The Arty Semite

Friday Film: When Perpetual Youth Is No Picnic

By Schuyler Velasco

Courtesy New York Israel Film Festival

Underneath its colorful shell of swashbuckling pirate adventures, boyish hi-jinx, and clock-eating crocodiles, Peter Pan’s story is terribly sad. Sure, he gets to play and have fun forever, but by refusing to grow up he loses all of his friends and the girl he loves; he is forced to watch through the window as the people he holds dear grow old without him — a fate arguably worse than the death he so deeply fears.

“Intimate Grammar,” which opened the New York Israel Film Festival on May 5, takes this gloomy heart of the Peter Pan story and sets it in 1960s Israel, in the years leading up to the Six Day War. Based on the critically lauded novel “The Book of Intimate Grammar” by David Grossman, the film chronicles the arrested adolescence of Aharon, played by a wistfully adorable Roee Elsberg. A whip-smart, artistic child, Aharon is stuck in an ill-fitting blue-collar family that, because of the too-recent Holocaust, fears and scorns Aharon’s sensitivity and formidable intellect (“The in’electuals and the artists were the first to die there,” his father cautions).

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Former Syracuse Synagogue Opens as a 'Green' Hotel

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Samuel D. Gruber

In August 2009 I wrote (and posted photos) about plans to transform the former Temple Adath Jeshurun in Syracuse, into a new “boutique” hotel. This week the hotel opened. The building is still an impressive presence on Syracuse’s University Hill, though inside nothing of the old sanctuary remains. The project includes many green elements and it’s a LEED certified building. The “greenest” element of all, however, is the reuse of the structure. The embedded energy and labor in the old materials and construction have not gone to waste, nor to a landfill.

In antiquity the synagogue was a place where visitors to a community could find refuge, a meal and sometime a bed. I’m thinking, of course, of the famous Theodotus inscription found in Jerusalem (translation from Meyers in “Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World” by Steven Fine):

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Friday Film: A Talking-Head Tribute to Lenny Bruce

By Michael Kaminer

Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce in ‘Lenny’ (1974). Courtesy Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Nearly 50 years after his landmark Carnegie Hall performance, and 44 years since his drug-related death, Lenny Bruce still has the power to shock. And as long he’s onscreen, it’s impossible to look away from Elan Gale’s Looking for Lenny, a new documentary whose North American premiere opens this year’s Toronto Jewish Film Festival on May 7. But with an overdose of celebrity interviews, and a regrettable final third that makes tenuous connections to Don Imus to Michael Richards, the film feels more like a well-meaning term paper than a compelling portrait of a tortured genius — tortured, that is, by the establishment he mocked.

Some of the interviews do shed light on Bruce’s place in the pop pantheon. “If it wasn’t for Lenny Bruce, we wouldn’t have had Richard Pryor or George Carlin,” says comedian Rob Riggle. “And it’s usually the first guy through the breach who takes all the bullets.” Likewise, cultural agitator Paul Krassner reminds us that Bruce was an “activist, transforming horror into humor.” And Kitty Bruce, Lenny’s daughter, provides poignant memories of Bruce’s desperation toward the end of his life — and of her own unbearable grief at learning about his death.

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It Looks Better in French

By Noam Dvir

Crosspsted from Haaretz

GPO
Ashkelon’s French Resort in 1963.

June 1970 marked a new era for Ashkelon, with the dedication of the French Resort on its southern beach, at the far end of Ben-Gurion Boulevard. The resort took on mythical proportions, symbolizing the luxury, hedonism and glamour of foreign locales at a time when most Israelis still vacationed at retreats operated by the Histadrut labor federation. The mainly French vacationers who went there found themselves in a unique architectural setting that allowed them to be part of an independent community with private accommodations.

Forty years later, few signs remain of the permissive aura that surrounded it. Today the complex is home to elderly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and is showing its age.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Jerome Rothenberg: Khurbn and Poetry as Language of the Dead

By Jake Marmer

Courtesy Jerome Rothenberg

To last week’s “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Holocaust” published here in the Forward, another significant contribution can be added: Jerome Rothenberg’s “Triptych,” which assembles three serial poems — “Poland/1931,” “Khurbn” and “The Burning Babe.”

Today on The Arty Semite, we’re featuring an excerpt from the middle section. As Rothenberg poignantly points out in the preface, the word “Holocaust” never quite captured the experience for him, being “too Christian & too beautiful, too much smacking of a ‘sacrifice,’” while Khurbn (Yiddish for “destruction”) projected the meaning more vividly. Indeed, a “sacrifice” is something torn from the self and forever given up on, while the ruins implied by the Yiddish term remain as a phantom limb, the ever-living other-worldly part that continues to exist and communicate.

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Hot Action Enoch: Japanese Video Games Take On Jewish Apocrypha

By Ajay Chaudhary

Courtesy of Ignition Entertainment

There remains significant scholarly debate about the exact process and dating of the canonization of the Tanach, but for most Jews, the Book of Enoch ended up on the cutting room floor. Takeyasu Sawaki, a Japanese game designer and the director of the recently released video game “El Shaddai,” would like people, specifically gamers, to reconsider it in a more contemporary light.

“El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is an action game from the Japanese company Ignition Entertainment. It features a partially abstract and colorful visual style with both 2D and 3D gameplay (think levels from “Super Mario Bros.” interspersed with battles from “God of War”). More surprising, its story follows the Book of Enoch, one of the oldest non-canonical Jewish texts.

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From Red Square to Times Square: Forverts Photographer Arkady Yagudaev

By Yefim Taiblin

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here

It is said that a good firefighter arrives at the scene half an hour before the fire breaks out. So what about a good photojournalist?

Courtesy of Arkady Yagudaev

When the amateur German aviator Mathias Rust infiltrated the Soviet Union in 1987 and landed right in the middle of Red Square, Arkady Yagudaev was already on the scene with his cheap Zenit camera, hanging around Saint Basil’s Cathedral.

Yagudaev, a longtime Forverts photographer who is celebrating his 75th birthday this year, began his photojournalism career somewhat by happenstance. Growing up in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, he sent in a photo of the Bukhara-Urals gas pipeline to Izvestiya, the official government newspaper in Moscow. When the paper published the photo, he decided to leave home and make his way as a photographer in the capital.

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In the Navy Now

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Flickr/Paul Belson

Since coming to Washington, D.C., 18 months ago, I’ve had lots of rewarding experiences, but none quite as memorable as my recent excursion to the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command at the D.C. Navy Yard, where I delivered a speech in commemoration of the Holocaust to a varied and engaged audience of military personnel and civilians.

I came to the Navy Yard wearing two hats. One was that of an historian, whose charge was to suggest something of the ways in which history complicates and enriches the world we currently inhabit. Toward that end, my talk, “Past Imperfect,” explored how the past relentlessly and inexorably intrudes on the present, especially when it comes to the continuous stream of new revelations — archival, cinematic and material — about the Shoah.

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Out and About: Jerry Seinfeld's Comedy Archive; Talking to Juliano Mer-Khamis

By Ezra Glinter

aNoidProduction
Jerry Seinfeld, in his first national television appearance in 1977.
  • Jerry Seinfeld plans to release nearly all of his recorded standup on his website, Jerryseinfeld.com, tomorrow.

  • The latest LABA Journal is out, featuring Elissa Strauss on why she won’t marry King David, Basmat Hazan on why we definitely need to pay attention to what David is wearing, and Stephen Hazan Arnoff on Justin Bieber, the latest and greatest of a long line of Davids.

  • Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and two dozen classical musicians crossed into Gaza to play Mozart for an invitation-only audience.

  • Souciant magazine publishes an interview with slain Palestinian-Jewish actor Juliano Mer-Khamis.

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Torah Arks Like Towers

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Florsheim Haggadah, c. 1465. Tall Torah Ark. Photo: Jewish Art, vol. 23-24.

Bar-Ilan University professor Ilia Rodov has written an important and useful article on medieval Torah Arks, especially those tall tower types, well known from representations in many illuminated medieval manuscripts. The article, “Tower-like Torah Arks, the Tower of Strength and the Architecture of the Messianic Temple,” was recently published in the prestigious art historical Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes.

Rodov’s article accomplishes three tasks. First, he has inventoried the number of occurrences and described the variety of known Spanish, Italian and Ashkenazic arks that meet a broad definition of “Tower-like Torah Arks.” These include examples shown in Spanish Haggadot, such as British Library Mss 2884, where the Aron HaKodesh is shown as a substantial fortified architectural element; to the tall ornate Gothic-style free-standing cabinet-type arks illustrated in Northern European manuscripts.

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The Fiery Prophet Who Named Jewish Self-Hatred

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of Oldenburg University Press

The German Jewish philosopher Theodor Lessing was a firebrand, author of profoundly unsettling books such as 1930’s “Jewish Self-Hatred” (Der jüdische Selbsthaß), a welcome new edition of which has just appeared from Agora from Presses Pocket in France.

It’s translated and introduced by Maurice-Ruben Hayoun, a Germanist who teaches Jewish philosophy at the University of Geneva and publishes frequently on historical questions of Jewish identity and Jewish philosophy. Also a specialist on The Zohar, Hayoun explains that Lessing irked his contemporaries, but posterity has often proven him correct, such as when “Jewish Self-Hatred” states that German Jewry’s quest for social assimilation was a lethal delusion.

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Reading Diaries by Einstein and Dylan

By Gary Shapiro

Beatnik William Burroughs’s dreams, English art critic John Ruskin’s chess moves, and Bob Dylan’s never-ending tour would seem to have little in common.

Albert Einstein’s journal from 1922. Courtesy of the Morgan Library and Museum.

All three, however, are chronicled in a remarkable exhibit at The Morgan Library and Museum on personal diaries. Long before there were blogs, people actually wrote their jottings in notebooks.

The exhibition in New York, titled “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives,” which is open until May 22, shows just how varied such entries can be. Visitors can squint at Charlotte Bronte’s tiny letters, which are nearly impossible to read without a magnifying glass. Forget English diarist Samuel Pepys’s entries altogether: He wrote in a shorthand that resembles a kind of military code. Diaries allow the viewer to tune in (so to speak), to the thoughts and action of Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) on the opening night of “Pirates of Penzance.” (Spoiler: He downs 12 oysters and a glass of champagne.)

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Crowning the 'King of Klezmer'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Klezmer legend clarinetist David Tarras will be center stage for the first time in decades on May 5, thanks to the efforts of klezmer violinist and ethnographic field researcher Yale Strom. Strom and his band, Hot Pstromi, will be giving a special performance of Tarras’s music — including some pieces that have never been published or recorded — at the Brooklyn Public Library. For Strom, it will be a chance to showcase the talents of the musician known as “The King of Klezmer.”

Courtesy Center for Traditional Music and Dance

In addition to playing Tarras’s music, Strom also recently published an oral history titled “Dave Tarras: The King of Klezmer,” beginning with Tarras’s birth into a family of klezmorim in czarist Russia and ending with his death at age 92 in 1989. The book also includes rare photos of Tarras, his family and colleagues, as well as sheet music for 28 of Tarras’s melodies, arranged by Strom and Jeff Pekarek. Strom recently spoke to The Arty Semite about Tarras and about the legacy he left to klezmer artists, as well as to musicians from Charlie Parker to Miles Davis.

Renee Ghert-Zand: Why did you write this book?

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Big City Dreams, Small Town Scandals

By Michael Handelzalts

Crossposted from Haaretz

The recent Europe Theater Prize ceremony in St. Petersburg gave me a chance to meet with Lev Dodin, the director of St. Petersburg’s Maly Theater, who won the prize back in 2000.

Israel’s Gesher Theater hosted the Maly recently for their adaptation of Vasily Grossman’s “Life and Fate.”

Dodin’s perception of time on stage is unique; his productions do not have video clips and visual pyrotechnic marvels. It is all based on the actor’s art and the director’s wisdom in interpreting the text.

His new production of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” was a great experience for me. The story of the three Prozorov sisters is already known: their struggles to leave their boring lives in the town they moved to because of their father, the general, and their longing to return to Moscow since his death (about a year before the start of the plot). So what new meaning can one gain there?

Read more at Haaretz.com


'Dear Little Sister Cembalo,' the Viennese Harpsichordist Alice Ehlers

By Benjamin Ivry

Getty Images
Linton No More: Merle Oberon who starred in the ‘Wuthering Heights’ that featured Alice Ehlers.

While awaiting this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood from April 28 to May 1, the Turner Classic Movie channel broadcast William Wyler’s 1939 “Wuthering Heights,” starring Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier. Cinema fans recall that in that film, during a party, Isabella Linton (Geraldine Fitzgerald) announces to Heathcliff (Olivier): “Oh, Madame Ehlers is going to play the harpsichord” (although Fitzgerald mispronounces the name “Erliss”).

A lookalike of the Polish Jewish harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, with a Landowska-ish hairstyle, sits at a huge, Landowska-custom-built Pleyel harpsichord, and plays an acerbic rendition of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. The resulting spine-tingling chills epitomize the excitement of Landowska’s approach to music, jangling the lovers’ nerves as they stare feverishly at each other in close-ups.

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A Wedding and a Funeral at Theater for the New City

By Zohar Tirosh-Polk

Jonathan Slaff
Fearing that it will upset their wedding plans, the cousins of Latshek Boobitshek, played by Nikki Iliopoulou (left) and Debra Zane (right), resist the news that his mother has died.

A wedding or a funeral, which is more important? That’s the main question in the upcoming American premiere of “Winter Wedding” by the renowned Israeli playwright, Hanoch Levin, co- translated by David Willinger and Laurel Hessing. The play, opening at Theater for the New City on May 5 and running through May 22, is a dark comedy about the clash between two major life events and the wild family drama that ensues.

“This play is like the Donner Party meets Groucho Marx” said director David Willinger. “It puts on stage characters who I kind of recognize from life, puts them in an extreme vice of circumstances, and then reveals how low they can go. That doesn’t make us hate them; they’re fun.”

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Of Beastie Boys, Kafka, and the Hot Sauce Academy

By Eitan Kensky

Getty Images

I imagine the hot sauce committee to be a studious and dour group, as dispassionate in their judgment of peppers and spices as the academy is of Red Peter the talking ape in Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy.” Which is to say, that if the Beastie Boys are not quite the heir to Kafka’s fantastical humor, they are at least a multimedia Marx Brothers, deviously pushing absurdity to new heights with each of their albums.

How else can we explain their latest project, “Fight For Your Right Revisited,” a 25-minute sequel to “Fight for Your Right (to Party)”? Released to accompany their new album, “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,” the aesthetics of “Revisited” are perfect: There are the boys in their Adidas track suits and chunky gold chains leaving a party for a day-lit street that looks like the “Paul’s Boutique” album cover. Only instead of appearing themselves, the band cast Danny McBride and Seth Rogan as fatter, less whimsical versions of MCA and Mike D, and Elijah Wood as an even more awkward Ad-Rock, whose cherubic face hides his dark core.

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Dusting Off an Eichmann Documentary

By Nirit Anderman

Crossposted from Haaretz

A screenshot from ‘Memories of the Eichmann Trial,’ in which photographer Henryk Ross demonstrates how he secretly snapped photos in the Lodz Ghetto, with his wife Stefania at left.

In 1979, Channel One broadcast “Memories of the Eichmann Trial,” a documentary directed for the Israeli television station by David Perlov. The movie, shot on 16mm film, was aired only once and for the 32 years since has remained unseen in the channel’s archives. The director, who passed away in 2003, did not own a copy of the documentary himself, but rather a yellowed video cassette prepared for him by the archive, which was missing the first three minutes and the closing credits.

With the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial this year, Perlov’s family, in cooperation with Yad Vashem, decided to save the film from oblivion. Last month, with the help of Channel One archive director Billy Segal, Perlov’s daughter Yael and Yad Vashem Visual Center director Liat Benhabib located the boxes containing the original copy of the documentary.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Monday Music: Trailing Clouds of Glory Does He Come

By Josh Tapper

Photo by Frank Vena

Like many of his klezmer contemporaries, Geoff Berner, the Vancouver-born accordionist and songwriter, has a lyrical flair for pairing social commentary with the comically absurd. And he’s been able to do it with tongue-in-cheek storytelling and a Tom Waits-ian sense of balladry.

Two of his most recent studio releases, “The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride” (2007) and “Klezmer Mongrels” (2008) featured songs such as “Traitor Bride” (on “Mongrels”) and “The Whiskey” (on “Wedding Dance”), that set Berner’s trademark kookiness against delightfully truncated instrumentation. As a result, Berner has earned a North American and European cult following, a distinction he irreverently addresses on his fifth studio album, “Victory Party,” released in early March.

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Remembering My Mother, Artist Shirley Moskowitz

By Samuel D. Gruber

“Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague” (1966). Sepia and ink drawing by Shirley Moskowitz.

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

It is hard for me to accept that it has been four years this weekend since my mother, artist Shirley Moskowitz, died in Santa Monica, Calif., at the age of 86.

I’ve written about some of her art before, and though Jewish themes were not a major preoccupation in her work, I thought I would remember her by posting a few of her explicitly Jewish works, many of which will be unknown to her friends and even family members. Several of Shirley’s earliest works — or at least those that survive — are of Jewish subjects, reflecting a strong Jewish presence in her life, especially through the Susnitskys, her mother’s extended Texan-Jewish family. Her first published drawing is of her Hebrew teacher, submitted to the Jewish youth magazine Young Israel when she was fifteen.

View a slideshow of artworks by Shirley Moskowitz:

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