The Arty Semite

Raising an Ethiopian Jewish Child in Georgia

By Melissa Fay Greene

Melissa Fay Greene is the author of “No Biking in the House Without a Helmet.” 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:


Helen

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November 2001, I pulled up to the gates of the compound of the Beta Israel people (disparagingly known as Falashas [strangers]), hoping to be admitted, along with my brand-new daughter, to Shabbat morning services.

Arriving among these religiously-observant and destitute people, of rural origin, by taxi rather than on foot was likely to make a poor impression. But I’d known no one in the area to ask for Shabbat hospitality and my hotel stood half a city away from this dusty ramshackle neighborhood of mud huts and corrugated tin roofs. It was my first trip to Ethiopia. I’d flown seven thousand miles to report for the New York Times Magazine on conditions among some of Africa’s orphans of HIV/AIDS — which eventually gave rise to my book, “There Is No Me Without You” (Bloomsbury, 2007) — and to meet a 5-year-old girl named Helen, whom my family was adopting.

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Q&A: Jon Favreau on Spielberg, 'Iron Man' and Being a Model Actor

By Curt Schleier

Jon Favreau (right) with Daniel Craig on the set of ‘Cowboys and Aliens.’ Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

Jon Favreau, director of the big summer tentpole film, “Cowboys and Aliens,” grew up in the Forest Hills section of New York, the son of a Jewish mother and an Italian/French Canadian father. He got his first break with a starring role in “Rudy,” the 1993 film about the little Notre Dame football player who could. He achieved prominence, however, as writer and star of the 1996 indie favorite, “Swingers.” Other roles followed, but like everyone in Hollywood, what he really wanted to do was direct.

Unlike many would-be directors, Favreau has been extraordinarily successful, helming films such as “Elf” and the first two “Iron Man” movies. His latest, Cowboys and Aliens, is an adaptation of a graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde. It opened July 29 and tied with “Smurfs” as the number one picture of the weekend, grossing over $36 million in the U.S. Favreau spoke last week with The Arty Semite about his Jewish mother and mother-in-law, why he gave up directing the successful “Iron Man” franchise, and how intimidating it is working with Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard.

Curt Schleier: Were you raised Jewish?

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Out and About: Rembrandt's Jesus; New Amy Winehouse Album?

By Ezra Glinter

Rembrandt Harmenzoon Van Rijn, ‘Portrait of Christ,’ c. 1655-57. Courtesy of The Hyde Collection.
  • Harold Bloom explains why Jonah is his favorite book of the Bible.

  • A new exhibit in Philadelphia brings to light Rembrandt’s Jewish Jesus.

  • A posthumous Amy Winehouse album is in the works.

  • Officials at the Israeli embassy in Athens were dispatched to see a Roger Waters show and to look for anti-Semitic content.

  • Woody Allen will open up for a PBS documentary in November titled “Seriously Funny: The Comic Art of Woody Allen.”

  • Indian film critics have panned a Bollywood film about the Third Reich titled “From Gandhi to Hitler” — which is at least an improvement on its original title, “Dear Friend Hitler.”

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios
  • In our Summer movie special, John Semley casts a critical but approving eye on the re-imagined exploits of Captain America;

  • Jenny Hendrix has some harsh words for “Sarah’s Key,” a film about France’s 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv roundup;

  • Myra Mniewski relishes the life’s work of the most accomplished translator of Russian literature into German;

  • Elizabeth Stone goes through the ups and downs of a family with an autistic child in “Mabul” at the San Francisco Film Festival,

  • and Olga Gershenson is impressed by “The Law in these Parts,” a prize-winning documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival about Israel’s legal system in the occupied territories.

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The Arty Semite Guide to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Week Two

By Ezra Glinter

Last week, we provided a guide to the first week of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, based on our previous film coverage on The Arty Semite and in the Arts & Culture section of the Forward. Running until August 8, the Festival has plenty of great programming in its second half as well, much of which is highlighted below. Visit the SFJFF website for screening times and locations.

ELDAD REFAELI

“Torn” (July 30): In his late 60s, Polish priest Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel discovered that he was Jewish, and his parents had been killed in the Holocaust. Though he decided to make Aliyah and learn more about Judaism, he was not willing to renounce his faith, leading the State of Israel to reject his application for citizenship under the Law of Return. In this wrenching documentary, writes Renee Ghert-Zand, filmmaker Ronit Kertsner looks at the difficult decisions Weksler-Waszkinel has made, both for, and against, his faith.

“The Matchmaker” (July 30): Set in Haifa in the aftermath of the Six Day War, Avi Nesher’s “The Matchmaker” follows a matchmaker and Holocaust survivor named Yankele Bride and his young protégé, Arik. Through the eyes of his 16-year-old protagonist, Nesher explores the coming-of-age of a teenager and a country dealing with the trauma of the Holocaust as well as more recent military triumph. “It’s about accepting people who are not like us,” Nesher told Ron Dicker. “These are people that I know, people I relate to.”

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How to Lose Yourself in Jewish Lithuania

By Renee Ghert-Zand

ANDREW DOBROWOLSKYJ

The Summer Literary Seminars are about “getting lost in a findable context,” said the program’s founder and director, Mikhail Iossel, somewhat oxymoronically.

“It’s about losing yourself on a journey with others with a shared interest in literature and creative writing,” he went on to explain about the seminars that have been taking place since 1998 in St. Petersburg, Montreal, Nairobi and Vilnius.

Participants in the programs participate in intensive creative writing and literary workshops, and meet with local historians, journalists and writers. The Vilnius program, which begins this year on July 31, has a special “Jewish Lithuania” track for those interested in delving deeply into Vilna’s rich and deep Jewish past.

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Friday Film: There's No Therapy Like Dolphin Therapy

By Ayelet Dekel

Crossposted from Midnight East

An adventure of the heart, mind and sea, “Dolphin Boy,” screening August 1 to 15 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, dives into the blue mystery of the ocean and its redemptive powers with all the suspense of a thriller. Written and directed by Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir, the film tells the story of a young man, Morad, who was savagely beaten in 2006 after sending an innocent text message to a girl in his class. Although he recovered from his physical injuries, he became detached from the world and unable to speak. Five years later, at the film’s Israeli premiere on July 14, 2011, Morad stood onstage in front of a full house, a contemporary hero and a living testimony to an amazing recovery.

Morad’s family, with their unswerving devotion and their willingness to do and try anything that might help him, is at the heart of this story. His father, Asad, leaves his job and home to take Morad to the Dolphin Reef in Eilat, while his mother and sister remain in their village of of Qalansua in northern Israel.

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AIDS Epidemic as Echo of the Holocaust

By Michael Kaminer

‘Jorge, February 3, 1994,’ by AA Bronson and Jorge Zontal.

Until two of them passed away of complications from AIDS in 1994, the art collective known as General Idea produced an enormous body of intellectually engaging, provocative, and savagely witty work, much of which explored notions of identity and social control. On July 30, the trio will get its first comprehensive retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario when “Haute Culture: General Idea” opens for a five-month run.

Though none of the work on display carries Jewish themes, much of General Ideas oeuvre confronts fascism and manipulation in multiple forms — familial, sexual, political and media-spawned. As surviving member AA Bronson told The Arty Semite at a press preview this week, his late collaborator Jorge Zontal was born Slobodan Saia-Levy in an Italian concentration camp in 1944.

Zontal, who formed General Idea with Bronson and the late Felix Partz, was “a Sephardic Jew whose family originated in Spain,” Bronson said. “But Jorge was never circumcised. The family wanted to pass as Roman Catholic.”

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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


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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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


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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