The Arty Semite

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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One-Paragraph Novels

By David Albahari

David Albahari is the Serbian-born Canadian author, most recently, of the novel “Leeches.” The book is a feat of magic, an existential philosophical novel that’s also funny and with enough mysteries to keep the reader guessing. It’s also one long paragraph — that’s right, a 300-page-long paragraph. Here, Albahari explains the motive behind his madness. 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:


There are several reasons why I write my novels in one long paragraph. First of all, I simply like it, I like when black words completely cover the whiteness of paper. Secondly, I feel that when I write in a long paragraph, I am paying hommage to the writers who influenced me with their own long sentences and paragraphs — William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard. And finally, I write like that because I believe that a story or a novel is created in the joint effort between the writer and the reader through the act of reading. The long paragraph is like a dark labyrinth through which they have to find their way. Unfortunately, many readers would rather read books written in short sentences than a novel or a collection of short stories trying to explore new possibilities in the world of fiction. Perhaps they have had enough of postmodern and metafictional literature and believe they deserve a break? That might be why many of them recoil when they are faced with a novel written in a 300-page-long paragraph, convinced that it is more difficult to read than a regular novel. That presumption is wrong because a one-paragraph novel also has its dialogues, descriptions, new paragraphs, and even new chapters. True, they are not so marked but any attentive reader will recognize them in the process of reading. Reading should always be fun, I agree, but it should also be for learning and understanding.

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A Less-Than-Perfect Marriage at Givatayim's FestiJazz Festival

By Ben Shalev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Tchetchik

Toward the end of their performance, the quartet of Anat Fort and Abate Barihun played an arrangement of a popular Ethiopian passage called “Gadaye.” “What’s ‘Gadaye?’” Fort asked Barihun on stage, and the saxophonist became a little confused and in the end said “It’s a wedding song.”

The encounter between Barihun and Fort, which concluded the jazz festival at the Givatayim Theater this weekend, reflected an attempt to conduct a creative marriage between two wonderful musicians who are very different from one another in both style and sound. Barihun brings the heady sound of Ethiopian music, as incorporated in his expressive playing and moving vocals; pianist-composer Fort’s “dowry” is delicate and lyrical chamber jazz, with very subtle echoes of classical music and free jazz.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Darren Aronofsky's New Pilot; Oskar Schindler's Art Museum

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
  • On Killing the Buddha, The Arty Semite contributor Gordon Haber adds a personal reflection to the circumcision debate in California.

  • Bucharest is getting its very first Jewish Film Festival.

  • Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow has been turned into a contemporary art museum.

  • Meet Xu Long, a Chinese chef with a passion for ancient Jewish coins.

  • Darren Aronofsky is signed on to direct “Hobgolin,” a pilot for HBO written by husband and wife team Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman about con men and magicians who battle Nazis during World War II.

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

MATTHEW SPENCER
  • Dan Friedman goes to see “Queen of the Sun,” a film about the potentially-catastrophic plight of North American bees.

  • Nathan Jeffay looks into the controversy surrounding the first Jerusalem performance of “Jérusalem,” the Verdi opera about the Crusades.

  • Yevgeniya Traps reviews “You Must Go and Win,” a memoir about trying to make it in the music business by Aline Simone, an immigrant from the Former Soviet Union.

  • Lawrence L. Langer reviews “The End of the Holocaust” by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a book about how popular culture has influenced Holocaust awareness.

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Slideshow: Brooklyn, the Shtetl

By Ezra Glinter

‘Eric Moed’ by Ali Spechler, oil on canvas, 2010. Courtesy of Hadas Gallery.

On her website, artist Ali Spechler describes her interest in “the notion of family and how shared experiences, whether positive or negative, breed strength and support.”

That may not be the intuitive reaction to most of the works in “Brooklyn Shtetl,” Spechler’s current show at New York’s Hadas Gallery. After all, most of the paintings are portraits of individuals rather than of groups, and they seem to set their subjects apart rather than bring them together.

But it is just that sense of apartness that makes Spechler’s focus on community apparent. Each of her colorful, impressionistic paintings seems to have picked its subject out of a group that they will rejoin once the artist is done painting them. Though each portrait exudes individuality, the larger impression is not of a particular person or event, but of an entire social atmosphere, which makes the name of the exhibit perfectly appropriate. The proudly Brooklynite (and often Jewish) sensibility that has recently risen to the top of American culture finds a welcome new expression in Spechler’s paintings.

View a slideshow from ‘Brooklyn Shtetl’:

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To-Do Lists of the Famous and Creative

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Adolf Konrad, packing list, December 16, 1963. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

One of my greatest joys and, along with brushing my teeth, one of the great constants in my life, is making lists.

While my abiding affection for ordering, lining up and then crossing out (what pleasure!) the things I need to do every day may strike some as oddly misplaced, I come by this crotchet honestly. My father, you see, happened to be a great one for lists, filling yellow legal pads with line after line of “to-do” this and that.

He was in good company. H.L. Mencken liked making lists, as did Ad Reinhardt and dozens of other celebrated artists and writers whose tabulations are currently on display at the Morgan Library & Museum in a small but winsome exhibition titled “Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts and Other Artists’ Enumerations.”

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Photographer Alfred Stieglitz, 'Jewish Mystic'

By Benjamin Ivry

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand” which ran from November, 2010, closed in April of this year; however, there is new reason to admire the achievement of photographer and modern art maven Alfred Stieglitz, born in Hoboken in 1864 to a family of German Jewish origin.

wiki commons

Stieglitz’s own acclaimed photos reveal scant attention to Yiddishkeit, with the possible exception of “The Steerage,” from 1907, in which impoverished immigrants, not obviously Jewish ones, arrive in America. More insight into Stieglitz’s own Judaism may be derived from the forthcoming “My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume One, 1915-1933” edited by Sarah Greenough, over 800 pages of the married couples’ letters, due out from Yale University Press on June 21.

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In Song: Shlach Lecha

By Martin Stone

Each week The Arty Semite connects the Torah reading — however tenuously — with a classic work of rock and roll.

In this week’s parsha, Shelach Lecha, Moses sends out 12 men — a prince from each tribe — to scout the Promised Land. They return with proof of its bounty, but 10 of them despair of being able to conquer it. The people are disillusioned and demand to return to Egypt. God’s response is to kill the 10 scouts and delay the people’s entry to the land by 40 years, during which all the adults who left Egypt will die.

God immediately consoles the people by giving a set of commandments that will only be performed once they enter the land. Then there is the incident of the man who chopped wood on Shabbat and is punished with death by stoning. The parsha concludes with the third section of the Shema prayer, where we are told to wear fringes on our clothes to remind us of God and to behave as He commanded us. This week’s song goes with Israel’s punishment to wander the desert for 40 years — to “Take the Long Way Home.”


Friday Film: Of Victimhood, Girl Groups and Marlene Dietrich

By Michael Kaminer

Courtesy of TJFF

More a filmed performance piece than a conventional movie, Amit Epstein’s “The Stockholm Syndrome Trilogy” — which had its North American premiere last month at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival — mashes up interpretive dance, ‘80s pop, Marlene Dietrich, and same-sex lust into a sometimes-successful fantasia on Jewish victimhood.

The titular condition, of course, manifests as “curiously positive feelings for perpetrators,” as Time magazine puts it. And in a series of surreal set-pieces, Epstein explores his own conflicting emotions — not only as a Jew spellbound by all things Teutonic, but as a gay man apparently into German guys in a big way.

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Getting Rid of Journalists in Haaretz's Third 'Writers Edition'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Author Etgar Keret with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Tal Cohen.

It’s become a tradition since 2009 that in honor of Israel’s Hebrew Book Week, Haaretz publishes its “Writers Edition.” For this unique edition, all the paper’s reporters disappear and are replaced by well-known Israeli, Middle Eastern, Jewish and Jew-ish authors and poets. This year, 53 noted writers cover everything from breaking news to sports to the weather report.

The depressing main headline, “Netanyahu says there’s no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” is for a political interview author Etgar Keret did with the Prime Minister. The great Israeli poet Natan Zach writes an opinion piece on why he thinks Gilad Shalit will never return home. Nathan Englander gets an exclusive interview with Tony Kushner, the first time he has spoken publicly since the controversy over his receiving an honorary degree from CUNY. On the lighter side, Nicole Krauss reflects on her nostalgia for brick and mortar book stores, and Dorit Rabinyan tries her hand at sportswriting.

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Poetic Resources of Jewish Folklore: Three Works by Howard Schwartz

By Jake Marmer

In a recent article in the Jewish Review of Books titled “Why There Is No Jewish Narnia,” Michael Weingrad argued that dark, Gothic fantasy writing does not sit well with the Jewish weltanschauung, and that by and large, we simply do not have that kind of literature. This is because, as Weingrad compellingly puts it, “Judaism is much warier about the temptation of dualism than is Christianity, and undercuts the power and significance of any rivals to God, whether Leviathan, angel, or, especially… devil.”

Weingrad casually mentions folklorist Howard Schwartz, author of the “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism” (2004) as one of the recent authors to compile the lore of “repressed or marginalized Jewish mythic vitality.” To him, Schwartz’s work and related publications of a similar direction, are not a natural fit in the wider discourse of Jewish literature. Schwartz’s recently published book of poetry, “Breathing in the Dark,” however, not only seems a welcome addition to Jewish literature, but also offers it a whole new direction and wealth of resources rooted in the underside of Jewish folklore.

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The Tragic Lives and Loves of Joyce's Russian Translators

By Yoel Matveev

Mikhail Yakovlev’s sculpture of James Joyce in the yard of the State Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow. Image courtesy of the artist.

June 16 is Bloomsday, the day when Leopold Bloom, the Jewish-descended protagonist of James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses,” took his quasi-Homeric one-day odyssey through Dublin. It’s the day when Dubliners and Joyce’s fans throughout the world celebrate the legacy of the great Irish novelist, whose protagonist transcends all cultural and temporal borders while remaining both Irish and Jewish.

Like its border-transcending protagonist, the story of the novel itself doesn’t end in Ireland. In the USSR, James Joyce was long considered a dangerous and forbidden writer.

The first Russian translator of “Ulysses,” Igor Romanovich (1904-1943), was arrested in 1937 for his literary activities and died in the Gulag. His wife, Elena Verzhblovskaya (1904-2000), also spent almost four years in the Gulag after being brutally beaten by her captors for refusing to confess to crimes she never committed.

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Out and About: A Librarian for the Ages; Larry David, Man of His People

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
  • Happy Bloomsday! Stay tuned for more.

  • The runaway bestseller not-really-children’s book “Go the F*** to Sleep” (previously covered on The Arty Semite here) now has the distinction of being read aloud by Samuel L. Jackson.

  • The Atlantic’s James Parker on Larry David, “a figure of pioneering godlessness and a loyal celebrant of the traditions.”

  • On the great bibliophile, librarian to the Vilna Gaon and Solomon Maimon, and chief rabbi of Slonim, Shimshon ben Mordechai.

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Ulysses S. Grant's Washington Synagogue

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Former Adas Israel building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Julian Preisler.

On a few previous occasions I have mentioned visits of heads of state to synagogues. One of the most significant such occasions in American history was the visit 135 years ago of President Ulysses S. Grant to the dedication of the new synagogue in the national capital city of Washington, D.C. On June 9, 1876, shortly before the nation’s centennial, Adas Israel Congregation dedicated its modest building made festive for the occasion with flowers, “festoons of evergreens,” and American flags over the Ark.

Adas Israel was established as an traditional (Orthodox) congregation in 1869. The synagogue was built at the corner of 6th and G Streets, NW, then part of the city’s residential and commercial center, after many years of planning and fundraising. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington now maintains the former synagogue, which was moved to a different site in 1969, as a museum.

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Pro-Israel Screenwriter Founds 'Mike Leigh Scholarship for Political and Moral Courage'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

While visiting the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film and the Arts in Jerusalem this week to co-teach a workshop with fellow Hollywood screenwriter David N. Weiss, Dan Gordon used the opportunity to take his public critique of British filmmaker Mike Leigh one step further.

Gordon followed up on a promise he made Leigh in an open letter he wrote last November, inaugurating the “Mike Leigh Scholarship for Political and Moral Courage.” The scholarship was awarded this year to Ma’aleh student Noam Keidar. Gordon is highly critical of Leigh’s decision to renege on an agreement to teach in 2010 at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem and his boycotting of Israel, in general, in response to Israeli policies towards Palestinians, including its blockade of Gaza.

The open letter ended in the following way:

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