response convinced Staiman to create The Groggers, a Modern Orthodox pop-punk quartet. The current incarnation of the band features Staiman on guitars and vocals, together with guitarist Ari Friedman, bassist C.J. Glass, and a drummer who prefers to remain anonymous due to the controversial nature of the material.

A few months after “Get,” the band released a follow-up video, “Eishes Chayil,” which featured a cameo appearance by Jewish singer and guitarist Rav Shmuel, followed by another single called “Upper West Side Story.” All of these tracks are included on The Groggers’ debut album, “There’s No ‘I’ In Cherem,” which was released last month.

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A Night of Music, Poetry, and a Whole Bunch of Jews

By Forward Staff

Artists and audience members filled The Living Theatre last night for the Forward’s Jewish Art for the New Millenium event, featuring Jessica Lurie, Ammiel Alcalay and Marc Ribot.

In addition to stellar performances by each of the artists, the audience was treated to a spontaneous collaboration between the three performers, as well as a rousing panel discussion about the intersection of art, Judaism and avant-garde aesthetics.

Stay tuned for the next Jewish Art For the New Millenium event in the coming months, and see below for more photos, courtesy of Dan Sagarin.

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