The Arty Semite

How Israel Once Solved a Housing Crisis

By Noam Dvir

Crossposted from Haaretz

Aviad Bar-Nes

On February 27, 1936, the cornerstone was laid for Kiryat Avoda, a new workers’ neighborhood built on the sands south of Tel Aviv. It spread over 3,000 dunams and became an important link in establishing Holon at the start of the 1940s. Kiryat Avoda was supposed to solve the housing shortage for municipal workers and to create a socialist utopia in the spirit of Histadrut Ha’ovdim (the Workers’ Federation).

Accordingly, educational and cultural institutions were built: a conservatory, a public library and a school, alongside small shops and a medical clinic. In the heart of the neighborhood a green strip one and a half kilometers long (today’s Herzl Park) was allocated for relaxation and leisure at the end of a day’s work.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Intellectuals for Palestine; Jerry Leiber's Oscar Wilde

By Ezra Glinter

  • In this week’s New Yorker, Alex Ross discusses Mieczysław Weinberg’s Holocuast opera, “The Passenger.”

  • A new petition initiated by playwright Joshua Sobol and poet Taha Muhammad Ali calls on Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals to support a Palestinian state.

  • Israel is using tax breaks and terrorism insurance to lure Hollywood production.

  • Before he died, lyricist Jerry Leiber had been working on a nearly-completed musical about Oscar Wilde.

  • Berlin’s municipal library is set to return about 70 books confiscated from their owners during the Nazi era.

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

FOCUS FEATURES
  • Susan Comninos reviews “The Arrogant Years,” a new memoir from former Forward managing editor Lucette Lagnado.

  • Jordana Horn goes to see “The Debt,” a Hollywood remake of an Israeli spy thriller.

  • Benjamin Ivry revisits the controversy surrounding French modernist and anti-Semite Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

  • Misha Berson reviews a new biography of playwright Wendy Wasserstein.

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Friday Film: Paul Rudd as Holy Fool in 'Our Idiot Brother'

By Gwen Orel

Nicole Rivelli/The Weinstein Company

I don’t know when I’ve seen a mean hippie on screen before. But that’s just one reason to see “Our Idiot Brother.” Another is Paul Rudd’s adorable, innocent character, Ned. He’s a latter day hippie we first meet selling vegetables at a farmer’s market. A cop flatters his zucchini, then coaxes him to sell him some pot. Oh, Ned. That good heart of his trumps his common sense every time.

Written by I.L. Peretz descendent Evgenia Peretz, with her husband David Schisgall, and directed by her brother Jesse, the movie is a hymn to family in all its idiosyncracies.

Ned’s not disabled, but you can see why his ambitious sisters label him an idiot — he’s as trusting as any Gimpel. He even confesses to his parole agent (Sterling Brown) that he got high in frustration, and when the officer says “I didn’t hear that,” repeats himself. Ned just doesn’t get sarcasm or meanness. “If you put your trust out there, people will rise to the occasion,” he affirms. The worst insult he can think of? “You know what? WOW.”

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In Song: Re'eh

By Martin Stone

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

This week’s parsha, Re’eh, begins with instructions on how the Israelites must behave in order to keep the land of Canaan and bond with it successfully. God informs us that He will choose a place as the center of religious worship, and that we are allowed to eat meat elsewhere, but only outside of the sacrificial framework. Then we are reminded which animals we are allowed to eat.

We are warned to beware of false prophets or other people that may lead us astray into idol worship and we learn the foundations of social justice and how to treat a Hebrew “slave.”

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Friday Film: Even Mandy Moore Can't Bring Life to British Sex Comedy

By Curt Schleier


“Swinging With the Finkels,” a 2010 British comedy, opens August 26 in South Florida and Palm Springs. My guess is that the distributors had visions of West Palm Beach and Del Ray clubhouses emptying as busloads of Jewish senior citizens rushed to see the film.

After all, outside of the local playground, how often do we see a landsman swing?

But first, three words of advice: Not. So. Fast.

American Ellie (Mandy Moore) and Alvin (Martin Freeman) met at a British University. They’ve been married long enough that the spark is gone, something that bothers Ellie more than her spouse.

“We used to be all over each other,” she points out.

His response: “You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re tired, I guess.”

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Pro-Israel? Anti-Israel? No, Just Israel

By Darin Strauss

Earlier this week, Darin Strauss wrote about wrestling with faith and about what we believe. 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:


Last week, the American Jewish Committee renounced a statement made by one of its staffers. The AJC’s Director on Anti-Semitism suggested that some Israel supporters are distorting the 1964 Civil Rights Act when they argue that colleges that hire anti-Israel professors and support anti-Israel rallies are in violation of the law. The Director said that the Israel supporters went too far.

I am a college professor and a Jew and a supporter of the State of Israel, but the issue is too complicated for me to address directly, with anything like authority. But it did remind me — as it probably does you — of dealings I’ve had with relatives. The issue is too divisive to leave many Jewish families untouched.

In my case, I have relatives who will brook no criticism of any Israeli government. (And I’m sure they’d complain that I criticize Israel too quickly.)

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Spirit of Tent Protests in Two New Music Ventures

By Ben Shalev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Tchetchik

Anger, frustration, and a desire to change set ways of thinking are not usually the driving force behind Israeli music. The social protest movement may eventually change that, but until now our musicians have not traditionally challenged authority. When a scream is released, it’s usually by punk or hip-hop bands. Nevertheless, frustration with the way things are — and a strong wish to change the situation — can also sprout from other sources as is evident in two recent cultural initiatives: one, a new record label; the other, a music blog.

The OutNow record label, launched August 23 at the Levontin 7 nightclub in Tel Aviv, seeks to widen the horizons of the Israeli jazz scene. The Cafe Gibraltar blog is devoted to what is often called “world music,” yet at the same time is waging war against this expression and the cultural-political position that it represents. It celebrated its first anniversary August 24 with a show at the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Q&A: Siblings Evgenia and Jesse Peretz on 'Our Idiot Brother'

By Gwen Orel

Getty Images

“Our Idiot Brother,” out in theaters August 26, stars Paul Rudd as Ned, a lovable convict who is sent to jail for selling marijuana to a uniformed cop. Following his release he is booted off the farm by his hostile hippie girlfriend, and so he goes from sister to sister, innocently wreaking havoc.

Rudd has played hilarious turns in “Knocked Up” and “I Love You, Man,” among other movies, but the story is not full of guy gross-out jokes. Instead, “Our Idiot Brother” is a sweet, subtle family comedy, written and directed by adult siblings, Evgenia and Jesse Peretz. Their father is The New Republic Editor Marty Peretz, and they are descendants of the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz. Keeping it in the family, Evgenia, who is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, wrote the film with her husband, David Schisgall. The Arty Semite spoke to Evgenia and Jesse about sibling rivalry, holy fools, and Paul Rudd’s bar mitzvah.

Gwen Orel: Is this a Jewish Family?

Evgenia Peretz: We weren’t thinking was it Jewish or not. Originally, the mother was a little more based on my mother-in-law, a little bit outspoken, opinionated, you might say a little more Jewish-y. Shirley Knight brought something different to it, which in the end I think worked out really well. She was more earth mother, comforting, rather than another person chiming in with her opinions.

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Film Premiere With Free Piano Lessons

By Ariel Zilber

Crossposted from Haaretz

As Tel Avivians hurried home to beat the rush-hour traffic after another start to the workweek, dozens of passersby along the busy intersection between Carlebach and Ha’arbaa Streets were drawn to the plaza facing the Cinematheque, the site of a not-so-ordinary film preview.

Rafi Deloya
Actor Sasson Gabbay at the preview of ‘Restoration,’ at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque.

Seven pianos were scattered throughout the bustling Tel Aviv plaza, where people were treated to free, 10-minute lessons by teachers carefully selected by Melnik Pianos, one of the city’s oldest distributors and importers of pianos.

The event, which mimicked a similar venture in New York earlier this year, was held to mark the premier of “Restoration,” a film starring Sasson Gabbai and Henry David. Set in early 20th-century Tel Aviv, the plot revolves around one family’s effort to save its furniture restoration business by trying to piece together the remains of a highly valued piano that was found by chance.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Jewish Lesbian Poetry for a New Generation

By Hila Ratzabi

When I received my copy of “Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry” (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011), edited by poet Julie R. Enszer, I was surprised at how small the book was. Measuring only about six by four inches, it seems designed to fit easily into a purse, or perhaps not to draw too much attention to itself. However, the volume’s diminutive physical size does not betray its emotional power. This collection packs a punch, and it couldn’t have been published at a more timely moment. With same-sex marriage now legal in New York, this volume is truly a celebration, as its subtitle suggests. And I can’t help but note that it would make a great wedding present or wedding favor for guests.

Some time has passed since the literary world has seen a Jewish lesbian poetry anthology. The previous two — “Nice Jewish Girls” (Persephone Press, 1982) and “The Tribe of Dina” (Beacon Press, 1989) — included both poetry and essays, and covered more generational ground than “Milk and Honey,” which features only poetry, and a majority of the poets are on the younger side. This is not to say that “Milk and Honey” lacks age diversity, but that it set out specifically to publish contemporary poets (no Adrienne Rich or Gertrude Stein) who represent a particular range of experience unique to Jewish lesbians of this generation.

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Out and About: New Director at The Jewish Museum; Hitler, Hitler Everywhere!

By Ezra Glinter

  • The Jewish Museum has chosen Claudia Gould, head of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, as its new director.

  • Speaking of Jewish museums, are there just too many of them?

Courtesy of MoMA
‘Poet Max Herrmann-Neisse,’ one of the three disputed works by George Grosz.
  • Hitler has become a symbol of popular subversion in China.

  • Hitler has taken over television programming at the BBC.

  • Which includes a drama about Hans Litten, a Jewish lawyer who humiliated the future dictator in court.

  • The heirs of George Grosz are trying to recover several paintings that the artist left behind in Berlin, and which are currently owned by the Museum of Modern Art.

Read more


Niche Closed: On the Passing of Samuel Menashe

By Jake Marmer

The niche narrows
Hones one thin
Until his bones
Disclose him

Librado Romero:The New York Times

So wrote poet and sage Samuel Menashe in one of his numerous works addressing death, Menashe’s first Muse and greatest obsession. As he often mentioned in conversation, he became a poet at the age of 19, having survived the notoriously dangerous World War II offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. Although his death on Monday, August 22, at the age of 85, is a loss for the poetry world, it is also a reason to celebrate his encounter with his second love, death’s other side: eternity.

The poem “Niche” is more than just self-reflection, and is almost a prophesy, albeit the kind laced with wit and sarcasm. Menashe himself has been a niche: a poet with the absolutely distinct style, defined by terse, perfectly honed lines. Often half-rhymed, they are reminiscent of folklore or ancient wisdom literature. Moreover, niche is exactly where the poet has resided almost through his whole poetic career. For, while he began writing as a young man and has seen a number of publications both in America and overseas, wider exposure and recognition eluded him until 2004, when, at the age of 78 he became the first recipient of the “Neglected Master’s Award,” given by the Poetry magazine and the Poetry Foundation. Since then, a few editions of his collected poems followed, as well as publications in many of the major literary journals, as well as in the New York Times, the Guardian and on NPR.

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Journal Gives New Impetus to Burgeoning LA Performance Art Scene

By Sammy Loren

Above all else, Los Angeles is a performer’s town. In addition to film, television, reality and theater stars, America’s second largest city now boasts a growing number of performance artists. Whether in galleries, nightclubs, street corners or living rooms, LA-based performance artists have been creating a stir in the City of Angels.

Now this decidedly avant-garde world is about to pried open. On August 11 Native Strategies was launched, a new publication wholly devoted to investigating this expanding genre in Los Angeles. Behind the journal is Jewish artist and emerging curator Brian Getnick.

“I started Native Strategies to fill a void,” said Getnick. “There’s this really organic and vibrant performance art scene that is unique to LA. Yet it lacks a critical element to help push it forward. I want Native Strategies to be that vehicle.”

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What We Believe

By Darin Strauss

On Monday, Darin Strauss wrote about wrestling with faith. 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:


I’ve done an informal poll — I admit, it’s very informal — among Jews I know: What do we believe? A pretty fundamental question, right? And yet there is no consensus of belief, even regarding the most bedrock principles of faith.

What’s more, this belief discrepancy doesn’t exist just between our religion’s big three wings (between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox); it exists within them, too. Ask a few observant Jews what happens to us after we die.

Some will say: “We sit at the hand of God — and the closer we are to Him, the more kindly we had been on Earth.”

Some will say: “We live on, in the memories of our friends.”

Some will say — and these are people who believe, as Madonna does, in the Kabbalah — that there are seven actual heavens.

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Magic and Wonder at the International Festival of Puppet Theater

By Ayelet Dekel

Patricia O’Donovan in ‘A Touch of Light.’ Photo by Ayelet Dekel.

Crossposted from Midnight East

Puppetry is one of the most radical forms of theater I have seen in Israel in recent years. Without fanfare, often working with the simplest materials, puppet artists vanquish the assumptions of popular theater and of “what works.” They create theatrical worlds — beautiful, funny, subversive and sometimes all three at once — imbued with a sense of wonder that speaks to audiences of all ages.

The International Festival of Puppet Theater took place in Jerusalem last week from August 14 to 19. The festival included 38 different productions, both Israeli and international. Had there been “world enough and time” I would have been delighted to see more. The selection of productions I did see revealed different approaches in the use of the stage and materials, yet all the shows had one trait in common: The audiences were spellbound.

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Jazz Lovers Flock to Eilat Undeterred by Fears of Terror

By Revital Levy-Stein

Crossposted from Haaretz

Avraham Kabilu
The opening of the Eilat Jazz Festival on August 21, 2011.

A line of cars snaked into Eilat Monday afternoon and all flights to the city were fully booked — despite fears of poor attendance at a jazz festival there, following recent terror attacks in the south.

The producers of the Red Sea Jazz Festival, now under way in the southern city, were happy to see that a convoy of cars more than 10 kilometers long stretched back along the road from the entrance to Eilat.

“Four thousand people on the first day [of the festival] would make me very happy,” Miki Gov, the festival’s producer, told Haaretz about an hour before the festival opened. He said very few people had asked for their money back following cancelations by four overseas artists, out of a total of 11, due to the recent tensions in the south.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Robert Badinter and Symbols of the Victory of Justice

By Benjamin Ivry

Wiki Commons

French government officials are rarely known for their sense of poetic justice, but the French Jewish statesman Robert Badinter, born in 1928, is an exception to the rule.

Former Minister of Justice in François Mitterrand’s government, Badinter published a Mitterrand-related memoir with Les éditions Fayard in March, with the wry title “Thorns and Roses” (Les épines et les roses), in reference to the symbol of a clenched first holding a red rose employed by Mitterrand’s socialist party.

Badinter writes of the 1982 death of former French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès France, of Portuguese Jewish origin, bemused by the unanimous praise lavished on the newly-deceased statesman.

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Rebels Sang Israeli's Song as They Advanced on Tripoli

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

In news today from the “it’s a brave, new, global world” department, Michal Levertov, in a piece for Institute for War & Peace Reporting, wrote that television reports this past week have shown Libyans singing and dancing to “Zenga Zenga” as the rebels advanced on Tripoli.

This is brave, new and global because “Zenga Zenga” is a song that was invented last February by 32-year-old Israeli Noy Alooshe for a remix video he made of a speech given by now former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. It spread like wildfire by Facebook and Twitter through the Arab world, making Alooshe a social media superstar, despite the fact that viewers still posted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments about the video and its Israeli creator.

Thanks to “Zenga Zenga” (which comes in two versions — one with scantily clad women dancing next to the Colonel, and a more sanitized version without them), Alooshe’s remixing skills and audio-visual political commentary have come to be appreciated well beyond the borders of the Jewish State — in particular in countries officially at war, or at least without diplomatic relations with it. Both versions combined have now garnered close to 6 million views.

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The Great Media Non-Conspiracy

By Paul Buhle

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone On the Media
By Brooke Gladstone, Illustrated by Josh Neufeld
W. W. Norton & Company, 158 pages, $26.00

An icon of many a household’s Sunday listening, Brooke Gladstone and her show “On the Media,” with Bob Garfield as co-host, has for my (pledge) money the liveliest program on National Public Radio.

This book is, at any rate, the first effort to explore Gladstone’s subject in one of the most creative printed ways: comic art. It bears the stamp of comic artist Josh Neufeld, an erstwhile collaborator of the late Harvey Pekar, who has also produced a much-praised graphic novel treatment of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans. In “The Influencing Machine,” Neufeld’s work is tinted bluish, giving it a slightly ghostly effect, offset by the directness of the caricatures. It’s a great fit.

In the advance publicity, Gladstone calls “The Influencing Machine” a “manifesto masquerading as a history.” This thought dominates the pages in more than one way. Not only does she offer her own philosophy of communication from the Stone Age onward, she also seeks to demystify the subject and to loosen the grip of conspiracy from the public’s understanding of media.

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