The Arty Semite

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.


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.


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.

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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.


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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The Lions of Zion, Chapter Five

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 four chapters here.

Man tries and God Laughs and Man Tries Again

Liana Finck

At eight in the morning, red-eyed and cheerless, Reb Shlomo and I schlepped our suitcases down to the lobby. Our train to Atlanta was leaving at nine, and though our season was as lost as the Garden of Eden, the tickets had already been purchased and the hotel paid for, so we were planning on spending the night in Atlanta and then continuing home. Reb Shlomo had even talked about staying in the South and looking for a job there. I think he was afraid to go back to New York and face people after such a painful failure.

The men hadn’t moved since I’d gone upstairs the night before: They were sprawled in the dining room chairs, and from the looks on their faces, marauding Cossacks were riding through their dreams.

Khetzke opened a bloodshot eye when the waiters came in, scowled, and dropped back to sleep.

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Puppies of Pop

By Dafna Arad

Crossposted from Haaretz

Tali Mayer

Klavlavei Hapop is a name that in recent months has been whispered about in small clubs, on fringe music blogs, Facebook pages, student radio stations, between tents and at supermarkets open all night and at art schools. This was before the musical quintet behind the name released its premiere album or even a single, or even played a gig.

Assaf Bloom and Yaron Sivan studied together at the School of Sound and Music and both have deep, low and dark voices. One night last September they were sitting on stools and listening for the millionth time to the only album of the Jinjiyot, from 2008. After a discussion of its qualities, they decided the time had come to revive their musical style.


'Hound Dog' Songwriter Jerry Leiber Dies at 78

By Michael Kaminer

Getty Images

“They corrupted us with pleasure.” That, according to the Los Angeles Times, was the eminent critic John Lahr’s assessment of Jewish songwriting team Leiber and Stoller, whose indelible repertoire includes Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” and Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”

Jerry Leiber, “the words half of the duo,” died today of cardiopulmonary failure in Los Angeles, the Times reported. He was 78.

Dozens of artists have recorded Leiber and Stoller songs: The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Barbra Streisand, Edith Piaf, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and more. “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” a musical based on their tunesmanship, opened on Broadway in 1995 and ran for more than 2,000 performances.

According to a 1997 Baltimore Sun story, Leiber grew up in West Baltimore in the 1930s, where the “Jewish kid wounded by bigotry in the white community” found acceptance — “and a first taste of an electrifying music — in the homes of his black neighbors.”

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Recreating Eden, The Brazilian Landscapes of Burle Marx

By Benjamin Ivry

wiki commons
The Copacabana beach path, designed by Burle Marx.

Fans of landscape architecture will have enjoyed the four month stay of an exhibit which opened in March at Paris’s Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Center for Architecture and Patrimony), honoring Roberto Burle Marx.

Son of a German Jewish émigré to Brazil, Burle Marx lavished his fertile imagination on applying modernist abstract art approaches to the native flora of Brazil’s jungles, to create humane gardens and related designs. From the tiled pavement along Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro to a multitude of parks surrounding major public buildings, Burle Marx’s vision is inescapably part of modern Brazil.

Simultaneously with the opening of the exhibition in March, a revised, expanded edition of Jacques Leenhardt’s 1994 “In the Gardens of Roberto Burle Marx” was published by Les editions Actes Sud. Leenhardt’s book contains his fascinating interview with Burle Marx, in which the architect traces the impulse for garden design back to the Bible, to the Mesopotamian River whose fertility made it the “archetypal cradle of humanity, the place where Adam and Eve dwelled, Eden.”

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Monday Music: Saxophonist Unearths New Aaron Copland Score

By Eileen Reynolds

“You may find it implausible that we are announcing a world premiere by the venerable (and dead) American composer Aaron Copland,” boasts the press release for saxophonist-composer Christopher Brellochs’s new CD, “Quiet City.”

Courtesy of Christopher Brellochs

Implausible, yes, and perhaps only half true. The piece in question is the score Copland wrote to accompany an Irwin Shaw play of the same name. The play flopped after its dress rehearsal in April 1939, never to be produced again. Copland’s original manuscript, which called for a small chamber group made up of trumpet, saxophone, clarinets and piano, was never published. However — and here’s the rub — the composer did convert a substantial portion of his original material into a 10-minute piece for trumpet, English horn and string orchestra. That piece premiered in 1941, and has been performed frequently since. A couple of haunting themes that Copland wrote for Shaw’s “Quiet City” also found their way into his 1940 score for the film adaptation of “Our Town,” which in turn spawned its own orchestral suite.

The bottom line is that, if you’ve heard orchestras play either of the “Quiet City” or “Our Town” suites, you aren’t going to be shocked by what Brellochs has uncovered in the original manuscript. (He came across it during his doctoral studies with saxophonist and historian Paul Cohen at Rutgers University.) There is some never-before heard music in Brellochs’s “new” chamber version of the “Quiet City” material, but the most obvious difference between this and the familiar orchestral piece is the instrumentation: Themes that sound grand and romantic over the swell of strings take on a lonelier, more melancholy quality in the original arrangement.

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Darin Strauss on Faith

By Darin Strauss

Darin Strauss’s most recent book, “Half a Life: A Memoir,” is now available. 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:

Faith is a private issue. At least, I consider it to be one. (Try telling that to Tea Party evangelicals, though…) I consider myself a Jewish writer — even if my characters frequently are not Jewish — in the same way, I guess, that I consider myself a Jewish man, even though I don’t often attend shul.

In another post I’ll talk about my books (particularly “Chang and Eng,” a novel about the famous and Asian conjoined twins, and “Half a Life,” my non-fiction book about me). Here, today, I want to discuss faith.

I felt sheepish this week when I admitted to someone that I pray each night. My prayer is improvised — though like some standard jazz performance, the improv happens within pretty strict parameters — and asks for nothing. It wasn’t always this way.

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