The Arty Semite

Friday Film: 'True Story' of Olympic Anti-Semitism

By Ralph Seliger

Courtesy of Corinth Releasing

As told in the German feature film “Berlin 36,” opening in New York September 16 and Los Angeles September 23, Gretel Bergmann, Germany’s greatest female high jumper at the time of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, was very much “out” as a Jew, and she suffered the consequences. But a competitor, Marie Ketteler, who figured prominently in the story, was in the closet sexually.

There are immediate hints in the movie that there’s something amiss about this 17-year-old, who is flat chested and affirms to her doctor that she’s not yet had a period. Eventually, it becomes clear that she is really a he. A 2009 article in Der Spiegel indicated that Ketteler was actually Dora Ratjens, whose gender was misidentified upon birth because of ambiguous genitalia, and who was brought up as a girl.

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Settling a Debate in a NYC Cab

By June Hersh

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her perfect day, her Jewish culinary journey and unraveling the mystery of Jewish food. 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:

As a New Yorker, I brave the cracked pavement, dodge the deliverymen on bicycles and boast of my worn MetroCard. But there is one mode of transportation that, while costly, can be more than a way to get from point A to point B. I relish my place firmly seated and belted into the back of the iconic yellow New York City cab. I proudly raise my hand, a little sweaty in the sweltering summer heat or snuggly gloved on a cold winter’s day, to hail the cabs that whiz by. I am that rare passenger who notes the driver’s name not because I am sure I will have to report him to the taxi and limousine commission, but because I want to engage him in conversation and knowing his name makes our ride more personal and relatable.

So what do we talk about? Invariably, politics arises, as most of the cabbies hail from somewhere else and came to America for a better life. They are, at the same time, grateful for America welcoming them and vocal about the mishandling of many current issues. The typical cabbie has the radio on the entire day, and the stations seem to hover on talk radio, where they are inundated with political views and pundits weighing in. I find that whether they moved from West Africa to West Harlem or Jamaica in the Caribbean to Jamaica in Queens, they have focused opinions and a clearer understanding of how politics functions (or doesn’t) than they do of which route is faster and cheaper.

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Walter Hautzig and Other Cherished Musical Mentors

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of Thompson Edition

There are many kinds of music teachers, but the most memorable seem to be either the beloved saints or the abusive nightmares. On October 2, one of the former, Vienna-born pianist Walter Hautzig, who will be 90 on September 28, will be honored with a concert at New York’s Steinway Hall, as well as with an updated recent reprint of his 2009 memoir, “Playing Around the World: A Pianist Remembers” from Thompson Edition.

Friendly and digressive, “Playing Around the World” complements a soberly didactic 2008 tribute from Edwin Mellen Press, The Piano Teaching of Walter Hautzig, With 613 Examples From Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Chopin by Lynn Rice-See. CD collectors are familiar with Hautzig’s albums, such as “My Favorite Encores” from Americus, as well as other CDs devoted to Schubert and Beethoven.

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Friday Film: An Israeli Arab in the IDF

By Ronen Shnidman

Did you hear the joke about the Arab who volunteered for the IDF? He was so patriotic that the Beitar Jerusalem fans in the Border Police were impressed. They even considered visiting his family’s home in Sakhnin. Well almost, anyway.

Except it’s not a joke, it’s a documentary. Recently screened at the Jerusalem International Film Festival and opening this week at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, “Ameer Got His Gun” (“Bnei Dodim L’Neshek”) is so full of pathos and Israel’s trademark absurdity that it’s impossible for any audience member with a live heartbeat not to identify with the main protagonist and namesake of the film, Ameer Abu Ria.

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Black Metal for the Sonderkommandos

By Ezra Glinter

British black metal band The Meads of Asphodel are beginning work on an album about the Sonderkommandos, Jewish inmates who operated the gas chambers and crematoria in the concentration camps. According to metal news website, the band’s lead singer, Metatron (whose moniker comes from the name of a Jewish angel), is traveling to Krakow in November to research Auschwitz for the project, which will be called “Sonderkommando.”

“The album will lament on the burning death pits, Block 11, the crematoriums, the daily arrival of the trains and their human freight destined to the jaws of murder and to be stacked like logs in a factory of death,” blabbermouth reports. The Meads’ previous albums include “The Excommunication of Christ,” “Welcome to Planet Genocide” and “The Murder of Jesus the Jew.”

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One Man's Quest for Julius Streicher's Jewish Books

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Photo by Claus Felix Meyer

Before and during World War II, between 30,000 and 40,000 Jewish books ended up in the hands of Julius Streicher, the infamous Nazi and editor of the anti-Semitic propaganda newspaper Der Sturmer. Today, German-Jewish community leader and former journalist Leibl Rosenberg is working to return 10,000 of them to their rightful owners.

The task is far from easy, given that few, if any, of the people from whom these books were stolen are still alive. To make matters even more difficult, only one-third of the books have stamps, signatures, ex-libris plates or bookmarks to indicate to whom they belonged.

But that has not deterred Rosenberg, who turned himself into a librarian, a Jewish and German historian, and a genealogist to catalog the collection and track down descendants and heirs of the books’ owners. He’s been at the task since 1997, and so far he has successfully restored 200 of the 10,000 books. “I don’t think we will even return more than 500,” he admits.

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Beyond Poetry: Ammiel Alcalay

By Jake Marmer

Contemporary avant-garde poets have done a great deal to question and redefine the concept of good poetry; new styles, approaches and whole movements emerge constantly. It does not happen often, however, that the notion of a “book of poetry” gets challenged. Ammiel Alcalay’s “‘neither wit nor gold’ (from then),” published this year by Ugly Duckling Presse, is precisely this sort of experiment. It contains not just poems, but also a collection of photographs, newspaper cut-outs and posters, as well as, most crucially, scans of handwritten drafts and sketches from the author’s archives of the early-to-mid 1970s. These elements aren’t linked in an easy logical manner or sequenced in any discernible way. Yet, their ordering appears entirely organic. In fact, having experienced it, a regular poetry book feels contrived by comparison.

Alcalay explains in the afterword: “I was very dissatisfied with some idea of ‘selecting’ poems since it precluded or sidestepped the very fundamental and instructive (at least for me) process of composition… working through these materials is in itself a statement about the present and how a body of work might be made not only to cohere but become the carrier of messages no longer so readily available.”

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A Picture Perfect Day

By June Hersh

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her Jewish culinary journey and unraveling the mystery of Jewish food. 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:

I am not Martha Stewart, and I don’t have a staff of 20 to help me prepare a dish or stage a photo. But I didn’t need her perks on a sunny August day when I was preparing to photograph my food for “The Kosher Carnivore,” my second book. My first book, “Recipes Remembered” featured historic and archival photos of the survivors whose stories I told. Glossy color shots and well-set vignettes were not appropriate for a book focused on the Holocaust. But for “The Kosher Carnivore,” we wanted to show the yummy food in all its glory, and that meant me and my digital camera would need to be replaced by a professional photographer.

I was not stranded on my kitchen island without some assistance. My two supportive daughters were there to lend a hand. Jennifer would be my enthusiastic sous chef and cleaner-upper — a skill she inherited from her very meticulous and helpful father. Allison would be my set designer, as she has a creative flair and an eye for photography. But the real hero would be noted food photographer Ben Fink. He has shot images for celebrity chefs and Food Network icons, and now he was coming to my house to film my food.

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Journey to the Land of Words

By Noga Shavit-Raz

Crossposted from Haaretz

Until a year ago, Ruvik Rosenthal was sure he had no imagination. Around age 10, he did start writing adventure stories, but at 12, “I had decided to become a journalist, to go for the real things.”

Daniel Tchetchik
Ruvik Rosenthal at his home in Tel Aviv.

After years of writing specialized dictionaries, such as a comprehensive dictionary of slang and a compendium of phrases, he needed a change, and that led to a wonderful children’s book, “Hamasa Hamufla Leeretz Hamilim,” which loosely translates as “The Wonderful Journey to the Land of Words,” soon to be released by Keter. The focus is on the Hebrew language, but the plot is thick with adventures drawn from his imagination.

“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to write a dictionary; it’s about as close as you can get to Hell,” said Rosenthal. “After four and a half years of working on the “Milon Hatzirufim” (the dictionary of Hebrew idioms and phrases), while also working on other things of course, when the book was on the shelves in 2009, I said I need to do a 180-degree about-turn.”


Out and About: Books Aren't Dying; Call Sarah Silverman 'Jew'

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
  • Spencer Tunick may not be able to photograph 1,000 nude Israelis at the Dead Sea.

  • Josh Lambert reviews the robust state of Jewish publishing.

  • For those in my hometown, the University of Manitoba will be offering a course on Zoharic Aramaic.

  • Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogan are both Jews, apparently.

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Berlin's First Jewish Museum Pieced Back Together

By Renee Ghert-Zand

The entrance to the first Berlin Jewish Museum. Image courtesy of Centrum Judaicum.

As valuable as art can be, Karl Schwarz knew that life is much more precious. That is why he fled with his family to Tel Aviv from Berlin only months after opening the first Jewish museum in that city in January, 1933. Now, almost 80 years later, a portion of the art that Schwarz collected has been painstakingly reassembled and put on display on the same spot where his museum once stood.

The search for the art, looted and stashed away by the Nazis, has preoccupied Hermann Simon, director of the Centrum Judaicum (which stands where the museum once did, next to the New Synagogue on Oranienburgerstrasse) and his deputy, Chana Schuetz, for the past 30 years. Not all the components of the original collection, which included works by Max Liebermann, Marc Chagall, Lesser Ury, Moritz Oppenheim and Leonid Pasternak, have been located. The majority of those that have been recovered are on loan to the Centrum Judaicum for the show, which is titled “In Search of a Lost Collection.”

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On 9/11, 'Oklahoma!' and a New Program for Jewish Culture

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Like so many Americans, I was not quite sure how to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Listening to Barber’s Adagio for Strings was one option; attending to the Times’ commemorative edition was another and watching television coverage of the day’s events was a third. But none of these quite satisfied.

Little wonder, then, that when the chance to see the Arena Stage’s production of “Oklahoma!” presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.

As it turned out, I wasn’t alone. The theater was packed with a heterogeneous mix of Washingtonians: grandparents with their knowing preteen grandchildren in tow; eager, 30-something parents with young children; veteran theater-goers.

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Unraveling the Mystery of Jewish Food

By June Hersh

June Hersh is the author of “The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book,” available this week. 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:

As a food writer you need to be prepared to answer just about any question tossed at you during a Q&A. I like to feel I know my subject matter inside and out, and I admit to late night Googling (that sounds x-rated) to research something I am not 100% certain of. While I should be dreaming of food, I am instead trying to unravel its mysteries. My obsession with information is justified as I have been asked if a free-range chicken is happier than its caged neighbor, or whether America’s fascination with hummus is a fad or here to stay. Understanding food is my job, and the better my understanding the more clearly I can communicate the power of food through the recipes I write. No query has kept me awake more nights then a question I was asked during a radio interview: What is Jewish food? Truth is, it’s a great question with no easy answer.

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How To Become a Collector

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz

Yuval Tebol

Glass objects, old watches, antique furniture, ivory sculptures, tin cans, Judaica items, inkwells, fountain pens, etrog boxes and walking sticks are just some of the arcana to be found in the home of artist and collector Emanuel Kipnis. Unlike most collectors, who usually focus on one area or one type of object, Kipnis collects everything, but only a little of each thing.

“A collector doesn’t wake up in the morning and declare I’m a collector. Becoming a collector is a long process that sometimes continues throughout the collector’s entire life, like me,” he says. “A collector is a kind of researcher who becomes interested in things, and does not always manage to understand what he is buying. It expands a person’s horizons. There are failures, but there are also a lot of successes, and that is also one of the reasons why I only collect a few of each object.”


The Complete Meta-Guide to 21st-Century Love

By Gwen Orel

Photo by Joan Marcus

There’s a moment late in Itamar Moses’ new play “Completeness,” running until September 25 at Playwrights Horizons, when the shifting scenery stops shifting. Lights blink. Eventually two of the actors appear, talking about how since their characters don’t reappear they have come out to keep the audience engaged.

Now, you don’t have to be an experienced theatergoer to know that this whole sequence is probably scripted (it is). The interruptions and digressions feel artful. But this doesn’t take away from the brilliance of the conceit, which acknowledges the artificiality of theater while also embracing it. Commenting on technology while keeping the human interest high is what “Completeness” does throughout.

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How To Make a Film About Films That Were Never Made

By Ayelet Dekel

Image from “The Boat,” directed by Nir Bergman in “Sharon Amrani: Remember His Name.”

Crossposted from Midnight East

Ten years ago, on September 8, 2001, a young man drowned in the Mediterranean, just off Manta Ray beach in Tel Aviv. “Bonfire Night” (1998), his graduation film for the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School Jerusalem, tied with fellow classmate Nir Bergman’s “Seahorses” for first prize; an earlier student film, “Imma Mitchatenet Im Avram” (1997) accrued praise as well. He had directed the pilot for the television program “Meurav Yerushalmi,” and had made a witty commercial for Galatz, the IDF radio station, featuring a rocking yeshiva bokher. He had yet to make his first feature film. His name was Sharon Amrani.

Amrani’s films had already awakened the interest of film critic Yair Raveh, who admired the “uncompromising honesty” of “Bonfire Night,” and saw it as a harbinger of a more emotional, personal style in Israeli film. Raveh wrote an article commemorating Amrani’s life and work that was scheduled to headline Ha’ir (The City) magazine. The next day was September 11, 2001. The article receded to the back pages of the magazine, but Raveh did not forget Amrani, and in his observations of the Israeli film scene and its resurgence in the past 10 years he has reflected on how it was forever altered by Amrani’s absence. These musings in turn became a documentary film.

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Monument to Isaac Babel Erected in Odessa

By Vladislav Davidzon

Courtesy of The World Odessit Club

Eighty-five years after bestowing “The Odessa Tales” and “Red Cavalry” to both the Russian and the Jewish modernist literary canons; 71 years after a 20-minute show trial resulted in execution by firing squad; 54 years after his posthumous rehabilitation by Soviet authorities, and several decades after plans were first laid, a monument to Isaac Babel has been erected in his home town of Odessa, across the street from his former apartment building on the corner of Rishelyevskaya and Zhukovskaya streets.

Located in a plaza in front of the lumpy neo-Soviet columns of high school number 117, the monument depicts a frocked Babel sitting next to a massive “wheel of fate,” scribbling in a notebook while gazing dreamily into the distance.

The tribute was dedicated September 4 by The World Odessit Club, a loose confederation of associations that produces nostalgic get-togethers. Expatriates of the cosmopolitan port town collected money for the sculpture over the better part of the last five years, one donation at a time.

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The Lions of Zion, Chapter Eight

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 seven chapters here.

How Khetzke the Cowboy Got his Name

With hearts racing after Reb Shlomo’s rousing Opening Day speech, we prepared to go to bat. The Polo Grounds was an intimidating place: 55,000 fans filled the bathtub-shaped stadium, and from the sounds they made when we came charging onto the diamond, half of them were rooting for us. I took my place next to Reb Shlomo, who was nervously smoking a cigarette on the dugout stairs. Khetzke and Dixie seemed the most relaxed. They were trading barbs back and forth, trying to loosen up the other men. Pretty Perchick paced back and forth, running his hand through his hair and tugging at his shirtsleeves. Big Hup stood in a corner, a basket of apples on the floor by his side. He was chewing loudly, and he grimaced when he swallowed the core. Meanwhile, Bennie the Egyptian was fiddling with a silver charm in the shape of hand and saying a silent prayer.

As the visiting team, we had first bat. Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, the Giants pitcher, was sharp. His knuckle ball was breaking hard, and our batters were left scratching their heads for the first few innings. Butcher Block, too, was pitching like a polished pro.

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Israel's Leading Film Composer in France

By Omer Laor

Crossposted from Haaretz

Catherine Amar
Amar’s music is defined by his ability to combine various instruments and styles.

Armand Amar’s name can be found on ads in the Paris metro, on round billboard signs throughout the capital, and on movie house posters. But the Israeli-born French musician and composer is listed at the bottom, in small print, underneath the films’ leading actors and directors.

As a film composer, Amar is something of an anomaly in the French film industry. The self-taught expert on Indian music, who previously composed music primarily for dance pieces, has become a leading film composer in France over the past 10 years. Since 2002, he has been responsible for the soundtracks of 24 films, and he is currently at the center of the French commercial film world. Last year, he won his first Cesar — the French Oscar — for his musical work on Radu Mihaileanu’s “Le Concert.”


Jewish Publication Society Sold to University of Nebraska Press

By Ezra Glinter

The Jewish Publication Society has sold its entire inventory to the University of Nebraska Press for $610,000, The Lincoln Journal Star reports. This includes nearly 250 titles as well as its popular Bible, the JPS Tanakh.

According to the Journal Star, JPS will continue to develop new works although NU Press will take over publication, distribution and sales. “They will develop the content, but we will handle the rest of the process,” said NU Press director Donna Shear.

Founded in Philadelphia in 1888, JPS is the oldest nondenominational not-for-profit publisher of Jewish books in English. Currently it sells over 50,00 copies of the JPS Tanakh annually, representing almost half of its total sales.

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