The Arty Semite

Getting Out of the Roman Bath: Poetry by Susan Comninos

By Jake Marmer

Wiki Commons

This week we’re pleased to feature a poem by Susan Comninos, “Rome Visits When I’m in the Bath.” The poem is a bit of a maze. On the surface there’s the juxtaposition of Jewish and Christian identities, but then more layers begin to emerge. Do the two identities refer to different modes of inspiration, to routes through which the free-associative mind travels? Or is it about the unavoidable assimilation and intrusion that comes as “dull” banging? Then again, contemplating the two religions, the author finds herself in the bath — a long-standing symbol of Roman wealth and leisure. The poem’s language is twisted and elusive but that, perhaps, is the point: The poet’s meanings cannot be, as it were, nailed down.

Susan Comninos’s poetry has appeared in TriQuarterly Online, the Forward, Quarterly West, Lilith, Tikkun and “The Blueline Anthology” (Syracuse University Press, 2004), among other publications. Last year she won Tablet Magazine’s Yehuda Halevi Poetry Contest.

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New Beginning in Brandenburg for Composer Joseph Achron

By A.J. Goldmann

Wiki Commons

The virtually forgotten Lithuanian-Jewish composer Joseph Achron (1886-1943) is getting a premiere this weekend in the German city of Brandenburg an der Havel.

As part of their season-long exploration of music suppressed by the Third Reich, the Brandenburg Symphoniker, conducted by Robin Engelen, will present the first German performance of Achron’s third violin concerto (and the first performance in over 70 years), on a program that also includes Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony and Mozart’s Symphony No. 26.

Born in Lithuania in 1886, Achron was a violin prodigy who made his first public appearance at age 7. He was educated in Warsaw, St. Petersburg and Berlin by some of the great teachers of the age, including Leopold Auer and Joseph Joachim.

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Welcoming the Apocalypse at the Jerusalem Philosophy Festival

By Alon Raab

Courtesy Jerusalem Season of Culture

Two
 days
 before
 the
 world
 was
 to
 end,
 as
 calculated
 by
 engineer
 and
 prophet 
Harold
 Camping,
 seemed
 as
 good
 a
 time
 as
 any
 to
 find
 answers
 to

 eternal
 questions
 about
 human
 life
 and
 meaning. Thus
 I
 joined
 “What’s
 on
 your
 Mind?
” an “International Philosophy Festival” in Jerusalem that ran from May 18 to May 20 as part of this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture. The
 city
 where
 more
 philosophers,
 prophets and
 messiahs
 roam
 than
 on
 any
 other place
 on
 earth,
 and
 in
 which
 the
 momentous
 events 
of 
the 
Apocalypse 
will 
unfold, 
was 
the 
obvious 
locale. 
The festival 
was 
held
 in
 a 
large 
tent 
erected 
at 
the 
beautiful 
cultural
 center 
Mishkenot
 Sha’ananim,
 a 
stone’s
 throw

 from
 the
 walls
 of
 the
 ancient
 city
 and
 facing
 Mount Zion.

The sessions included “Old Man, What Is His Life,” about modern medicine’s growing ability to extend life, with the participation of a gerontologist, a jurist and 80-year-old novelist Yoram Kaniuk; the impact of social networking on the concept of friendship, led by Web editors and a professor of management; the ways new discoveries in brain research impact the concept of free will and whether it exists, with talks by an Israeli clinical psychologist and by Princeton philosophy professor and author of the best selling study “On Bullshit,” Harry Frankfurt; “The Sexual Revolution — What Next?”; and “Man in the Role of God,” examining scientific innovations in the field of human reproduction. Well Known Israeli law professor Ruth Gavison, philosophy teacher David Heyd, and progressive Orthodox rabbi Yuval Cherlow debated such issues as “improving” the human race.

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Out and About: Gary Shteyngart Wins Wodehouse Prize; Sol LeWitt at City Hall

By Ezra Glinter

Jason Wyche
  • Flavorwire previews an exhibit of sculptures by Sol LeWitt, on view in New York at City Hall Park.

  • Gary Shteyngart has won the Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction, the first American to ever receive the honor.

  • In Bob Dylan birthday news this week, singer-songwriter Nikki Jean performs one of his unfinished songs, while newly released interview tapes from 1966 show him in a darker mood.

  • Adam Kirsch reviews “Leeches,” a novel by Serbian Jewish writer David Albahari.

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Ladies' Night at the O.K. Corral

By Gwen Orel

From left: Carol Linnea Johnson, Stephanie Palumbo and Anastasia Barzee in ‘I Married Wyatt Earp.’ Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

Wyatt Earp is buried in a Jewish cemetery outside of San Francisco. Who knew? The hero of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was married to a naughty-but-nice Jewish girl. Born in Brooklyn to German-Jewish émigrés and raised in San Francisco, Josephine Sarah Marcus ran away at 18 from her middle class folks to Tombstone, Arizona, to take a job as a chorus girl.

Josie is the subject of a new musical, “I Married Wyatt Earp,” making its New York debut at 59E59 Theaters on May 26, and running through June 12. That is also the title of Josie’s own book, “I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp,” published by the University of Arizona Press in 1976. The play’s cast of 11 is made up entirely of women, with music by Johnny Mercer Award-winner Michele Brourman, who has written for Olivia Newton-John and Michael Feinstein.The book is co-written by Thomas Edward West and Sheilah Rae, and the show is directed by Cara Reichel and choreographed by Joe Barros.

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The Never Ending Book

By C. Alexander London

On Monday, C. Alexander London wrote about being an accidental adventurer. 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:


By the far the question I am asked most often by my young readers is, as well as by teachers and librarians: “When does the next “Accidental Adventures” book come out?”

It’s a flattering question for an author, and one of the many blessings of writing series fiction. If the characters and the story resonate, readers will demand more. Having only published the first book (“We Are Not Eaten by Yaks”) in a planned quadrology about the TV-addicted children of world famous explorers, it is gratifying to know that readers are eager for more.

The hype surrounding “The Hunger Games” trilogy or The latest “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book or, of course, the mother of them all, “Harry Potter,” shows just how eager fans of a popular series can be for its continuation. Younger readers, who struggle with the constant state of change and loss that is childhood, yearn for familiar characters and the persistent worlds that exist in well-made series. It’s only natural. There is a sadness that comes with finishing a beloved book, whether you’re the writer or the reader.

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House of Blues

By Noam Dvir

Crossposted from Haaretz

In the salad days of the state, the Histadrut labor federation was active in all aspects of Zionist worker’s needs, from housing to health to leisure and culture. Included in the union’s activities were projects aimed to advance the education and vocational training of women.

Shlomit Nadler

In 1962, the Working Women’s Council (today’s Na’amat ) inaugurated Beit Elisheva, a unique women’s training and cultural center on Eliezer Hamodai Street in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. Like other public Histadrut buildings from that period, Beit Elisheva was architecturally unique and expressed a fascinating connection between a local tradition of building in stone and internationally inspired Modernist daring.

Fifty years later it is in bad shape. The entire building is shabby, worn and nearly impossible to recognize because of later additions and dozens of air conditioning units pocking the building with no apparent order.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Amos Luzzatto’s Fictional View of Jews in Hectic Postwar Rome

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy Montereggio paese dei librai Book Fair

Lovers of Jewish culture know about Italy’s Luzzatto family, including the 19th century theologian Samuel David Luzzatto, known as Shadal, and (by marriage) the prolific author and teacher Dante Lattes.

Shadal’s great-great-grandson, Amos Luzzatto, has followed in the family tradition. Born in Rome in 1928, he spent the war years with his family in Jerusalem, only returning to Italy in 1946, whereupon Amos launched a long career as a surgeon, also serving on the Unione delle Comunità Ebriache Italiane (Union of Italian Jewish Communities), representing the city of Venice. Luzzatto has published an annotated translation of the Book of Job with Feltrinelli Editore and, with Casa Edititrice Giuntina, “A Jewish Reading of the Song of Songs.”

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Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!

By Stephen Hazan Arnoff

Getty Images

Seventy does not mean old or young. As Bob Dylan says in Floater:

The old men ’round here, sometimes they get
On bad terms with the younger men
But old, young, age don’t carry weight
It doesn’t matter in the end

In the imagination of the Jewish sages of Late Antiquity, 70 means quality, not quantity. It means wisdom and variety.

There are the 70 descendants of Noah, the 70 names of Jerusalem, and the 70 wise men of Jerusalem. Legend speaks of a gathering of 70 translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek for the first time — hence the Septuagint. Most important are the 70 faces of the Torah.

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Q&A: Canadian Jewish Book Award Winner Alison Pick

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Kevin Kelly

For Canadian author and poet Alison Pick, it was her personal journey of discovering and reclaiming her Jewish identity that led to her greatest professional success. The 35-year-old recently won the 2010 Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction, being presented May 30 in Toronto, for her historical novel, “Far to Go,” about a Czechoslovakian Jewish family on the eve of World War II. Available last fall in Canada, the book was published this spring in Italy, the Netherlands, the U.K., and the U.S. Following many positive reviews, it was listed as one of the 10 best books of 2010 in The Toronto Star and NOW Magazine, and named among the top 40 books of the decade by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Pick recently spoke with The Arty Semite from her home in Toronto, where she lives with her husband and young daughter, about how the revealing of family secrets and her decision to embrace Judaism informed her creative process.

Renee Ghert-Zand: How did you not know until you were a young adult that your father’s family was Jewish?

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Almost Contemporary Kiev

By Natan Meir

There are Orthodox Jews versus secular Jews; accusations that wealthy philanthropists are trying to control Jewish organizations staffed by overworked, underpaid communal professionals; charges that certain Jewish institutions are sucking up the lion’s share of communal funds, leaving others to languish. Sound familiar? Something like New York, or any other large American Jewish community, in the 21st century? Yet these phrases could just as accurately describe the Jewish community of czarist Kiev, as I’ll explain in a lecture at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on May 24.

Kiev was formally opened to Jewish settlement in only 1859, but its Jewish population grew by leaps and bounds in the following decades, despite continued czarist legislation restricting Jewish residence and cultural and religious activities. By the turn of the century it had a wide array of Jewish welfare and communal institutions, as well as a chorus of critics who, dissatisfied with the way the community was run, demanded a revolution. In this, Kiev was typical of many Jewish communities in the Russian Empire, where a new Jewish leadership — often inspired by ideologies such as Zionism and Bundism — was in the ascendant, but had to struggle with an entrenched establishment.

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At 70, Bob Dylan Remains the Reluctant Prophet

By Seth Rogovoy

Getty Images

Bob Dylan turns 70 on May 24. So what? Well, for one, let’s see you continue to perform two-hour concerts 100 nights a year, as you’ve been doing practically nonstop for the past quarter-century or so, all over the world, keeping things new and fresh, while the music industry around you falls apart; your body is battered by so many aches and pains that you can barely hold a guitar, and your singing voice — never the greatest to begin with — is nothing but a hollow shell of what it once was. You’re lucky if you can even spit out the lyrics of songs from throughout your 50-year career in a talking voice, much less even remember them.

So that’s what. It’s incredibly impressive and unprecedented. Sure, B.B. King and Willie Nelson are older and have been at it longer, but those two have been phoning it in for at least two or three decades at this point. Only Bob Dylan continues to take the stage, night after night, for no apparent reason; it can’t be for the money, and he sure doesn’t seem to be having a good time. Yet he still delves deep into 30- and 40-year-old songs and discovers new nuances, previously overlooked twists and turns of phrase, seemingly channeling something far beyond the conventional rock concert experience in which an artist delivers renditions of greatest hits and some new songs so you might buy one of his more recent recordings.

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The Wandering Jew and The Yeti

By C. Alexander London

C. Alexander London is the author of “We Are Not Eaten by Yaks: An Accidental Adventure,” and the forthcoming sequel, “We Dine With Cannibals.” As Charles London, his grown-up alter ego, he wrote “One Day the Soldiers Came: Voices of Children in War” and “Far from Zion: In Search of a Global Jewish Community.” 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:


It’s odd that a middle grade novel called “We Are Not Eaten by Yaks” about two 11-year-old couch potatoes and their adventures, should have its origins in a personal quest for Jewish meaning, but if it had not been for the scattering of the Jewish people, I never would have been in Rangoon to celebrate the High Holy Days with a few of the last Jews in Burma, and I never would have written it.

I suppose I should start at the beginning, before I became a writer of books for younger readers.

I was in Asia, doing research for what would become “Far From Zion,” a narrative of my journey through the far reaches of the Diaspora to figure out what it meant for me to be a part of the Jewish people. What did I have in common with a Jew in Rangoon? What did he share with a recent convert in rural Uganda? And what did all of us share with a Jewish community in Arkansas or with my Orthodox great-great grandfather who settled in Virginia, or with the nephew of a Hasidic rabbi in Jerusalem? What bound us together? Why did Jewish community persist, and what was my place in it?

I took a trip, starting in Burma, to find out.

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Monday Music: Sadder but Wiser in Berlin

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Photo by Kenneth Locke

Orit Shimoni is a singer-songwriter in perpetual motion, with little slowing her down as she travels from city to city, gig to gig. But it was a 2008 first-time visit to Berlin that gave her uncharacteristic pause. She had gone to the German capital to check out the music scene, where, she said, “you can show up and let things happen… Berlin is a hot spot for people who are just hovering.” Yet she couldn’t ignore the fact that she was a Jewish person in Germany and consequently grappling with being both “comfortable and uncomfortable” there.

From this tension emerged an album’s worth of songs, which Shimoni recorded live and has just released as “Sadder Music: Live in Berlin” under her performing alias, Little Birdie. The 10 tracks on this, her third independently produced album, are fine examples of her intimate and direct style, regardless of whether you label the album folk or country. Her sound, which is hard to pin down, is actually a bit of both. Shimoni herself likes to refer to it as “dark country.” She sings lead vocals, plays acoustic guitar and is backed up by a band that includes violin, electric guitar, bass and percussion.

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Israel's Secret Bromance

By Gili Izikovich

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Tchetchik
Adir Miller ‏(center‏) and Lior Halfon ‏(left‏) on the set of ‘Ramzor.’

About year ago, on an El Al flight to somewhere in Asia, was the usual variety pack of Israeli types: newly discharged soldiers, young couples, families with kids; religious, ultra-Orthodox and nonobservant. For all of about half an hour, when an episode of the second season of “Ramzor” (“Traffic Light”) played, we seemed to be “one people.” The response was uniform: Everyone, young and old, secular and religious, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, laughed and nodded at the same moments.

Ramzor,” whose third season airs Thursday on Channel 2, is nothing short of a phenomenon. But not because of its high ratings: This Israeli series about the friendship among three rather infantile men and about the characters’ love lives, which are totally controlled by the women, received the International Emmy Award for comedy this year. An American version was pulled after one season, but when Fox announced that “Ramzor” was not being renewed for another season, it also emphasized that it was considering future collaborations with series creator Adir Miller. He is expected to meet with studio executives in the United States in a few weeks.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Jacob Frank, False Messiah; Joseph Cedar's Triumph at Cannes

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
  • Allan Nadler reviews “The Mixed Multitude,” a study of “serial apostate, sexual deviant, messianic pretender and chameleonic charlatan” Jacob Frank.

  • Sara Ivry interviews David Unger about his novel “The Price of Escape,” the story of a German- Jewish refugee’s misadventures in Guatemala.

  • Filmmaker Saul Sudin on Lars Von Trier’s disgrace, and Joseph Cedar’s triumph, at Cannes.

  • Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is burning up the box office.

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

  • A.J. Goldmann appreciates Wanda Landowska, the 20th-century champion of the harpsichord.

  • Micah Kelber profiles Jeffrey Yohalem, winner of head writer award from the Writers Guild of America for “Assassin’s Creed.”

  • Laura Hodes reviews Joseph Skibell’s “A Curable Romantic,” which was shortlisted for the Rohr Prize.

  • Philologos lives like God in Odessa.

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A Yiddish Opera for Cuba’s ‘First National Hero’

By Ezra Glinter and Itzik Gottesman

A Monument to Hatuey in Baracoa, Cuba. Photo by Michal Zalewski.

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

In 1931, Yiddish poet, journalist and editor Ascher Penn published “Hatuey,” a 126-page epic poem about a Taíno chieftain who fought against the Spanish invasion of Cuba at the beginning of the 16th century, and who was eventually burned at the stake in 1512.

Born in 1912 in Ukraine, Penn immigrated with his parents to Cuba in 1924 following a pogrom in his native shtetl of Gaysin. In “Hatuey,” Penn drew on the experience of the pogrom to describe the massacre of Taíno natives by the Spanish, and expressed his admiration for Taíno history and culture.

Now, composer and Klezmatics trumpeter Frank London is working on an opera based on Penn’s poem, incorporating both Yiddish and Cuban music. At a May 5 symposium on Yiddish opera at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale University, London discussed the project together with Yale University English professor Alan Trachtenberg; Penn’s daughter, Eileen Posnick, and her husband, dramaturge and visiting artist Michael Posnick, who organized the symposium.

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In Song: Bechukotai

By Martin Stone

Ed note: This is the first in a series linking the weekly Torah reading — however tenuously — to classic works of rock ‘n’ roll.

In the first, and longest, section of this week’s parsha God tells us of the reward we will receive if we “walk in my statutes,” and the sufferings that will befall us if we don’t. With a somewhat different take on that phrase, live from Houston, Texas, June 24, 1977:


Friday Film: Woody Allen’s Parisian Sleight of Hand

By Dorri Olds

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In his new movie, “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen did what he does best. He created a character out of a city and added his signature sleight-of-hand magic. Think “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” when a handsome leading man steps through a screen to romance a depression-era Mia Farrow, or “Zelig,” when the title character appears on the nightly news with the Pope and Calvin Coolidge.

“Midnight in Paris,” which premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival earlier this month and opens in limited release May 20, reverberates with that same abracadabra wish fulfillment. “I always feel that only a magical solution can save us,” Allen said in an interview with L.A. Weekly. “The human predicament is so tragic and so awful that, short of an act of magic, we’re doomed.”

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