It sounds like a high-concept Hollywood pitch: Feisty 86-year-old Holocaust survivor meets tough inner-city high-school kids. In fact, a documentary about the indefatigable Fanya Gottesfeld Heller — and her conversations with students at Brooklyn’s “alternative” Pacific High School — airs on PBS affiliates throughout April. Richard Gere narrates “Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story,” partly based on Heller’s 1993 autobiography “Love in a World of Sorrow.” Heller spoke to the Forward’s Michael Kaminer from her Upper East Side apartment — on the day she learned that Pacific High School was slated to close.
Michael Kaminer: What do you hope the film accomplishes beyond what you’ve already achieved with your lectures and book?
The poetic practice of praising God through his works is of such long standing (as long as the history of religious poetry, perhaps) that it would seem difficult, if not impossible, to offer a new and contemporary take on the tradition. But in the title poem of David Caplan’s recent collection, “In the World He Created According to His Will,” Caplan manages to turn the form inside out, while still creating a deeply spiritual meditation on nature, human relationships, and God. Here, instead of perceiving God through nature, the opposite is the case — the beauty of a natural scene is imbued with a spiritual aura thanks to the prayer uttered by the speaker’s partner. “What returns you to these words/ in the pause between tides, the rising/ and falling back not only of water?” Here God is as much a means as an end, with the supplicant’s prayer binding the rest of the poem’s elements together.
Caplan is a professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University and a contributing editor to the Virginia Quarterly Review and Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. His poetry has been published in the New England Review and the Antioch Review and he is the author of “Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form,” among other books.
Courtesy lucetg.com/Centaur Theatre
In Montreal, not only can a musical about smoked meat be more than a gag, but “Schwartz’s: The Musical” is a $240,000 professional production. That’s around twice the usual cost of a play at the Centaur Theatre, where the show is playing until May 7.
Schwartz’s, a “Hebrew Delicatessen” founded in 1928, is a mecca for meat lovers, and its waiting line is as much of a trademark as the items on the menu. Clippings on the wall testify to the many celebrities who have passed through: Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Mick Jagger, and many sports and political figures (there’s even a running joke that eating at the diner ensures future Canadian prime ministers a majority government when they come into power — a pertinent theory seeing as Canadians are going to the polls on May 2).
The musical reads like a dream — albeit the dream you’d have falling asleep with the “Best of Broadway” playing on repeat after a night of beer and that smoked meat sandwich that seemed like a good idea at the time. Alternatively, it feels like a two-hour infomercial for the famed delicatessen.
Three hundred of Charlotte Salomon’s beautiful expressionist paintings illustrating a young German Jewish women’s self-discovery can be seen at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum until July 31. The same week that the San Francisco exhibit opened, an enormous comic book convention nearby attracted thousands of young readers searching for their latest superhero (Green Lantern this year) and his predecessors. I would like to report that all the comic book readers paraded a few blocks across town to pay homage to Salomon’s landmark project, “Life? or Theatre?,” after hearing that her gouaches painted in 1942 anticipated contemporary graphic novels and the films based on them.
Regrettably few of the comic book acolytes left their convention center, as far as I know; but Salomon already has quite a following, thanks to prior exhibits of her masterwork in other cities. First brought to public attention in 1971 by the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, the series of 1,300 paintings was celebrated over a decade ago at New York’s Jewish Museum, as well as at Boston and Toronto exhibitions. (Amsterdam’s Joods Historisch Museum, repository of the collection, organized the selections in the current West Coast premiere.) By now Salomon’s work also has been well documented in scholarly books, and inspired a fine play by Elise Thoron and a volume of poems by Anne Barrows.
“The Revolution Will be Televised”: A webcomic, some Jews, and the Egyptian Revolution.
It isn’t over until the fat rabbi sings: Gordon Haber on giving his ex-wife a get.
A history of Haggadah parodies.
In Israel, a sneak peek of Ohad Naharin’s latest creation, “Sadeh 21.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
Last night the exhibit “Parameter: Digital Collaborative Design” opened in the ZeZeZe Architectural Gallery in the Tel Aviv port. The exhibit is the product of collaboration between the department of interior design in the academic track of the College of Management and the Institute for Advanced Architecture in Catalonia, and it presents the work of students and professors from both. It was created by Ariel Blonder, Guy Austern and Mushit Fidelman.
Digital architecture is the bon-ton of contemporary professional discourse the world over. Everyone wants to take part in the computerized celebration and the innovative and complex aesthetic that it is capable of creating — works by architects such as Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry are examples of that.
Like the Psalmist who demanded his listeners to “sing a new song,” American poet, writer and cultural activist Esther Cohen proposes two alternative ways of engaging with Haggadic texts this Passover. The first piece we’re featuring on The Arty Semite today is as “new” of a song as it gets; in the light of recent events, it makes us rethink the image of Egypt, as represented in Jewish mythic lore.
A regular contributor to Jewish Currents magazine (where these poems first appeared), Naamat Women, Alimentum Journal, and about a dozen other publications, Esther Cohen challenges the notion of canonized prayer and invents prayers of her own. The second poem we’re featuring today is such a prayer — a free-flowing inspired and magnanimous festive rant. Enjoy!
On Monday, Austin Ratner wrote about Hillel sandwiches. His first book, “The Jump Artist,” is the winner of the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. 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:
People who have read “The Jump Artist” sometimes ask me what’s fact and what’s fiction. My answer is that it’s all fiction, but it’s fiction that incorporates as many facts as I could uncover and reasonably include. Years of research yielded certain results that tested me as a fiction writer — and none more so than those concerning Karl Meixner. To write about him truthfully was to risk caricature or cliché. Did he really keep Max Halsman’s head in a jar? Lest anyone think I invented him and his bizarre activities with human remains, here are some of the historical facts I uncovered about him:
A new radio drama titled “The Witches of Lublin” is being offered to public radio stations as a Passover special. Written by Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom, the hour-long production features original klezmer music by Strom and the handiwork of Long Island-based audio drama producer Sue Zizza. The cast includes the prolific audiobook narrator Barbara Rosenblat, author Neil Gaiman and Tovah Feldshuh as the protagonist Rivka, a 18th-century klezmer musician who is a single mom, a weaver of lace and a Talmudic scholar to boot.
“We definitely approached the story from a feminist point of view,” said Schwartz, who also sings in the radio drama. She has collaborated with her klezmer musician husband Strom on films, books and musical projects since the mid-1990s.
As the story unfolds, listeners learn that Rivka and her two daughters, Leah and Sorele, have a reputation as some of the best klezmer musicians in Poland. Enter the anti-Semitic Count, who commands the women to perform at a celebration in honor of his son. It’s an untenable choice because women performing in public would be scandalous in the world of 18th-century observant Jews. But declining to perform might trigger a pogrom against the entire Jewish community of Lublin.
Crossposed from Haaretz
For years now the Cameri Theater has been the country’s busiest cultural project. On an ordinary day one can choose to see any one of five productions in the building in Tel Aviv (Cameri 1, Cameri 2, Cameri 3, Cameri 4 and also a cafe-theater, where the performances are not part of the theater’s work plan), or two or three plays being performed in halls around the country.
The theater’s Internet site gives information about 39 “running productions” — 39 plays. If we deduct from this four productions of the Itim ensemble, which is a kind of subsidiary, five one-man shows by actors from the theater, two that are in the pre-tryout stage or three that are “on life support” for tours abroad, we are still left with more than 20 different productions in the current repertoire.
Charles Bernstein has effectively argued that National Poetry Month celebrations tend to focus on establishment-endorsed, “blockbuster poets,” and he has reminded us just how much great poetry exists outside of well-known publishing houses and literary journals.
Bernstein’s dictum came to mind when I came across Bracha Meschaninov’s poetry collection “Tender Skin,” published over a decade ago. The collection features gentle, pensive, wonderfully crafted works that appear to be written without much concern for contemporary trends. It is simply good, soulful work, the kind poets write “for themselves,” if for no other reason than to commit to paper the emotional world, spirit’s stirrings, and above all, a certain degree of pain that poetry can’t quite heal, but does illuminate and uplift.
Despite such pioneering exhibits as 2003’s “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals: 1933-1945” at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, official commemorations of the Nazi mistreatment of gay men and women pose still-evolving problems, as a brilliantly researched study, “Pink Triangle: Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals and its Remembrance,” (Triangle rose. La persécution nazie des homosexuels et sa mémoire) establishes.
Published on January 26 by Les éditions Autrement, “Pink Triangle,” written by Régis Schlagdenhauffen, a post-doctoral student at the University of Strasbourg, explains that the pink triangle, widely adopted during the 1970s as a symbol of gay people’s ordeals during the Fascist era, was worn by only a small minority of Nazi victims. In concentration camps, green, black, and red triangles were also used to label gay people. In a preface, Holocaust historian Annette Wieviorka praises Schlagdenhauffen’s “powerfully innovative” research, which establishes that there was no Europe-wide mass deportations of gay people.
The new single and music video titled “The Japan Song,” released March 29 and featuring prominent Hasidic singers Avraham Fried and Shloimy Daskal, is not what you might expect. Although its purpose is fundraising for relief efforts, and the video includes some footage of the tsunami, it is not a fundraiser for Japan at all. Rather, it is the latest in a new trend of Haredi musical activism on behalf of Jewish prisoners.
In the spring of 2008, Yoel Zev Goldstein (then 22), Yaakov Yosef Greenwald (then 19), and Yosef Banda (then 17), three young Hasidim from Bnei Brak, Israel, were arrested at Japan’s Narita International Airport after customs officials found $3.6 million worth of Ecstasy pills hidden inside their suitcases.
According to the young men, they believed they were delivering legal antiques from Amsterdam to Tokyo for an acquaintance, and were unaware that the suitcases had drugs inside them. In February 2009, Israeli police arrested two Hasidic men for allegedly scamming the trio into smuggling the drugs.
Between 1929 and 1935, Yiddish writer Moyshe Kulbak (1896-1937) published a comic novel called “The Zelmenyaners” serially in the Minsk-based Yiddish language monthly Shtern.The novel told the story of a family courtyard in Minsk, in Soviet Belorussia, which was being progressively transformed through aggressive Soviet modernization.
As I will explain in an April 13 lecture at YIVO titled “Ethnography of a Vanishing Courtyard: Moshe Kulbak’s Zelmenyaner,” the novel offers great insight into official ethnographic discourses about Jews produced in the 1920s and ‘30s as part of Soviet policy.
“The Zelmenyaners” offers a multi-layered commentary on the persistence of Jewish difference in a period of increasing attempts at ideological homogenization. One particular character, Tsalel, is engaged throughout the novel collecting and preserving the linguistic and behavioral peculiarities of his family — a clan of Zelmenyaners named after their patriarch, Reb Zelmele.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
When people talk of travel as broadening, they usually have Paris in mind, not Toledo, Ohio. But as I discovered recently, travelling to the heartland of America can be just as eye-opening.
I had come to the University of Toledo to deliver an illustrated lecture about the Ten Commandments and to participate in a Jewish-Christian-Muslim conversation about religion in contemporary America. By the end of my 24-hour stay, I had learned a lot.
For starters, I was exposed to the debilitating, corrosive effects of de-industrialization on the urban landscape. I then discovered that despite a first-rate women’s basketball team, the lecterns in the university’s student union are not equipped with digital technology. I subsequently drove all over town in search of a laptop as well as a clicker and, in the process, visited Corpus Christi Church where an interfaith dinner was being held.
Crossposted from Haaretz
“Writing on the Internet is like breathing or walking,” says Dr. Carmel Vaisman, who earned a Ph.D. from Hebrew University for her research on language, gender and play.
“Hebrew Online” (Keter, in Hebrew), which Vaisman wrote with her colleague, Ilan Gonen, who is completing a thesis on the Aramaic of Kurdistan’s Jews, offers a calm and methodical review of the ever-shifting role of Hebrew on the Web. Loaded with information and perspectives on trolls, spammers and people who post nasty comments, as well as sites like Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter, the book can be read continuously or opened up at random. A useful dictionary with various Internet-related terms is provided in the back as well.
Among the most original contemporary Israeli poets is Almog Behar, a Jerusalemite in his early 30s. His story “Ana Min Al-Yahoud” (“I am one of the Jews”), which won the Haaretz Short Story competition in 2005, in many ways defined his artistic and poetic practice: incorporating the Arabic heritage of his ancestors (who made their way to Israel from Iraq) into his Israeli, Hebrew-speaking purview. The musicality of his work grows not only from the tension in such a union, but also from cultural cross-pollination, and the possibilities this process has to offer.
And so, while the first poem featured today addresses the two languages and the two voices that are in conflict in the poet’s very throat, in the second piece, the undercurrent of Arabic heritage envelops a Jerusalem setting in an organic, wholesome and sweetly nostalgic manner. The third poem, despite its seemingly ominous title, is a more light-hearted, humorous diversion from heavy matters of identity conflict.
In geographic space the farthest city from New York is Perth, Australia, but in mental space the farthest is certainly Timbuktu. The Malian city sits on the southern border of the Sahara Desert and is so distant that schoolchildren name it as an impossible place. Dictionaries define it as “the most distant place imaginable” or someplace “foreign, outlandish.” Appropriately then, The Sway Machinery — JDub Records’ preeminent cosmopolitan culture-divers — travelled to Timbuktu to make their new album, “The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1.”
The Sway Machinery guitarist and vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood started work in 2008 on a project he simply called “Pilgrimage,” thematically organized around the Temple pilgrimages of Ancient Judea and his own need to search out his grandmother’s vanished village in Transylvania. These impulses were satisfied last year when the band traveled to Timbuktu to play the Festival in the Desert, and “House” is the document of that pilgrimage to Mali.
Austin Ratner‘s first book, “The Jump Artist,” is the winner of the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. 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:
When I learned about Philippe Halsman’s life-story and determined I would write a novel about him (“The Jump Artist,” 2011 winner of the Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature), I was struck by the contradictions he embodied. Here was a man whom history had ensnared in a frightful way — at the age of 22, he was falsely accused of murdering his father in anti-Semitic western Austria, and he served two years in prison, where he attempted suicide and almost died of tuberculosis. At the same time, here was a man who re-emerged in New York in the 1940s as a photographer — one whose work expressed the playfulness and optimism of post-war life in America on the covers of Life magazine. Halsman himself was by all accounts a secular Jew, but his story and his work are as Jewish as a Hillel sandwich, and represent almost as neatly the opposite poles of pain and joy that define the Jewish historical experience.
Israeli authors such as David Grossman and Amos Oz are protesting their government’s decision to deport Palestinian bookstore owner Munther Fahmi.
A 2,000-year-old synagogue in the Libyan town of Yefren is said to have been destroyed by government forces.
On the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann Trial, Deborah E. Lipstadt looks at six of the trial’s most significant moments.
Los Angeles artist Kehinde Wiley has made Israel the subject of his new show.