The Arty Semite

Paul Simon Wows Crowd in Tel Aviv

By Sara Miller

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Bar-On
Paul Simon at a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 21.

It didn’t matter where you sat, stood or danced at Thursday night’s Paul Simon concert in Tel Aviv, the music swirled around you and swept you up. For such a large venue, there was an intimacy normally associated with club gigs, which emanated directly from the artist and extended right to the very back of the stadium, where the crowd danced, cheered and sang along just as enthusiastically as the lucky few at the very front.

There was no warm-up act. The man himself was on stage at almost exactly 8:30, and stayed put for more than two hours. In the sweltering heat of a Tel Aviv summer’s night, he energetically launched himself into song after song, pausing only to switch guitar, thank the crowd, and to make a brief, well-received prayer for peace. There was no bevy of backing dancers, just his standard combo of supremely gifted musicians from all around the world; Thursday night Cameroon and South Africa were represented on the Tel Aviv stage.


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Out and About: Pablo Dylan's Rap Career; What I.B. Singer Left Behind

By Ezra Glinter

Ofir Abe
Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land perform in Tel Aviv.
  • Former Forward staffer Seth Mnookin chronicles the trials and triumphs of the New York Times.

  • An archeological excavation of the ancient Israelite city of Shechem is taking place under the auspices of the Palestinan Department of Antiquities.

  • Bob Dylan’s grandson Pablo has launched a rap career, describing his grandfather as the “the Jay-Z of his time.”

  • A Lebanese belly dancer and an Israeli heavy metal band gave an unusual performance at France’s Hellfest music festival.

  • On the 20th anniversary of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s death, Reed Martin remembers sorting through the writer’s personal effects.

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Wiki Commons
  • Irina Reyn reviews “My New American Life” by Francine Prose, a novel that subverts the traditional immigration myth, but also reinforces it.

  • Philologos charts the influence of Yiddish on the local Amsterdam slang known as Bargoens.

  • Jacob Berkman gives the definitive take on the demise of JDub Records.

  • Lawrence Grossman uncovers the history of philosemitism in Europe and America.

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Amy Winehouse, a Jewish Addition to the 'Forever 27 Club'?

By Forward Staff

Amy Winehouse, the British, Jewish, hard-living soul singer was found dead today in her North London apartment. She was 27.

Getty Images

Given her age, Winehouse is already being compared to other singers and musicians who died at 27, otherwise known as the “Forever 27 Club.” These include Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones (found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool), Jimi Hendrix (sleeping pills), Janis Joplin (probable heroin overdose), Jim Morrison (heart failure) and Kurt Cobain (suicide by shotgun). The cause of Winehouse’s death is “as yet unexplained,” according to London Police.

Whether Winehouse, best known for her critically acclaimed 2006 album “Back To Black” and songs such as “Rehab” and “Tears Dry on Their Own,” deserves inclusion in this august group solely on account of her age is questionable. Winehouse’s recent performances had been especially disappointing, and she was booed off the stage at a June performance in Belgrade for forgetting her lyrics. She subsequently cancelled what was supposed to be a 12-leg European tour. Tellingly, Wikipedia’s “27 Club” page is currently “protected from editing until disputes have been resolved.”

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Friday Film: How To Embrace Your Inner Cat Lady

By Ayelet Dekel

Crossposted from Midnight East

EZ Films

“Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats,” a film by Jorge Gurvich, opened July 21 in Israeli theaters. I saw the film for the first time at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2009, when Rita Zohar won an award for her performance as the movie’s protagonist, Yolanda Moskowitz. Seeing the film again, I was once more drawn to the lives and stories of its characters, perhaps even more so seeing the film on its own, far from the noise and fanfare of a film festival. More surprising to me was re-reading my first impressions of the film and feeling that I still identify entirely with everything I wrote at the time — an excellent reason to repost, almost word for word:

Like Yolanda, I have a complicated relationship with the street cats of Tel Aviv, in which reason and emotion do endless battle. Against all reason, I am convinced that there is a profound wisdom in their gaze — a gaze which opens this movie. The cats come first, confronting the viewer, then Yolanda walks by, immaculately coiffed and groomed, carefully avoiding contact.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yehoshua Kenaz, Rita Zohar, Midnight East, Moni Moshonov, Mrs. Moskowitz and the Cats, Jorge Gurvich, Jerusalem Film Festival, Film, Ayelet Dekel

Black and Jewish? So Are They!

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Funny or Die

“Yeah, uh huh, you know what it is. My nose and ass — they’re both big” is the catchy refrain to this outrageous yet endearing Funny or Die parody, celebrating the idiosyncratic joys of being both black and Jewish.

It’s hard to be put off by the video’s many offensive Jewish and Afro-American stereotypes, for a couple of reasons. First, the parody’s creators, James Davis and Rachel Goldenberg, have done a great job of weaving all those offensive stereotypes together. Second, who can resist the lovely Kali Hawk (“Bridesmaids”) and Katerina Graham (“Vampire Diaries”) cruising through South Central and Pico-Robertson in their minivan (“looks cheap, but we roll deep”)?

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In Song: Mattot

By Martin Stone

James Tissot, “The Women of Midian Led Captive by the Hebrews,” 1896-1900

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

This week’s parsha, Mattot, opens with laws on vows and how to annul them.

The central part of the parsha tells of the war of revenge on Midian, in which the whole tribe is wiped out in revenge for their own attempt to destroy Israel. The spoils are accounted for and tithed.

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An Empty Mental Space

By Erica Brown

Earlier this week, Dr. Erica Brown asked, “What are the Three Weeks, anyway?” and wrote about learning to mourn. Her new book, “In the Narrow Places,” is now available. 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:

Jewish law is based generally on the assumption that our emotions follow our actions. If we act charitably, we will become, over time, more compassionate human beings. We don’t wait for a moment of empathy to hit before we obligate ourselves to give. Yet we are commanded when it comes to certain emotions: We are supposed to love God, supposed to refrain from hate towards others and feel reverence for our parents.

During the Three Weeks, the summer stretch of time that is marked by two fasts commemorating the destruction of the Temples and any other persecution of Jews in history, we are obligated to mourn. Our mourning consists of many behaviors designed to minimize our sense of joy. But if you look carefully at the Shulkhan Arukh, the 16th-century code of Jewish law written by Rabi Joseph Karo, you notice a small but stunning appeal to the emotions.

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Jazz for Thinking People

By Ben Shalev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Mark Wilson

Jonathan Greenstein is a young saxophone player who lives and performs in Tel Aviv. His debut album “Thinking,” on the Spanish label Fresh Sound, takes him elegantly from the category of promising jazz musician to that of jazz musician who is keeping his promise, and it’s a pleasure to be an ear witness to this transition.

Don’t look for the revolutionary fervor of an artist just starting out. The album title says it — “Thinking.” However, apart from that kind of challenge, the album has nearly everything: excellent melodies, interesting dynamics, playing that thinks deeply but doesn’t forget to feel, a good ensemble of musicians. Perhaps the sound hasn’t crystallized into an entirely original identity, but it’s undoubtedly heading that way.


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Slideshow: A Festival of Exile

By Ezra Glinter

It takes some nerve to call a festival the “Golus Festival.” Golus, meaning exile or Diaspora, is usually something bemoaned in Jewish tradition. But from July 14 to 17, for approximately 60 people in (the appropriately named) Goshen, New York, Golus was something to celebrate.

Organized by the creators of Yiddish Farm as a foretaste of this summer’s three-week-long program in Maryland, the festival included performances by bands such as Stero Sinai and Fish Street Klezmer, and workshops on challah baking, dance, and klaf making. Sounds like good times were had in Golus!

View a slideshow of photographs from the Golus Festival:

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Captain America: Ironic Nostalgia or American Interventionism?

By John Semley

America Alone: Chris Evans as Captain America, surrounded by extra-evil Hydra soldiers. Image courtesy of Jay Maidment / Marvel Studios.

“Don’t win the war without me,” the scrawny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) pleads to his pal, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), in the first sepia-toned reel of Joe Johnston’s excellent “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Anyone who has a passing familiarity with the 70-year publication history of the Captain America comics knows that Rogers, a runty kid from Brooklyn with a singular desire to serve his country, emerges from a secret military experiment as Captain America, the so-called “Sentinel of Liberty”: a bastion of American will, military might and do-goodery more formidable than Uncle Sam himself.

In 1940, when Captain America was brought to life in the pages of Timely Comics by two Jewish kids from Manhattan, writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby, he was deliberately crafted as an allegory for American interventionism. As if his red, white and blue getup wasn’t obvious enough, Cap carried a shield that bore a canny resemblance to the logo of the anti-war America First Committee, robbing the isolationists of their own iconography. The first issue of “Captain America,” released a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, featured the image of its hero socking Adolf Hitler on the jaw. It moved more than 1 million copies, outselling such news publications as Time magazine. The message was vital: The United States was a global super-soldier, and it was its duty to intervene. In short, “Don’t win the war without me.”

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The Arty Semite Guide to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Part One

By Ezra Glinter

It’s the rare Jewish community that doesn’t have its own Jewish film festival these days, and major events happen each year in cities like New York, Boston and Atlanta. But the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, founded in 1980, is the granddaddy of them all. Starting today and continuing over the next two-and-a-half weeks, the 31st edition of the SFJFF features almost 40 full-length films, as well as numerous shorts and other programs. While The Arty Semite and the Arts & Culture section of the Forward will be featuring reviews of some of these films in the coming days and weeks, many of them we’ve covered already at festivals and screenings elsewhere. Here is a selection of our critics’ views on the first week of the SFJFF’s offerings. Visit the SFJFF website for screening times and locations, and check back here next week for our views on the rest of the festival’s films.


”Rabies” (July 21): “Rabies” has been billed as Israel’s first horror flick although, reviewing the film at the Tribeca Film Festival, Jordana Horn questioned that label. Still, she concludes that “Rabies” is a successful and entertaining stab at the horror genre.

”Strangers No More” (July 23): One of the most buzzed-about documentaries to come out of Israel this year, ”Strangers No More” depicts Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School, where students from 48 different countries share classrooms. As filmmaker Kirk Simon told Allison Kaplan Sommer, “Tolerance and peace is a way of life for these children and this school. It is completely ironic, in one of the most stressful regions of the world, that such an oasis exists.”

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Three Kangaroo Poems From Judith Baumel

By Jake Marmer

Motherhood and growing up in the Bronx are the two main threads running through Judith Baumel’s recent poetry collection “The Kangaroo Girl” (GenPop Books, 2011). Gaining force with each new poem, these themes grow into personal mythologies that lend themselves to mirth, nostalgia and philosophy.

The collection, of course, is not limited to these two subjects. In fact, the variety of ideas and forms filling the book makes it seem that Baumel is capable of doing anything, and of doing it with virtuosity and wit. The poem “Hem Stitch Hemi Stichs” uses a knitting pattern for its form (the title puns on the word “stich,” which is Greek for a verse or line of poetry), while “Winchester” consists of a sequence of “dialogs” with the medieval chronicler of King Richard I, who was known for his violence against the Jews, and whose words and actions serve as a basis for author’s exploration of her own identity.

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Hipsters and History on the Lower East Side

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree


Traipsing around the Lower East Side on a beastly hot summer day, I had lots of company. The streets were filled with tourists, shoppers and the cool cats who now call that downtown neighborhood their home. Most visitors, I suspect, were in search of the fabled hipster haven that the Lower East Side has become of late. As for me, I was in search of history.

It’s hard to find. The Lower East Side, that “great ghetto” of the late 19th and early 20th century, is now a living and breathing palimpsest of past and present. Sleek glass condominiums nestle, cheek by jowl, with the area’s characteristic brick tenements, while Katz’s Delicatessen, whose stock in trade is a hot pastrami sandwich, is just yards away from il laboratio del gelato, a bright, clean, laboratory-like space that purveys all manner of gelati, from pink pepper tarragon to thai chili chocolate.

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Sayed Kashua and Omri Herzog Win Bernstein Literary Prize

By Maya Sela

Crossposted from Haaretz

Author Sayed Kashua and literary critic Dr. Omri Herzog are the winners of the Bernstein Prize for 2011. Kashua received the NIS 50,000 prize for an original novel in Hebrew for “Second Person Singular” (Keter Books). He writes a weekly column in Haaretz Magazine. Herzog was awarded the NIS 15,000 prize for literary criticism in the daily press, for three reviews that appeared in his column in Haaretz Books.

Natasha Mozgovaya
Bernstein prize-winner Sayed Kashua

The jury cited Kashua’s novel for its “fascinating and satirical look at Israeliness and especially the Arab-Israeli mind, a topic that has barely been reflected in Hebrew literature… The novel addresses the split identity of the Arab Israeli, with its contradictory wishes and its impossible yearnings,” professors Michael Gluzman, Gabriel Zoran and Avidov Lipsker wrote. “Courageously (but also with considerable humor), Kashua depicts his characters as Arabs who are becoming educated and enlightened, abandoning the village and coming to the city out of the aspiration to develop and become a part of the general, Jewish society. This story, which echoes the plots of the Hebrew enlightenment during the period of the Jewish revival, sharpens — for both the characters and the readers — questions of belonging, identity and identification.”

The jury called “Second Person Singular” an important work in the emerging trend of Arabs who write in Hebrew, “which challenges the boundaries of Hebrew literary discourse and offers a complex and challenging look at Israeli society as a multicultural society.” Kashua welcomed the announcement, saying on Monday: “My son was discharged from neonatal intensive care today and we are considering naming him Bernstein. I am frightened with happiness at the good things that have happened to me today.”


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Out and About: Jewish Superheroes; Are Israeli Books Too Cheap?

By Ezra Glinter

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios

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Lesbian Couple Thrown Out of Gertrude Stein Exhibit for Holding Hands

By Forward Staff

If one security guard had his way, holding hands would be forbidden to lesbian couples at Gertrude Stein exhibits.


According to the San Francisco Chronicle, two women were thrown out of the Contemporary Jewish Museum on July 17 after being told that they were not allowed to hold hands on the premises. Daryl Carr, a spokesperson for the museum, told The Arty Semite that the guard, who works for a private security company, was not representing museum policy.

That’s a relief. If a gay couple can’t hold hands in San Francisco, at an exhibit devoted to one of the most famous lesbian artists in history, where could they?

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How a Ukrainian Refugee Became Germany's Top Russian Translator

By Myra Mniewski

Courtesy of Cinema Guild

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

It is not by chance that Vadim Jendreyko’s documentary, “The Woman With the 5 Elephants,” about an 87-year-old Russian-to-German translator, opens with the image of a train crossing a bridge. As the lights from the windows of the moving train flicker through the night, Svetlana Geier’s voice recites:

Dear friend, do you not see that everything we see is but reflections of that which is invisible to our sight? Dear friend, do you not hear that life’s reverberating noise is but the echo of transcendent harmonies? Dear friend, do you not sense that nothing in the world apart from this exists: that one heart speaks to another wordlessly?

She is reading this passage in German, words she translated from the Russian, words that amuse her because they refer to saying something without words. This thrills her because if something is said wordlessly it does not need to be translated.

Svetlana Geier is considered the world’s most masterful translator of Russian literature into German. The five elephants in the movie’s title refer to Dostoevsky’s great literary works, all of which have been translated by Geier.

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Roberto Saviano, Scourge of the Mafia and Reader of I. B. Singer

By Benjamin Ivry

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, when a man knows he is to die shortly, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

wiki commons

The young Italian Jewish journalist Roberto Saviano, under threat of imminent death from angered mafiosi after his 2006 “Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System”, has decided to concentrate on Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Such, at least, is the conclusion to be drawn from “The Demon and Life,” a 2005 essay newly translated in Saviano’s “Beauty and the Inferno,” a collection of articles out in May from Maclehose Press.

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Learning to Mourn

By Erica Brown

On Monday, Dr. Erica Brown asked, “What are the Three Weeks, anyway?” 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:

We have become who we are as a people not only by celebrating our most joyous collective occasions, like Passover and Shavuot, but also by our capacity to mourn as a group for that which we’ve lost or never experienced. This is best embodied by the demands of the season — the Three Weeks — that are bookended by two fasts all grieving over the loss of the Temples, Jerusalem and other tragedies of Jewish history.

I’ve heard people complain that they can’t get worked up about something that happened so long ago and has little relevance to their lives today. But I imagine that pilgrimage to Jerusalem must have been a remarkable sight. Seeing people stream into the holy city from every possible direction with their families in tow must have created an expansive feeling of pride and unity, one that is hard to imagine in today’s Jewish world.

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