Crossposed from Haaretz
The University of Haifa has in the past two years undergone a dramatic facelift. Its main building, a modernist icon common in the mid-1960s in the work of noted Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, underwent an essential and comprehensive refurbishment after years of neglect.
Over the coming year, the university’s central library will undergo similar renovations, according to the plans of architect Asaf Lerman. In addition to the welcome investment in refurbishing the original buildings, all over the campus several new buildings have recently been dedicated, the most notable among them the Hatter Student Building, named for Sir Maurice Hatter.
It’s a staple of Hollywood and European cinema, and now a Holocaust movie is being shot in China.
Xinhua, the country’s official news agency, reports that production will soon begin on “The Melanie Violin,” a drama about a Jewish musician who flees Europe for Shanghai and falls for a local love interest. The film will be backed by “Schindler’s List” producer Branko Lustig, and will be scripted by Chinese-American writer He Ning.
An Auschwitz survivor, Lustig announced the new film Friday during a visit to Shanghai, where some 30,000 Jewish refugees found shelter during the war.
A Chinese-American co-production, the movie has a budget of between $30 and $45 million, and should be completed by the end of the year.
“Rockets on the Balcony,” Omer Klein’s fourth album and his Tzadik Records debut, is also his first self-consciously Jewish record. In the liner notes, Klein explains that when John Zorn first approached him about the project, he was reluctant to make “calculated evaluations as to what counts as Jewish music and what doesn’t.” But over the course of working on the album, Klein developed a knack for labeling each of his pieces as either “Jewish” or “not-Jewish.”
For those of us who cling to a romantic vision of the creative process — an image of the artist’s various influences simmering together in some delicious subconscious stew — it jars a little to hear Klein describe his oeuvre in these stark terms. The good news, though, is that Klein is a gifted jazz pianist who can riff on just about anything. A few of the pieces on “Rockets on the Balcony” started as what Klein describes as an “exercise” in writing folk tunes, and in their clumsiest moments, we can too easily hear the composer’s effort to come up with something that sounds homespun. Blessedly, though, these introductions don’t last long; far more exciting than Klein’s faux-folk melodies are the pleasing improvisations that come out of them.
It’s the Itzhak and Yitzchok show! Violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman is teaming up with cantorial superstar Yitzchok Meir Helfgot for a concert tour and recording project titled “The Soul of Jewish Music.” The inaugural concert takes place March 30 at the Saban Theatre in Los Angeles and will benefit Bet Tzedek Holocaust Survivors Justice Network.
The collaboration is Perlman’s first foray into Jewish music since “In the Fiddler’s House,” his klezmer tour and recordings in the mid-1990s. In a press release from L.A.-based producer Dan Adler, Perlman gushes that teaming up with Helfgot is an “historic project” and declares, “It excites me to my kishkas!”
Jewcy reviews the work of Bonnie Lucas, “another artist toiling forever as art teacher with a mature body of thirty years work in her fifth floor walk-up.”
What better place than Israel for an adult archeology camp?
But are Jewish studies on decline in the country’s universities?
Talmud study is catching on in South Korea.
Happy 80th birthday, Leonard Nimoy!
In the first of a two-part series, Lisa Traiger traces the growth of Israeli folk dancing from one dance — “Hora Agadati” in 1924 — to 4,678 in 2005.
Jordana Horn surveys the career of the remarkable Moroccan-Israel actress Ronit Elkabetz, who was recently honored by the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival.
Philologos is, as we all suspected, a nerd.
Jay Michaelson argues that current political arguments are not “l’shem shamayim.”
Howard Shapiro explores San Francisco Symphony artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas’s tribute to his late grandparents, Yiddish theater stars Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky.
The 19th century New Orleans-born entertainer and sex symbol Adah Isaacs Menken is still shivering timbers long after her premature death in 1868. Back in 2003, Renée M. Sentilles, a history professor at Case Western Reserve University, published an enjoyable scholarly analysis with Cambridge University Press, “Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the Birth of American Celebrity.” On February 1, Lyons Press published a more popular offering, “A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves, and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835-1868, America’s Original Superstar” by Michael and Barbara Foster.
Pitched at a resolutely pop-culture level, “A Dangerous Woman” dishily recounts how in 1856 she married a Jewish musician, Alexander Isaac Menken, and to a journalist who asked if she had converted to Judaism, she responded, “I was born in [Judaism] and have adhered to it through all my erratic career. Through that pure and simple religion I have found greatest comfort and blessing.”
Onstage Menken did a little of everything, whenever possible when garbed in form-fitting tights, whether minstrel acts, celebrity impressions of noted actor Edwin Booth (the brother of Lincoln’s assassin), and tightrope walking. Yet despite this circus-like activity, even more than later famous showbiz converts such as the late, lamented Elizabeth Taylor, Menken shows every sign of being a devoted student of Judaica, reading Hebrew fluently and pondering the Talmud and other sacred texts. Menken was a regular contributor of poems and prose to the newspaper “The Israelite,” founded and edited by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.
“The Klezmatics are the Jewish equivalent of arena rock,” ethnomusicologist Bob Cohen deadpans early in Erik Greenberg Anjou’s documentary “The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground.” “They’re not heavy metal; they’re heavy Yiddish.”
It’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek analysis calculated to make us chuckle (picture these mild-mannered, middle-aged folks head-banging in eyeliner and platform heels!) — and yet there’s truth in Cohen’s quip. The Klezmatics are, in a certain sense, a big-time group, having achieved a level of name recognition that’s rare in world music circles, and — it would seem to go without saying — rarer still for contemporary groups who sing in Yiddish. From an ethnomusicologist’s perspective, they’re interesting because they don’t just mimic old recordings: Here is something that at least approximates a living tradition — new tunes are composed, old tunes combined with jazz and gospel elements, Yiddish lyrics written about workers’ rights and gay pride. The group has been together for 20 years, released nine albums, collaborated with Itzhak Perlman and Nora Guthrie, and won a Grammy Award. And now, another milestone: The Klezmatics are famous enough that someone thought to make a documentary about them.
Lewis Black is a bundle of apoplectic fury on stage. His fingers shake and his voice is raised in rage as he throws thunderbolts of indignation at the audience.
Consider his concert at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. It was recorded for posterity (not to mention profit) and ultimately earned him his first Grammy Award. In it, he recalled his first Yom Kippur services. Words cannot describe his reaction as a five-year-old to hearing the rabbi discuss the prospect of being placed in the Book of Life.
Or the Book of Death.
Crossposted from Haaretz
“I was boiling with anger when I heard that Mike Leigh and Ken Loach had called for the boycott of Israeli films,” says French-Jewish actor, director and screenwriter Pascal Elbe. “As a Frenchman, I see in culture, as in academia, a necessity for every dialogue. What bridges do they want to burn? To silence Israeli cinema? That’s ridiculous! After all, Israeli cinema is also a vehicle for criticism and that’s one of the reasons why it’s successful. It touches on relevant and painful issues, at a time when in France they prefer to make stupid comedies that have guaranteed success and don’t challenge anything.”
Elbe, who this year is serving as president of the 11th Israeli Film Festival in Paris, will arrive in Israel next month to film two movies, one of which he is directing.
The Yiddish poet Yirmiye (Jeremiah) Hesheles died on October 16, 2010. When he celebrated his 100th birthday a group of dedicated Yiddishists, myself included, celebrated the occasion by paying him a visit at the New York State Veterans Home in St. Albans, Queens. A herd of geese, as if out of an Eastern European legend, greeted us in the parking lot. The building was big, its corridors cold. Veterans were rolling around in their wheelchairs or lying quietly in bed. We were looking for the last great Yiddish modernist alive. We found him asleep in one of the geriatric wards. The nurse did not let us see him. Showing her a picture of the young Hescheles did not help.
What do Yiddish pilgrims do when they are denied access to the object of their desire? They go see the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the nearby Montefiore cemetery. Maybe it was the spirit of the dead Rebbe who helped us, but back in the hospital we negotiated with a weary social worker and were granted permission for a short visit. Hescheles was lying in bed wearing a hospital uniform. When he saw us he sighed and said (in English): “Oh no. This is not a good day. I have a heart condition and I am 100 years old.”
The San Francisco Bay Guardian profiles Rabbi Michael Lerner on the 25th anniversary of Tikkun Magaine.
Watch a selection of Elizabeth Taylor’s best roles.
How Jewish playwrights adapted Shakespeare for the Yiddish stage.
Robyn Creswell interviews Peter Cole, translator of kabbalistic poetry.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Computer games have been known for decades now as the bitterest enemies of efficiency; after all, when the icon for the World of Warcraft or Angry Birds is easily accessible on the screen, it’s tempting to ignore one’s daily work. But must the fun of virtual games stand in opposition to the real world and the tedium of routine?
Voices in the community of game developers believe that these two worlds don’t have to collide. Many of them have recently been talking about “gamification” — a combination of computer game elements with other worlds, which the developers say can inspire activities outside the borders of technology.
For decades, a French Jewish host of chat show and variety programs on radio and television has been famous locally for filling a Johnny Carson/Ed Sullivan role, but with the likeability of a Mike Douglas/Merv Griffin. At 68, Michel Drucker, born in Normandy of Romanian and Austrian ancestry, has been looking back at his Jewish family roots, which may be the source of his unique warmth.
After a 2007 memoir co-authored by Jean-François Kervéan, “What are We Going to Do With You?” (Mais qu’est-ce qu’on va faire de toi?) from Les Éditions Robert Laffont, he has produced, again with Kervéan and from Laffont, “Remind Me” (Rappelle-moi), which appeared at the end of October, 2010. Both books are loosely anecdotal narratives which alternate name-dropping with highly human, empathetic tributes to Drucker’s father, Abraham Drucker, and his mother, Lola Schafler.
For all of its charitable mishloach manot-giving and passive-aggressive gragger-shaking, Purim is hardly the tamest Jewish holiday. At its best (worst?) the celebration follows a sort of Bakhtinian carnivalesque disorder, with masks, public denunciations of the villain Haman and booze — lots of booze.
With that in mind, one would expect Moscow, surely a world capital of hedonism, to know how to throw down on Purim. And at Yiddish Fest 2011, a three-hour concert at the upscale music club Milk on March 19, the city did not disappoint. Twenty-five musicians, often on stage all at the same time, taking vodka shots mid-song, shelled roughly 2,000 concert-goers with a raucous fusion of neo-klezmer, reggae, funk and hip-hop sounds, working the atmosphere into what can only be described as part bar mitzvah, part raw punk, part Breslov dance party.
“It was an orgy, a public orgasm,” accordionist and singer Daniel Kahn, of Berlin-based Daniel Kahn and The Painted Bird, said after the show. “Irreverent, anarchic and just fun.”
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
There aren’t too many novels that can lay claim to a second, much less a third, lease on life as both a film and a play, especially when the subject at hand has to do with religion and faith. But “The Chosen,” Chaim Potok’s novel of Orthodox Jewish life in Brooklyn during the waning years of the 1940s, has, of late, scored a home run.
These days, it takes the form of a critically acclaimed play which, thanks to a creative partnership between Theater J and Arena Stage, can be seen at the latter’s 800-seat Fichandler Theatre downtown.
Crossposted from Haaretz
“Heaven,” a work by Miroslaw Balka now showing at Hangar 2, Dvir Gallery’s space in the Jaffa Port, stirs more than a trace of irony. Sixty-eight Perspex rods, each wrought in a kind of open spiral, turn slowly, “flowing,” reminiscent of decorative objects sold at spiritual fairs or plant nurseries. In the middle of the week, when the space was entirely empty of visitors, the observer’s portrait was refracted in the rods and illuminated by an unearthly sort of light.
It is an experience in which the “I” is infinitely reduplicated, like in a hall of mirrors or in a dream. The duplication is one of solitariness, and its amplification creates an uncomfortable feeling.
Although the Italian Jewish poet Umberto Saba (born Umberto Poli in Trieste) died in 1957, only in 2009 did an accurate translation of many of his poems appear, “Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba” from Yale University Press.
A further tribute to Saba appeared from Les Éditions du Seuil in October 2010, in the form of a new French edition of Saba’s posthumous autobiographical novel “Ernesto” translated and introduced by René de Ceccatty, who published a February, 2010 biography of Alberto Moravia for Les editions Flammarion. A new translation was needed because after the original Italian edition in 1975, edited by the poet’s daughter Linuccia and her companion, the painter and author Carlo Levi, a revised and augmented edition of “Ernesto” was published by Einaudi Editore in 1995.
Aside from textual matters, “Ernesto” baffled many of Saba’s admirers, who were unaware that he was a gay man, since his poetry does not make this aspect of his life evident, whereas “Ernesto,” published posthumously, is explicitly homoerotic. “Ernesto” recounts a sixteen-year-old’s sexual encounters with two males, one an older work colleague and the second a contemporary, as well as a female prostitute.
Mirka Hershberg is a normal 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl. She attends school, polishes the candlesticks for Shabbat, does her homework, gives tzedakah, fights trolls and dreams of slaying dragons.
Well, maybe not your typical 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl.
Written by illustrator Barry Deutsch, “Hereville” is the story of Mirka’s quest for a dragon-slaying sword. Originally drawn as a comic strip on Girlamatic.com, Deutsch recently developed it into a graphic novel.
Raised in the remote village of Hereville, Mirka lives with her father, stepmother, and eight siblings. Though her stepmother tries to instruct her in the “womanly arts,” including knitting and crocheting, Mirka has bigger dreams for herself that don’t include domesticity.
She wants to fight dragons.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Man 25 considers itself a performance band in the full sense of the word. While other local indie bands save every penny in order to produce an album and release singles to be played on the radio, Man 25 views recorded materials as a calling card only. Drummer Tomer Tzur (30), guitarist and video artist Gidon Schocken (28) and soloist and text writer Orly Eitan (28) invest most of their efforts in creating an extremely loud show that combines noise, metal, post-punk, psychedelics, and in effect, “every musical genre that generates distortion walls, feedback whistles and screams.”
They describe their music as “ounk,” a genre they themselves invented. “It began with a typo,” says Tzur. “We wanted to write ‘punk’ and instead we wrote ‘ounk,’ and so we went with it. I think it’s a word that does a good job of summing up all the styles that we experiment with, and it has a good sound.”