The Arty Semite

The Lions of Zion, Chapter Seven

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 six chapters here.

Dress Up a Broom

It was mid-morning on Friday when we stepped off the Crescent Limited in Pennsylvania Station. Reb Shlomo led us out onto 8th Avenue.

“Welcome to New York City. We’re staying at the New Yorker Hotel, just up the street here, but for those of you who call this town home, I’ll allow you to spend Shabbes with your families. I’ll be at the hotel. I expect you back for a team meeting on Saturday night and I don’t want any funny business. The Giants’ll be waiting for us on Thursday, for Opening Day. We don’t play or practice on Shabbes, thanks to the Almighty, Commissioner Landis, and Fishy Levine, may his memory be blessed — which means we’ll only have four days to get back to good form.”

We were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking foot traffic. Amos Gold was trying to get a good look at the giant stone eagles perched atop the train station. He had an expression on his face as if he was expecting them to deliver a present right on top of his head. Meanwhile, Butcher Block, Bennie the Egyptian, Fayvl Melamid, Khotsh Greenbaum and Pretty Perchick — the players who came from New York or close by — were chomping at the bit to get home as soon as possible.

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The 'Feed Me Bubbe' Book: Behind the Scenes at the Photoshoot

By Avrom Honig

Avrom Honig is the co-author, with his bubbe, of “Feed Me Bubbe” — originally a hit YouTube series, and now a book. 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:

Greetings, everyone! Let me first introduce myself: My name is Avrom, and I am co-author of an exciting new book based on a hit online and televised cooking show entitled “Feed Me Bubbe.” On the show, my bubbe works on making her family favorite dishes. (By the way, if you don’t know, bubbe is the Yiddish word for “Grandmother.”)

When we first started out, I was just trying to make my mark on Hollywood, trying to find a job. As any good applicant knows, having a demo reel is the key to success. After having a family discussion, we finally decided that what would make the most sense is for me to take a camera and film Bubbe making her favorite food at home.

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Hanoch Levin's Jokes About Death

By Michael Handelzalts

Crossposted from Haaretz

In the final scene of Hanoch Levin’s “The Suitcase Packers,” a comedy with eight funerals now revived at the Cameri, the surviving characters stand around “this cart” pulled by the gravedigger, holding the white-sheeted body of Henya Gerlenter. Her son Elhanan (Dror Keren, who has a Levinesque childish innocence) is possibly the only leading role; all others are supporting parts.

Gadi Dagon

Here the usual eulogizer, Alberto (played by the clumsily charming Motti Katz) has died and — “This is how leaders emerge” — is replaced by Mottke Tsippori (played with ceaseless energy by Yoav Levy).

Mottke says: “…apart from hypochondria there had to be something else (in the deceased), things that didn’t get said, a life that didn’t get lived… God, you have given us funerals to remind us of our lives. Please don’t let us forget this cart and this sheet among the funerals.”


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Forward Staff

Rembrandt Harmenzoon Van Rijn, ‘Portrait of Christ,’ c. 1655-57. Courtesy of The Hyde Collection

Albert Maysles Making Documentary About Style Icon Iris Apfel

By Renee Ghert-Zand

How many 90-year-old women start designing their own fashion accessories line for the Home Shopping Network and get to be the subject of a new documentary by a renowned filmmaker? Not many. But then again, Iris Apfel is not your usual nonagenarian.

Getty Images

In the sunset of her life Apfel, style icon and interior designer, has received the most attention and been the most appreciated. As much as you may dislike her exotic and riotous taste (“A more-is-more mix of haute couture and hippie trimmings that appears at a glance to have been blended in a Cuisinart,” is how Ruth La Ferla referred to it in The New York Times), it is hard to take your eyes off her eye-popping outfits and oversized round eyeglasses.

While those glasses are going to be the inspiration for a line of scarves that Apfel will be hocking on HSN, it is her larger-than-life personality that has attracted Albert Maysles (director of “Grey Gardens”) and his production company. Apfel is a woman with a lot of moxie, a lot to say, and lots and lots of clothes — most of them stored in a huge warehouse. “She’s wonderfully strong-willed, opinionated and single-minded,” Bradley Kaplan, president of products at Maysles Films, told the Times. “She’s not a waffler.”

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In Song: Shoftim

By Martin Stone

Charles Foster, ‘The City of Refuge.’

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

This week’s parsha, Shoftim, deals with the setting up of a legal system, a monarchy (which is optional) and the role of a prophet. Then the laws dealing with murder and manslaughter are reviewed, as well as the laws of warfare.

The parsha ends with an enigmatic command to behead a calf if a human body is found outside a village, as an expression of responsibility on the part of the village elders for the safety of the area.

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Brave New World of Settler Poetry

By Eli Eliahu

Crossposted from Haaretz

Tomer Appelbaum
Elhanan Nir, one of several prominent poets to have emerged from the religious world in recent years.

When Elhanan Nir’s first book of poetry was published, he showed it to his father. His father, learned in the Holy Scriptures, examined the book and asked, “Yes, but how do you know all this? On what are you relying? What are your sources?”

“The heart,” Nir answered. “My source is the heart.”

This dialogue teaches us a lot about the gap between modern lyric poetry and the religious world in which Nir was raised. At a time when poetry focuses primarily on the individual and his unique experiences of life, religious texts generally focus on a social group, rely on tradition and deal with practical matters.


Friday Film: Eichmann in Argentina

By Schuyler Velasco

Can a murderer be someone with no literal blood on his hands? Someone who never gave a direct order to kill? In the case of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader who organized the transport of millions of Jews to death camps during the Holocaust, the answer was a resounding, unanimous “yes.” After years in hiding, Eichmann was caught in 1961 and put on trial in Jerusalem, where he was sentenced to death and hanged for his role in the Shoah. The affair is well documented in Hannah Arendt’s controversial, landmark book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem.”

However, before being captured and brought to judgment, Eichmann spent a decade hiding out in Buenos Aires with his family, working a series of odd jobs under the name Ricardo Klement. In a turn of rather puzzling behavior for a fugitive trying to keep a low profile, he sat down for a series of taped interviews with Dutch journalist and Nazi sympathizer Willem Sassen.

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Q&A: Vanessa Hidary on Jon Stewart, Dating, and Being the Hebrew Mamita

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Those who appreciate Vanessa Hidary’s unique, fierce voice in her solo performances as the Hebrew Mamita can now enjoy her words in print, as well. “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega,” Hidary’s first book, is a compelling compilation that paints a word picture of a bold Jewish woman ahead of her time. It is a well-organized collection of autobiographical poems, excerpts from her one-woman show “Culture Bandit,” childhood writing and memorabilia, and newly written long-form narratives.

Much of “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega” is set on the multi-cultural Upper West Side of Manhattan, where Hidary grew up in a liberal family of mixed Syrian-Russian descent. It is not hard to perceive the nascent Hebrew Mamita in the young Hidary, who attended local public schools and who — despite having attended Hebrew school and Jewish camps — socialized almost exclusively with Latino and African-American friends.

Hidary still lives on the same block where she grew up. Although known primarily as a spoken word artist, she prefers to be referred to as a writer and solo performer. The Arty Semite spoke to Hidary about Jewish comedy, the vicissitudes of dating, and being the Hebrew Mamita.

Renee Ghert-Zand: how would you describe “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega?”

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Are E-Books Kosher?

By Wayne Hoffman

Earlier this week, Wayne Hoffman wrote about a funny thing, the meaning behind the names of a few of his characters, and a gay Jewish reading list. 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:

There’s a scene in my novel “Sweet Like Sugar” where Benji, the main character, finds himself alone in an Orthodox rabbi’s house. The first thing he does is check out the bookshelves that line every wall: religious commentary in the study, nonfiction (in English and Hebrew and occasionally Yiddish) covering everything from ancient Jewish history to the Holocaust in the living room, coffee table books about Israeli art and archaeology in the dining room, kosher cookbooks in the kitchen, even a shelf of poetry in the bedroom. Benji notes the differences between the rabbi’s collection and that of his Conservative parents, which has less scripture but more fiction (Roth, Malamud, Sholom Aleichem), as well as a smattering of non-Jewish books: Civil War histories, Tom Clancy novels, biographies of Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Two Jewish households,” Benji muses to himself.

Benji can tell a lot about people by the books they keep. Everyone can. But for how much longer?

We all know about the rise of digital books, whether they’re on your Kindle or your Nook or your iPad. Print editions, meanwhile, are on the decline.

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Inside Job Fills the Void on Israel's Local Punk Scene

By Dafna Arad

Crossposed from Haaretz

The Israeli punk scene had some nice successes abroad this summer. Almost every band with a year of experience, some self-confidence and an album in the works went on an overseas tour, which included performances at several big festivals and in many small clubs, in Europe or the United States. But with all due respect to the drummers, bassists and guitarists who went to seek their fortunes abroad, the Israeli punk audience didn’t go anywhere, and didn’t stay quiet either.

That created a golden opportunity for young bands, thirsting for an audience and spotlight, to establish themselves in the vacuum that was created. In the past month, for example, the name of the fresh punk band Inside Job appeared in almost every advertisement for punk gigs. Prior to that, nobody had heard of the band.


Out and About: Too Much of Alfred Kazin; Eli Valley Draws His Mom

By Ezra Glinter

  • Oy! Chicago gets fed up with the Millionaire Matchmaker.

  • Mel Brooks talks to Newsweek/The Daily Beast about Jewish humour and the “cloak of gentile correctness.”

Eli Valley

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Q&A: Director John Madden on Adapting Israeli Thriller 'The Debt'

By Curt Schleier

Getty Images

John Madden is a British director best known for “Shakespeare in Love,” which won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Picture. His latest film is “The Debt,” opening in theaters today. The film is a remake of the 2007 Israeli movie “Ha-Hov,” about the Mossad hunt for Nazi doctor Dieter Vogel, aka, the “Surgeon of Birkenau.” (Read the Forward’s review of the film here.) Madden spoke on the phone with The Arty Semite about creating his characters’ moral dilemmas, the perils of adapting Israeli cinema, and the meaning of “the debt.”

Curt Schleier: How did you get involved with “The Debt”?

John Madden: The producers, Matthew Vaughn and Kris Thykier, sent me a script, which was an adaptation that Matthew and Jane Goldman had made of the Israeli film, “Ha-Hov.” The original was made in Hebrew and made very commendable use of a very, very low budget. I thought the material very provocative and very interesting and when I saw it I set about reconstructing the film.

What changes did you make?

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A Gay Jewish Reading List

By Wayne Hoffman

Earlier this week, Wayne Hoffman wrote about a funny thing and shared the meaning behind the names of a few of his characters. 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:

When I was first coming out 25 years ago, there were precious few books about being gay and Jewish. Thankfully, that’s not the case today. There are enough to fill whole bookcases. But will anyone who isn’t gay read them?

Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry says that non-gay people won’t read books with gay themes — with the notable exception of works by humorists, such as David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, who play their lives for laughs. Straight people can’t relate seriously to gay life, the thinking goes; they don’t know from such things, and they don’t want to know.

Even if there’s a kernel of truth in that notion — and I fear, sadly, that there often is — straight Jewish readers in particular should be able to bridge this culture gap by choosing Jewish gay books: While some of the gay content might be unfamiliar, at least the Jewish content will provide a point of identification.

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More Rock than Be-Bop at the Red Sea Jazz Festival

By Nadav Hollander

Crossposted from Haaretz

Shlomi Shaban was called to the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat to fill slots vacated by musicians who canceled appearances at the last minute. Yet a large portion of singer-pianist Shaban’s interaction with the audience was devoted to bemused reflections about his tenuous connection with the world of jazz.

Orit Pnini

He outlined his personal biography “for anyone who has dropped into this concert without knowing what’s going on.” In 2007, Shaban said, he abandoned the musical genre with which his name had been associated — bebop. Since then, he has basically reinvented himself as an Israeli rock singer.

Anyone who forgave him for his loose connection with jazz (it bears mention that jazz festivals around the world frequently invite performers associated with other popular forms of music), enjoyed an excellent, uplifting performance. Shaban offered crazed, high-spirited renditions of favorites such as “Don’t talk about Arik,” and his performance was distinguished by his characteristic mix of verbal sarcasm and almost violent pounding on the piano keys.


The Life and Loves of Serge Gainsbourg

By Ralph Seliger

Courtesy of Music Box Films

In a remarkable feat for a man who was not considered good looking, Serge Gainsbourg was celebrated as much for his loves as for his art. He began life in Paris as Lucien Ginsburg, the son of Jewish refugees from the 1917 Russian Revolution. Like his parents, he survived the Holocaust in hiding.

The artful and fast-paced French biopic, “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life,” starring Eric Elmosnino, depicts Gainsbourg’s success as a pop musician and his romantic liaisons with the movie superstar Brigitte Bardot and other women. He was married four times, including to the English actress and singer, Jane Birkin, who is the mother of the best known of his four children, the actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. It is a bizarre curiosity that his last wife — an actress, singer and model known by the stage name of Bambou — is the granddaughter of Friedrich Paulus, the German field marshal who surrendered at Stalingrad.

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Q&A: Judy Gold on Comedy, Marriage, and the Tallest Woman You Know

By Curt Schleier

Like many people of a certain age, Judy Gold grew up on television sitcoms. They proved to be a tremendous influence, providing a moral compass on issues such as racism (All in the Family), poverty (Good Times), single motherhood (One Day at a Time), homosexuality (Three’s Company), and unmarried professional womanhood (The Mary Tyler Moore Show).

Getty Images

More than laughs and life lessons, they also offered grist for the comedienne’s latest off-Broadway effort, “The Judy Show: My Life as a Sitcom,” which was recently extended until October 22 at DR2 Theatre. Gold, who is an observant Jew, 6 feet 3 inches tall and a lesbian mother of two, starts the show with a phone call from her mom, who wonders why she isn’t on Broadway, before moving on to discuss summer camp (Jews must send their children, “it’s in the Torah, the Book of Exodus”) and marriage.

After the performance, a small coterie of fans awaits Judy in the lobby. One, a tall woman, commiserates with Gold about the problems of height. Another is a 23-year-old who claims she’s Judy’s biggest fan, has memorized all her routines and wants her advice on whether she should come out to her parents.

Gold, who lives with a long-time partner, spoke to The Arty Semite about her life, loves and Judaism.

Curt Schleier: What did you say to that young woman who was waiting for you after the show and asked you about coming out?

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What’s in a Name?

By Wayne Hoffman

On Monday, Wayne Hoffman wrote about a funny thing. 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:

When it comes to a novel, what’s in a name? There are often dozens of characters in a novel, and some of their names have stories behind them. Others, less than it might seem.

In my first draft of “Sweet Like Sugar” I had a very good reason — I can’t remember it now, but I remember that it was a very good reason — that all the characters my protagonist dated had to have names that started with the letter “C.” My husband Mark, who has been the first person to read my work for more than two decades, told me this was confusing. I revealed my very good reason for keeping the names despite the confusion, and he assured me that my reason was not so very good. He was right, of course; that’s why he’s the first person to read my work.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter Six

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 five chapters here.

A Doubleheader in Atlanta

Two young men in white uniforms and blue ball caps were waiting for us when we pulled into Atlanta’s Terminal Station.

Sholem aleykhm,” said the slightly taller one, and they both thrust out their hands. With wrists like beanpoles, they certainly didn’t look like athletes.

“Gary Levy,” said the slightly smaller one. “This is my twin brother, Eli.”

Aleykhm sholem.” Reb Shlomo took their hands. “How can we thank you?”

“We just want to play baseball, really. Our father — that’s Moses Levy — says together we don’t have half a head for business. I think he wanted us as far from the store as possible. When we told him about the baseball team, he couldn’t send us here fast enough.”

“Whatever the reasons, we’re grateful.”

The brothers rushed us outside and into several waiting taxis.

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Ben-Gurion Relative From Mexico Becomes New 'Jewish Idol'

By Elka Looks and Alona Ferber

Crossposted from Haaretz

Mexican singer Adam Kleinberg, a relative of Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, won first prize at the 2011 Hallelujah singing competition last week, as local families, seniors and music enthusiasts gathered in Ramat Hasharon’s central square.

Randy Pressman
Adam Kleinberg, winner of the 2011 Hallelujah Competition.

Hallelujah, which has been on a 17-year hiatus, returned with a bang as 12 finalists took to the stage with the hope of becoming the next Jewish idol. Thirty contestants from around the world spent three weeks touring, training and competing until the top finalist were selected.

Hallelujah is not just a singing competition. It is a vehicle to foster a connection to Israel and the Hebrew language, with all the participants, aged 16 to 26, singing a Hebrew song of their choice. The winner of the competition will record a duet with an Israeli singer, tour Jewish communities worldwide in order to promote their music and also receive a cash prize of 8,000 dollars.


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