Trish McCall, Dan Bielinski and Marcus Naylor in ‘Under the Cross.’ Photo by Louis Zweibel.
This summer New York remains the center of Yiddish theater. Audiences looking for a lighthearted romp can go see Hershele Ostropolye (in Yiddish) at the Folksbiene. Those looking for a grittier Yiddish theater experience can head to Midtown and see I.D. Berkovitch’s 1924 play “Under the Cross” (“Untern Tseylm”) (in English), running until June 25 at June Havoc Theatre. “Under the Cross” is a production of New Worlds Theatre Project, a small theater company whose mission is to present new English language productions of Yiddish drama.
“Under the Cross” is set in 1923 Belarus, in the midst of the post-Revolution civil war. Berkovitch, like many Yiddish writers, had already left Russia by the time of the civil war, but remained keenly interested in events there. Unlike Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister and others, Berkovitch never returned to the Soviet Union.
The drama of “Under the Cross” centers on paterfamilias Moshke Ferapontov (Charles Roby), his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Moshke is a man in conflict. During a 25-year tour in the Russian army he became a Christian. Now a middle aged man, he’s spent most of his life as a Christian, living with Christians. Even so, his actions betray an inner connection to Jews, a connection that will test his sanity and propel the drama unfolding across the 25 hours of Yom Kippur.
Leonard Stern, creator of the __________ (adjective) popular fill-in-the-blank word game, “Mad Libs,” _________ (verb) this week at the age of 88. An Emmy award winning comedy _______ (noun) whose work appeared in “The Honeymooners” and “The ________ (name) Silvers Show,” Stern happened upon the unusual __________ (noun) after asking fellow “Honeymooners” writer, Roger Price, for an ___________ (noun). The two writers developed the idea, coming up with _________ (adjective) stories in which blanks filled in by game players provided absurd, raucous and often __________ (adjective) humor. May his _________ (noun) be a ________(noun).
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Lev Berinsky is poet who cannot be bounded by easy definitions. He writes in Russian and Yiddish, and lives in Israel, but is best known in Germany. A poet to his core, he is also a gifted translator, journalist and essayist. Though his work is scattered throughout the pages of different publications in several languages, it is all part of a larger project, in both style and substance.
Now, Berinsky’s collected works are available for the first time in Russian. The first volume, containing his poetry, was published in 2009, and the second volume, of prose, is now out. How much these collections will raise Berinsky’s profile is unknown.
Yet Berinsky’s marginality is a position he has intentionally cultivated his entire career. Born in 1939 in the small Bessarabian town of Căuşeni (Kaushen in Yiddish), then part of Romania, Berinsky made his living during most of the Soviet era translating little-known Romanian and German modernist poets into Russian. He began writing in Yiddish in 1981, during Brezhnev’s Era of Stagnation. Though he didn’t yet know the Alef-Beys, the magnificent Bessarabian Yiddish of his childhood was still with him.
Each week The Arty Semite connects the Torah reading — however tenuously — with a classic work of rock and roll.
In this week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha, the Levites are prepared for their duties in the Tabernacle, with the title referring to Aaron being given the privilege of lighting the Menorah. Passover is celebrated for the first (and only) time in the desert. Those who are unable to bring the Passover offering are given a second chance a month later, thus establishing the “Second Passover.”
Then Moses is commanded to make two silver trumpets for signalling the camp. The Israelites up camp and move on for three days. Moses’ father-law-Jethro takes his leave, whereupon things start to go downhill. First there are general grumblings, which are punished by fire. Then there are complaints that there is no meat, whereupon God provides a supper of quail every night for a month until the Israelites are literally sick of it, with many dying. Moses gathers 70 elders who are endowed with prophetic abilities to help him in deal with the rebellious hordes, while another two elders prophesy independently.
In the final passage in the parsha Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings, talk about his relationship (or lack thereof) with his wife, Tzipporah. They refer to her as black-skinned, which many rabbis take to mean beautiful.
Earlier this week, Lévana Kirschenbaum blogged about domestic disputes and gourmet food and Spanish chocolate-chip cookies. Her 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:
As a language enthusiast, I have often deplored the fact that languages, against all wishes, are not contagious or transmissible by any means. In the absence of some reliable formal base, except for some language geniuses, there is rarely ever a way to just “pick up” a language, in the streets as it were, and I have often noted with some dismay that Arabic and French, in which I conduct many conversations with my relatives in my husband and children’s presence, remain hopelessly impenetrable to them.
When I arrived in New York almost 40 years ago, I settled in Washington Heights. To my mother’s question, “Are you at least learning a little English?” I remember replying, without any sarcasm, “Non, Maman. In New York no one speaks English. They only speak Spanish, and I am not learning that either!” Almost nothing has changed in the Heights!
Courtesy of Music Box Films
Reputed to be the most expensive Dutch-language film ever made, “Bride Flight,” a sensual melodrama with something of a Jewish theme thrown in, debuts commercially in the United States on June 10.
The film recounts the experiences of four Dutch expatriates who meet on a KLM airliner in 1953, wending their way to New Zealand on a flight that wins a trans-continental race with several other airlines. Over the ensuing 50 years, these passengers’ lives continue to intersect in unexpected ways.
Three of them are young brides planning to settle in their new country with proper Dutch husbands. The fourth is Frank, who is immigrating to New Zealand to become a wine maker. The actor who plays him as a young man, Waldemar Torenstra, is physically reminiscent of the 1950s movie icon James Dean, but even better looking (in old age the character is portrayed by Rutger Hauer). As you might imagine, Frank gets romantically entangled with no fewer than two of the women.
Happy Shavuot, everybody!
He was a Portland Jew who dropped out of high school to find fame and fortune in New York. And while he never became a household name, his alter egos — Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Pepé Le Pew, and Barney Rubble, among hundreds of others — became part of pop culture lore.
Now, voice actor Mel Blanc is the subject of a new exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum in Portland. “That’s All, Folks: The Mel Blanc Story,” which runs through September 11, “is a sunny exhibition about a genuine local celebrity who also seems to have been a genuinely nice guy,” reports the Portland Oregonian. “It abounds in photographic, documentary and voice-recorded memories of Blanc’s life and times in Portland and Hollywood (he died in 1989), including recorded reminiscences by other top voice actors, photos of Blanc with the likes of Jack Benny, and animations and other material from those Warner Bros. cartoon days.”
The third wave of the comic book craze may soon be reaching Israeli shores, with 1960s comic book icon Joe Kubert scheduled to visit the country in August. During his first visit to Israel, Kubert is expected to donate some of his original artwork to the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon.
Kubert is a comic book legend who reached the peak of his mass appeal during the Silver Age of Comics (1960s to 1970s), creating the original series ““Tales of the Green Beret” about a group of elite U.S. Army soldier and Tor, a prehistoric human.
The trip and donation, arranged with the help of Israeli comic book artist Dorit Maya Gur, is expected to be a major coup for the recently opened Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon. Gur, a former student of Kubert’s, is perhaps best known for the creation of Israeli comic book hero and all-around shlemazel, Falafel Man. The Israeli Cartoon Museum opened in Holon in 2007 as part of an initiative by Mayor Moti Sasson to rebrand the city as a children-friendly place dedicated to supporting the fine arts.
For almost a decade now, New Directions Publishing has doggedly been bringing the late, late Hungarian modernist László Krasznahorkai’s novels of impassioned decrepitude and finely cadenced apocalypticism into English. Next year will see the much-anticipated translation of his “Satantango.” To tide us over until then we now have the publication in the Cahiers Writing and Translation series of “AnimalInside,” his collaboration with German Jewish neo-expressionist painter Max Neumann.
Krasznahorkai originally wrote a text in the third person to illustrate a painting of Neumann’s. In it, a ferocious black beast is suspended and elongated mid leap along the contours of a bare pastel expanse. Posts, fuzzy architectural motifs and the occasional outline of a human figure inhabit the beast’s barbed wire-enveloped world. The entire text is composed of his letting loose a primordial howl in impotent rage:
Yesterday, Lévana Kirschenbaum blogged about domestic disputes and gourmet food. Her 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:
We all think of cookies as a short-lived and vaguely illicit pleasure. Except I honestly don’t think, and you can ask anyone, there’s a cookie in the world more worshipped and more baked than my smart little chocolate chip cookie. I will attempt to give you an idea just how much mileage it gets.
The first time my daughter Bella went away to summer camp, I asked her what she would like me to bring her on visiting day, and she said with great glee: “Duh, chocolate chip cookies, mom, what else?” For her and her bunkmates. And, lots of them for the long hot summer ahead.
Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments
In 2009 I wrote an article for Tablet Magazine about Abstract Expressionist artist Adolph Gottlieb’s stained glass windows in the Kingsway Jewish Center in Brooklyn (this article has just been republished, without slide show, in a special Shavuot synagogue issue of The New York Jewish Week). I was already long interested in synagogue stained glass, but Gottlieb’s work made me more attentive to the innovative techniques, colors and symbols employed by synagogue stained glass artists in the 1950s and 1960s, the heyday of American abstract art. Gottlieb was able to successfully transform the traditional Jewish use of a limited number of religious and cultural symbols to a larger abstract artistic aesthetic. Gottlieb’s program also suggested a nearly-attainable grasp of archetypal highly charged symbols of both personal and cosmic significance, in the tradition of Jewish mysticism.
I was therefore delighted when visiting Connecticut earlier this spring to encounter two exemplary stained glass programs by artist Jean-Jacques Duval (b. 1930) in synagogues I was visiting for their architecture. Both Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden and Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge were designed by Fritz Nathan and Bertram Bassuk (1918-1996), and both include chapels with stained glass by Duval, and Duval did the sanctuary work at B’nai Jacob, too. According to Duval, who remains active as an artist today with more 450 major commissions completed, he and fellow artist Robert Pinart were brought in by the architects for Mishkan Israel.
From Danielle Itzhaki’s “Haya.” Photo by Danielle Itzhaki.
Crossposted from Haaretz
So flexible is the graduate program in creative arts at the University of Haifa that its students do not share a background in the same discipline. Sharon Poliakine, who heads the Fine Arts Department, says that nine of the 10 graduates this year previously studied at other schools and in different faculties, including graphic design, film studies, computers, philosophy, etc.
This openness, says Poliakine, first and foremost, is thanks to Uri Katzenstein, the multidisciplinary artist who chairs the master’s degree studies committee. Katzenstein insisted on expanding the standard discipline and creating “a place where to be an artist … can come from other places.”
Courtesy of Daniel Kahn
We all know people who seem to have been born in the wrong decade — or even in the wrong century. Only very few of them, however, attempting to connect their society with that of another world, stretch across eras, and become giants — artists and thinkers like Sun Ra, Walter Benjamin and Henri Matisse. Whether Daniel Kahn is merely an eccentric born in the wrong century, or is indeed a growing giant, is the question I kept returning to while listening to “Lost Causes,” Kahn’s third album with his band, The Painted Bird.
Although the material on the album is diverse, its backbone is Yiddish protest songs. These are century (or more) old Yiddish poems by writers such as Mordechai Gebirtig, David Edelstadt, and Mark Warshavsky, to which Kahn adds verses of his own English translation. The common thread running through the poems is class struggle, workers’ rights and demands of equality. Unlike the sardonic title of the album, the words are earnest. And music is simply fantastic. Klezmer tunes turn in the blink of an eye turn into New Orleans style marches, or Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan-esque ballads. It’s folk — that is, people’s music — and it works so well in no small part thanks to the band, which stars such young klezmer greats as clarinetist Michael Winograd, trombonist Dan Blacksberg and violinist Jake Shulman-Ment.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Now that June is upon us, it’s high season for weddings — and reason enough for The Jewish Museum in New York to mount an exhibition of ketubot, Jewish marriage contracts.
“The Art of Matrimony” showcases 30 different versions of the age-old document. Some hail from the Cairo genizah of the 12th century, others from the atelier of a contemporary artist. Some bear flowers, others fish and still others a sturdy handshake. For all their differences, each ketubah reflects a union of heart and head.
Elsewhere within the museum world, the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia has gone a step further in its commitment to the ketubah by operating a Ketubah Gallery where happy couples can have this “monumental milestone marker,” as one museum official would have it, made to order. And if that weren’t enough to highlight the central role that the Jewish marriage contract plays, both contemporaneously as well as historically, the most current issue of Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture features a fascinating article by Jeffrey Shandler on the multiple and varied meanings the ketubah has accrued over time and space: at once a legal document and a work of art, a token of steadfastness and an emblem of idiosyncrasy.
Maybe it was only a matter of time before Socalled, the frizzy-haired, klezmer hip-hop hipster, tried to sidestep his ever-expanding identity as a “Jewish artist.” The arbiters of Jewish cultural identity go to great lengths to rope in the eclectic and the original, and a klezmer hip-hopper is a no-brainer. But no one wants to be pigeonholed.
While his first three albums oozed Yiddishkeit, Socalled’s musical range also bounced from funk to house to light jazz to gospel to reggae. On his latest effort, “Sleepover,” released in May, the Montreal-based artist continues his catholic approach to musical fusion but cuts out most of the Jewishness, offering 12 tracks with only thin traces of a freylekh or a nigun. Any fan taken by Socalled’s Yiddish-heavy 2003 album “HiphopKhasene” or his “Hip Hop Haggadah” follow-up, or his 2007 breakout release “Ghettoblaster,” might think the guy has completely lost his compass.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Twice a year, at Shavuot and Sukkot, there’s a pilgrimage to a hill overlooking the village of Abu Ghosh west of Jerusalem. On the hilltop sits the Kiryat Yearim Church — “a Protestant church in the heart of a Muslim village where Jews sing Catholic music. It is the epitome of tolerance and acknowledgment of the other,” says Hana Tzur, musician, conductor and musical director of the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival.
As musical director, Tzur has arranged 30 programs, each featuring some 20 concerts, around 70 pieces and the participation of hundreds (soloists, choirs, chamber ensembles and orchestras) for audiences of thousands. It’s her 15th year and her enthusiasm, intensity and sense of humor remain as before. The festival opens with a Mendelssohn motet and Mozart’s “Great Mass in C Minor,” performed by the Israel Stage Orchestra, the Kibbutz Choir ad soloists, conducted by Ronen Borshevsky, and will close on Saturday. “I listen to Bach, Mendelssohn and Mozart and know that this how to live life, amid this beauty,” says Tzur.
Lévana Kirschenbaum is the author of the forthcoming “The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple” (June 22). Her 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 came home late one recent evening, and found my husband uncharacteristically agitated. “I just put out a fire!” he said, panting. “I have no idea how it started, I just wanted to microwave some dinner and put it in a foil container to warm, and flames started leaping out!”
Now please don’t find me too biased: I ask you, how are un-domesticated husbands, who almost never prepare or even warm up their food, who almost always wait for their wives to tell them what dinner consists of, supposed to know that foil is the microwave’s nemesis? I looked all over the lethal appliance to see if the manufacturer had included some warning, but no, not a word about the hazards of using foil. Shame on you, I thought indignantly, you should learn from a sign I recently saw on an ad for bulletproof jackets: “Guaranteed or your money back,” or the warning sign on coffee cups that became ubiquitous after an infamous lawsuit: “Caution: Hot beverages are hot!”
Alona Frankel’s 1975 classic “Once Upon a Potty” is now an app.
Jewcy interviews Paris Review editor Lorin Stein.
Michael Kaminer talks to Tim Supple, the British-Jewish director of a new pan-Arab production of “One Thousand and One Nights.”
Lawrence Grossman reviews a history of the Synagogue in America.
Eli Valley’s first comic as the Forward’s artist-in-residence looks at the similarities between the Knesset and Kafka.
Susan Tumarkin Goodman leafs through a sketchbook kept by Bella Chagall.