The Arty Semite

In Song: Korach

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 is Korach, named after the man who, along with his lackeys, tries to instigate a rebellion against Moses’ leadership. They fail, as God weighs in on Moses’ side and sends Korach and his 250 supporters down a crack in the earth to be incinerated.

The people who complain about the harshness of the punishment are, in turn, smitten by plague. Aaron’s status as High Priest is affirmed by a simple test, when his staff miraculously sprouts almonds and the staves of the chieftains of the other tribes do not.

Finally, a summary of the tithes and gifts due to the Levites and Cohanim (priests) is given.


Jewish Writer

By David Albahari

Earlier this week, David Albahari wrote about the madness of one-paragraph novels and the author’s voice. His blog 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:


Being a Jewish writer is no different from being any other kind of writer. I don’t believe that Jewish writers have any special mission, or that they see the world in a different way, which would give them any advantage over other writers. Only one thing matters when you are a writer: the way you use your language and what you do with it. It does not matter whether you are religious or secular, formally educated or uneducated, involved in tradition or having nothing to do with it – the only thing that matters is your ability to tell stories or sing songs in a way that has not been done before.

So how do we define a Jewish writer? This question is sometimes very important for Jewish writers who live in small secular Jewish communities in the Diaspora, like the one in Serbia where I come from. For me, a Jewish writer is a writer of Jewish origin who writes mainly on Jewish themes.

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Friday Film: Solving World Conflict With Sex

By Ralph Seliger

Courtesy of Music Box Films

In “The Names of Love,” being released in the U.S. June 24, 24-year-old actress Sara Forestier plays Baya, a free-spirited idealist who literally enacts the 1960s slogan, “Make love, not war.” She is passionate to a fault in supporting the French left, lending her attractive body to the cause by converting right-wingers with sex rather than argumentation. For her performance — in at least one sequence she is hilarious in her nakedness — Forestier won a César, the French equivalent of an Oscar.

In keeping with its French title, “Le nom de gens” (“The name of people”), the names of the major characters matter. Baya’s family name is Arabic (Benmahmoud), whereas the male lead (played by Jacques Gamblin) bears the white-bread French moniker Arthur Martin.

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Dog-Eared Poetry: Three Works by Erica Baum

By Jake Marmer

Poetry is everywhere, especially in places you would least expect it to be. Even the most mundane texts — be it a news article or street advertising — have poetry within them. Such is the sentiment conveyed by writers involved with the “found poetry” genre, most famously explored by Williams Carlos Williams in his epic, “Paterson.”

Erica Baum’s recent collection “Dog Ear” introduces a new direction for the found poetry experiment. By photographing and magnifying dog-eared page corners, this poet-photographer comes up with a series of witty, complex poems, three of which are featured on The Arty Semite today.

Unlike more traditional sources for found poetry, which is usually discovered in public places, dog ears are extremely private — one reader’s experiences with a given edition of a given book. As Kenneth Goldsmith puts it in the introduction: “The dog ear is site-specific: like its namesake, it stays forever close and loyal to its master, embedded in a history of a specific volume.”

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Slideshow: Kobi Levi's Fabulous Footwear Designs

By Akin Ajayi

‘Chewing Gum’ by Kobi Levi. Image Courtesy of the artist.

High heels are a great way of attracting attention — think of Carrie Bradshaw teetering on vertiginous Manolo Blahniks in “Sex and the City.” But even she might have balked at slipping on one of Kobi Levi’s more imaginative designs. There’s “Chewing Gum,” for instance, capturing the moment just after the wearer has “stepped” in a wad of gum, or “Mother and Daughter,” a cute and whimsical observation on that most basic — and complicated — of relationships. On the other hand, there’s “Blow,” which resembles a blow-up doll apparently engaged in the act of… I’ll skip the details, in deference to readers of more sensitive dispositions.

But for all this, Kobi Levi’s unique designs are not about attracting attention; rather, it is all about creative expression and enjoyment. “People should enjoy what they wear,” he insists. One-off prototypes, the designs are perhaps something of a foil for his conventional work as a professional shoe designer with a respected international portfolio.

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Matisyahu's Show at Tel Aviv's Zappa Club Was Nothing to Write Your Rabbi About

By Ben Shalev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Getty Images

Matisyahu’s Tuesday night show should have been a great joy, first of all because of the location. Ordinarily, the conditions at Zappa are nothing to get excited about, but just one day after Bob Dylan’s performance in the cursed expanses of the Ramat Gan Stadium, a show in a small, crowded club sounds like a great idea.

And even more so in the case of Matisyahu, who gave a mediocre show at the huge Hangar 11 when he was here at the height of his fame a few years ago. Now that the novelty of a Hasidic rapper has quieted down (and justifiably so), he has returned to smaller venues that are supposed to showcase his strong suits.

Matisyahu was so close to the audience at this performance that with just a little effort I could have tugged on his tzitzit. But nonetheless, despite the clubby intimacy, it was not a good show. It wasn’t bad either. Just mediocre: nothing to write your rabbi about.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Alice Walker Sails For Gaza; Woody Allen Heads For Rome

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
  • Novelist Alice Walker explains why she is sailing to Gaza.

  • The New York Times profiles Idan Raichel, Israel’s “musician of the decade.”

  • JWeekly profiles the Ridin’ Chai Motorcycle Club of Northern California.

  • In Souciant, The Arty Semite contributor Joel Schalit writes about Public Enemy in Arabic.

  • In Tablet, The Arty Semite contributor Shulem Deen writes about his journey from Hasid to Hipster Brooklyn.

  • Woody Allen has announced that his next film, “The Bop Decameron,” will be set in Rome and will star Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page.

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Of Women, Comics, and Reclaiming Jewish Stereotypes

By Tahneer Oksman

While various critics have noted the strong influence that Jews have had on the creation of American comics, few have fully explored the role of Jewish women. Yet Jewish women have often been at the forefront of creative explorations in the graphic narrative form. And in many of their comics, Jewish identity is a fertile site of exploration of the unstable, contradictory, and ambiguous figurations of the self in a postmodern world.

Aline Kominsky-Crumb

In a June 23 talk at the New York Public Library in connection with the Forward-sponsored “Graphic Details” exhibit, I will discuss how Jewish identity figures in the works of various contemporary cartoonists, especially those of Aline Kominsky-Crumb. In her autobiographical comics, Kominsky-Crumb plays with long-held stereotypes about Jewish women and their bodies, about women and their bodies more generally, and about the representation of such bodies in the interface of various autobiographical modes. While her work has caused some to refer to her as “sexist and anti-Semitic,” Kominsky-Crumb does not simply reject such bodily codings in favor of new, more politically correct portrayals of Jewish women. Instead, she confronts stereotypical representations of Jewish women by recognizing how ingrained they are in her subjectivity and by portraying them as a constant and sometimes even productive influence in how she sees herself and others. Her work offers up the possibility that longstanding categorizations of the Jewish woman can become empowering, depending not only on who is making the statement (or creating the image), but also on how it is being made.

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Human Rights Advocate Shulamith Koenig's Industrial Folk Sculptures

By Jenny Hendrix

Images courtesy of ET Modern

Shulamith Koenig has little reason to be humble. Well-known for her work as a human rights advocate and her role as founding president of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, she is, with Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter and James Grant, a recipient of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights. Besides human rights activism Koenig also works as a sculptor, and has exhibited and toured with the like of Japan’s Isamu Noguchi. But in “Industrial Evolution: From Art to Industry to Art,” a diminutive five-sculpture show at New York’s ET Modern gallery in Chelsea, the artwork offers no reflection on Koenig’s many accomplishments. Instead, it pays respectful homage to the mundane work of others, offering something like a frame for an invisible, unknown craftsman.

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The Voice

By David Albahari

On Monday, David Albahari explained the motive behind the madness of one-paragraph novels. His blog 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 think it was Saul Bellow who once said that writers do not have tasks or duties — they only have their inspiration and that’s the only voice they should listen to. We can discuss where that voice is coming from — from our mind or our heart or that mysterious entity called the human soul — but we cannot change the fact that writers are the scribes who try to write down everything the voice of inspiration tells them. So writers do not write in order to say something to somebody; they write in order to hear and write down what that voice has to tell us. I am not trying to say that writing is an altogether mysterious, secret thing but some part of writing definitely is. The other part, written because we were told to write it, definitely is not. Most of it should be classified as propaganda — promotion of different literary, ideological, political, psychological, cultural ideas. There have always been writers who openly believed in a political system or a party, and in many cases readers and other writers have refused to deal with them. I am not saying that writers should not get involved in a political struggle but they should do it not as writers but as human beings. Unfortunately, once they are seen as human beings many writers turn out to be not very interesting creatures. In fact, they become like everybody else. Only a very small number of writers are really outstanding beings who truly understand the beauty and horror of our world.

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Molekula, a Jaffa Showcase for Original and Expensive Design

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz

Noa Yafe

When one talks about young Israeli design, one thinks not only about innovation and improvisation but also about materials that are inexpensive and that find expression for the most part in small items of furniture that are popularly priced. Molekula, a new store that recently opened on Jaffa’s Yehuda Hayamit Street, is an exception. Spread out across 200 square meters it offers sofas, bookcases, armchairs, beds, lamps and other items whose prices climb as high as NIS 40,000.

That’s not the only thing that sets this store apart. While Israeli design usually tends to have daring colors, materials and overall aesthetics, at Molekula the items, at least at first glance, seem to be more conservative. Brown, gray, white, cream and beige abound. However, technologically-speaking, some of the items definitely display innovative design.

Read more at Haaretz.com


How Ernst Kantorowicz Escaped The Nazis

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of Frankfurt am Main City Archive
Ernst Kantorowicz circa 1930.

The historian Ernst Kantorowicz, born to a German Jewish family in present-day Poznań, is remembered for such magisterial studies as “The King’s Two Bodies,” still available from Princeton University Press and a study of King Frederick the Second.

Kantorowicz’s dramatic life has also attracted attention, from service in World War I to his escape from the Nazis, as recounted in Alain Boureau’s “Histoires d’un historien: Kantorowicz” from Les editions Gallimard, published in English translation in 2001 from The Johns Hopkins University Press as “Kantorowicz: Stories of a Historian.”

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New Novel Charts a Haredi Woman’s Struggle With Identity in Pre-War Palestine

By Daniella Wexler

Jerusalem Maiden
Talia Carner
Harper Paperbacks, 464 pages, $14.99

Those craving a fix of Jewish pulp might enjoy “Jerusalem Maiden,” the latest novel by Talia Carner, women’s activist and former publisher of Savvy Women’s Magazine. Set in early 20th century Palestine during the decline of Ottoman rule, the novel follows Esther Kaminsky — a heroine inspired by the author’s grandmother — whose ultra-Orthodox lifestyle stifles her artistic and romantic urges. Will she reconcile her appetite for adventure with her deep-seated faith before it’s too late? And, perhaps more importantly: How much stilted dialogue and clunky imagery (“The iron felt heavier than a barrel of pickles”) will readers have to weather before they find out?

Carner presents a caricatured view of Haredi culture and the characters — excepting the heroine — are fairly one-dimensional. In Esther’s community, women spit superstitiously (“tfoo, tfoo, tfoo!”), bear children and sanctimoniously pronounce judgment on others at every opportunity.

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Perach Adom Performs Greek-Turkish Music, Israeli Style

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of Perach Adom

The death, earlier this year, of the famed Greek singer/songwriter Manolis Rassoulis at age 65 was a loss for Mediterranean music in general, particularly in Israel, where Rassoulis has performed to acclaim with the skilled ensemble Perach Adom (Red Flower).

Founded in 2001 by Tomer Katz, a graduate of Jerusalem’s Rubin Academy for Music and Dance, Perach Adom performs Rebetiko music, a Greek-Turkish genre marked by longing, and the possibility of expressing beauty even in moments of grief. Its quintessential performer, known as The Queen of Rebetiko, was Roza Eskenazi, born Sarah Skinazi to a Sephardic Jewish family in Istanbul. Although Eskenazi died in 1980, her singing is still treasured on recently reissued CDs.

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Gabrielle Giffords Memoir in the Works

By Forward Staff

Getty Images
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) poses for a photo in May, just after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour but before she had her cranioplasty surgery.

It has no title or publication date yet, but you might want to add this book to your reading list now. Mark Kelly, NASA astronaut and husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, announced today that he and his wife are working on a memoir about their life together, before and after Giffords was shot January 8 in Tucson, Ariz.

“After thinking about it, and talking about it, we decided it was the right thing to do to put our words and our voices on paper and tell our story from our point of view,” Kelly told The Associated Press.

Besides the inherent interest in the couple’s story, there is every indication that the book will be a publishing phenomenon. Although Kelly — and to a lesser extent, Giffords — will collaborate on content, the book will be written by Jeffrey Zaslow, who worked with Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch on the best-selling “The Last Lecture,” as well as on Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s “Highest Duty.”

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Q&A: Photographer Maya Barkai's Walking and Working Worldwide Icons

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Photo by Dan Keinan. Courtesy of Maya Barkai.

In Downtown Manhattan, an international city where pedestrians clog the sidewalks, photographer Maya Barkai’s “Walking Men” fits right in. At the same time, these 99 life-size representations of “walk” signals from around the globe definitely stand out.

“Walking Men 99,” an art installation stretching 500 feet around Church Street in Lower Manhattan, was originally launched by the Downtown Alliance in January 2010 and curated by Artea Projects. Last month, the project was updated with an influx of additional photos contributed by the public through Barkai’s website. In addition, a 77-figure version of the installation was commissioned last summer by PERMM, a contemporary art museum in Perm, Russia.

Inspired by “Working Men,” the Bat Yam Biennale of Landscape Urbanism in Israel invited Barkai to create “Men at Work,” an exhibition featuring 59 life-size “working men” (and “working women”) signs from around the world. It went up around a construction site in the city south of Tel Aviv last September and is still on view.

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Video: My Father's Polish Rescuer

By Paul Zakrzewski


It was a memoir I’d been trying to write for three years without much success. I’d been wanting to tell the story of how, in the summer of 2008, I’d traveled to Warsaw, Poland, for a week with my wife and my 13-month-old son, Noah. Mornings we were tourists, while every afternoon was spent hanging out in the apartment of Genia Olczak, who fed us endlessly and kept me running to the Polish-English dictionary every few minutes. The trip marked the second time I’d been to Warsaw in the four years since my dad died. What, I wondered, drew me back there?

One answer was Genia herself: Ninety-five at the time, still cogent and solid, she lived not far from an apartment building where, beginning in 1942, she’d risked her life creating hiding places for my grandmother, great-uncle and aunt, while my father (then 7) hid out in the open, as her son out-of-wedlock. Another answer, it turned out, had less to do with the Holocaust and a good deal more to do with my father and me, our challenging and sometimes distant relationship, and the ways we’d both hidden in our lives. The result of this investigation is “A Wrinkle in Time,” my first “digital story,” or three-minute narrated visual essay that I created with the help of The Center for Digital Storytelling, in Washington, D.C.

Watch ‘A Wrinkle in Time’:

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Bob Dylan Proves He's Still Got It in Tel Aviv

By Ben Shalev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Getty Images

Those who cast doubt on Bob Dylan’s ability to perform were forced to eat their words after his excellent performance Monday night.

What hasn’t been said about the old-timer’s performance skills? They said that he was tired, they warned that his voice has gone, they predicted a catastrophe similar to his 1987 performance, but all their warnings were unfounded.

It was not a perfect performance, but it exceeded the expectations of the most optimistic of Dylan’s fans. Whoever left the stadium disappointed arrived initially with unrealistic expectations.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Two Old Jews Squabbling About Art at the Met's 'The Old Masters'

By Benjamin Ivry

T. Charles Erickson
Sam Waterston as Bernard Berenson in the Long Wharf Theater production of “The Old Masters” from January 2011.

Devotees of the fine arts and even finer acting will hurry to the Metropolitan Museum of Art tonight or on June 27 for a staged reading of Simon Gray’s 2004 play “The Old Masters.” Gray’s opus portrays a stormy encounter between two Jewish art experts, Bernard Berenson (born Bernhard Valvrojenski in present-day Lithuania) and the dealer Joseph Duveen, of Dutch Jewish origin.

As readers of S.N. Behrman’s tasty “Duveen,” reprinted in 2003 by NYRB Classics; Meryle Secrest’s 2004 “Duveen: A Life in Art” from University Of Chicago Press, and John Brewer’s 2009 “The American Leonardo: A Tale of Obsession, Art and Money” from Oxford University Press know, Duveen was burdened by few scruples in his fierce hondling.

From 1907 and for three decades afterward, the refined, highly accomplished connoisseur Berenson profited by taking a percentage from Duveen’s sales for which his authoritative opinion was used to convince prospective buyers, a source of income that today would be looked on askance in the art world.

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Monday Music: Sephardic Rock for the Hour and the Age

By Abby Margulies

Courtesy of JDub Records

Over the past decade world music has made a veritable comeback, trickling into the mainstream and infusing the indie and alternative rock scene with eclectic and unexpected rhythms. From the emergence of bands like Golgol Bordello and Balkan Beat Box to the return of Brazilian psychedelic rockers Os Mutantes, world music has become more popular, with bands borrowing from the traditional music of their own heritages and others, peppering their music with ancient sounds and lively beats.

Fusing Ladino, Hebrew and English, the band DeLeon has joined their ranks, successfully establishing itself as a viable contender on the ever-burgeoning indie-meets-world-music scene. Formed in 2006, the band — which takes its name from the 12th-century kabbalist and philosopher Moses De Léon — released their first eponymous album in 2008, following up with “Casata” this month. Consisting of front-man Daniel Saks and bandmates Kevin Snider, Justin Riddle, Amy Crawford and Andrew Oom, the group sings a mix of folk and what they call “Sephardic rock.”

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