The Arty Semite

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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Testifying for the Holocaust

By Deborah Lipstadt

Last week, Deborah Lipstadt wrote about eerie anniversaries and Hannah Arendt. 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:


This blog entry appears during the time that we mark Yom HaShoah. It is also the time of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. I am reminded of a small article which appeared on the front page [upper half] of the New York Times on April 22, 1943. The article read as follows:

The secret Polish radio appealed for help tonight in a broadcast from Poland and then suddenly the station went dead. The broadcast as heard here said: The last 35,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto have been condemned to execution. Warsaw is echoing with musketry volleys.

The people are murdered. Women and children defend themselves with their naked arms.

Save us…

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Monday Music: Prime Time for Eprhyme

By Jay Michaelson

Courtesy Eprhyme

At the New York release party for Eprhyme’s first CD a few years ago, the audience was an unusual blend of angel-headed Jewish hipsters bopping along to neo-Hasidic hip-hop, along with a smaller African-American crowd which was there to check out the new record drop. Eprhyme straddled two communities — the New-Jew one, and the urban hip-hop one — and while we shared space that night, I noticed there was little interaction between the two sub-groups.

Now, the follow-up to that first record is here, an 11-song mélange of styles and themes called “Dopestylevsky.” (Eprhyme, pronounced E-prime, is a master of the unpronounceable — perhaps a gesture at the ineffable God he invokes often in his music.) And so is that same productive tension. “Dope” is a more polished and more professional record — no doubt in part because of Eprhyme’s affiliation with the famous indie label K Records from Olympia, Washington. It is also more continuous with current styles of hip-hop, featuring more current musical stylings, half a dozen collaborations with mostly underground artists, and is less overtly Jewish in terms of content. The result? Less novelty, less preaching, but perhaps more potential to reach a wider audience with a Jewish flavor of hip-hop and rap.

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A Win for Israel at Tribeca Film Festival

By Nirit Anderman

Crossposted from Haaretz

Courtesy of Alma Har'el

The film “Bombay Beach” by Israeli director Alma Har’el took first prize on Thursday at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in the category of documentary feature film. The prize comes with a monetary award of $25,000.

The jury, which included actress Whoopi Goldberg, actor Michael Cera and documentary filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev, among others, noted that the choice of “Bombay Beach” was unanimous, due to the film’s “beauty, lyricism, empathy and invention.”

“Eva — Working Title,” a short film written and directed by Dor Fadlon of Ramat Gan, also won special mention at Tribeca, where it was shown as a student film.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: A Bar Mitzvah at Auschwitz; Sholem Asch's Family Photos

By Ezra Glinter

Courtesy of David Mazower

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Samuel Bak
  • In honor of Yom HaShoah, the Forward presents “The Thinking Person’s Guide to the Holocaust,” a selection of the most important literary, historical and artistic works about the Shoah.

  • Rokhl Kafrissen explores the new generation of klezmer music and musicians, including Benjy Fox-Rosen and his new album, “Tick Tock.”

  • Joshua Furst takes a hard look at the remounting of Wallace Shawn’s “Marie and Bruce” by The New Group.

  • Eli Gottlieb reports on Janet Malcom’s reporting on a murder in the Bukharan Jewish community of Queens.

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National Poetry Month: Shabbat and Palm-Sized Watermelons

By Jake Marmer

funis2cool.com

We’re at the end of the National Poetry Month celebration at the Forward. Aside from the flurry of posts on The Arty Semite, we’ve also featured an interview with seven poets. One of the interviewees, Maya Pindyck, who has already made an appearance on the blog last year, is here again, with two poems,”Shabbat” and “This.”

“Shabbat” approaches talmudic rhetoric in a Kafkaesque manner — by playing with the language of laws so abstract and obscure that they may have lost their footing completely. Yet, they are still full of mythic and poetic potential. Behind its dark irony and quirky humor, the poem approaches rather serious notions about the nature of Jewish thought and the philosophy of what the poet calls “hanging by a thread from the mountain.”

The second piece, “This,” is an exploration of prayer, which, like “Shabbat,” loosens the seriousness of the discussion with an absurdly funny food-related image (“a palm-sized watermelon/ plops”), offering the sort of comic relief more reminiscent of comic books than of postmodern verse. Yet, precisely in the delightful surprise of it, is the point of the poem: to break away from the morose sort of prayer that’s bogged down in the “hammering of bricks/ patterned after man’s idea of death.” Here’s to palm-sized watermelons!

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Friday Film: Alan Zweig and the Cinema of Emotional Crudity

By John Semley

In 2000, filmmaker Alan Zweig gained modest success on the festival circuit with “Vinyl,” a documentary probing the quirks and eccentricities of compulsive record collectors. (“Compulsive” referring not to some guy with a few hundred LPs, but to some guy who rents a U-Haul locker on the edge of town to serve as a supplementary storage archive.) In a highly conversational, and often confrontational manner, Zweig pressed his subjects to spill the beans about their hoarding impulses, their loneliness, and all of their other personal peccadilloes. And it was all intercut with shots of Zweig interviewing himself in a vanity mirror, mining his own emotional depths.

Courtesy Hot Docs

It’s a style that Zweig — a former taxi-cab driver who shares an affinity with the bare-all first-person narratives of Charles Bukowski and Harvey Pekar — would employ in his subsequent studies of human loneliness: 2004’s “I, Curmudgeon,” 2007’s “Lovable,” and 2009’s “A Hard Name.” In the post-“Bowling For Columbine” climate of documentary filmmaking that favours glossy production values, didactic voice-overs, and dumbed-down argumentation, Zweig’s films reek of bluntness and sincerity. Their ostensibly slapdash quality (he doesn’t light his subjects or use crews; it’s all Zweig and his camera) suits their anxious, candid approach — the cinema of emotional crudity.

Now Zweig, 59, is being honoured with a retrospective of his work at the 2011 Canadian International Documentary Film Festival (more colloquially, Hot Docs), which runs from April 28 to May 8 in his native Toronto. It’s a fitting homage, given Zweig’s cult status in the Toronto film scene. I spoke with Zweig in a coffee shop in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood, one of the city’s less gentrified quarters, where the he makes his home.

John Semley: How did you land on the particular style, or non-style, that defines your work?

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The New Ars Judaica Has Arrived

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Wiki Commons
The synagogue of Oran, discussed in an article in Ars Judaica by Dominique Jarrassé.

The seventh volume of the excellent art journal Ars Judaica has been published by Bar-Ilan University. Editors Bracha Yaniv, Mirjam Rajner and Ilia Rodov have done it again, producing a rich selection of well-research articles, beautifully illustrated and presented. Older readers will remember that from the 1970s through the 1990s there was only one reliable forum dedicated to scholarly works about Jewish art, and that was the Journal of Jewish Art (later just Jewish Art) published by the Center for Jewish Art at The Hebrew University. That journal is no more — though the Center continues to publish important monographs and other volumes, now in partnership arrangements with other institutions.

Fortunately, Ars Judaica and the journal Images, published by Brill, have developed to take its place. Significantly, the journals are complementary in editorial approach. Ars Judaica mostly focuses on painting, especially the “heroic” period of Jewish history painting and nascent modernism form the late 19th century until the Holocaust. There is usually a strong representation of new research on art and artists from Central and Eastern Europe, and of course utilizing sources in Israel.

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Hannah Arendt and the Eichmann Trial

By Deborah Lipstadt

On Wednesday, Deborah Lipstadt wrote about eerie anniversaries. She is the author of the new book “The Eichmann Trial.” 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 have spent much of the past few weeks talking about my new book, “The Eichmann Trial.” I don’t want to make this blog entry about the book. (To be blunt, I’d rather have folks read the book.) But something has struck me in the talks and interviews I have conducted.

For so many people the issue of the Eichmann trial remains Hannah Arendt. They seem to have a hard time conceiving of the Eichmann trial independent of Arendt’s “analysis.” I am speaking of who abhor what she said as well as of those who espouse her views.

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A Mélange of Musical May Days

By Benjamin Ivry

As May rolls around for Manhattan music lovers, ‘tis the season for appreciating the works of George Kleinsinger, whose much-loved orchestral work “Tubby the Tuba” will be performed on April 30 in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater by The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Symphonic Band.

Kleinsinger wrote “Tubby” in 1941, about the possibly hidden virtues of difference in a world darkened by Fascist uniformity, just as one year later, he would contribute a song, “Queen Esther,” glorifying the heroine who defeated Haman, to a Broadway review about victory over Hitler, entitled “Of V We Sing,” a punning reference to the Gershwin musical hit “Of Thee I Sing.”

More pop music pizzazz may be heard from May 3 to May 5, when the sibling songstresses Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway perform at Birdland music of the 60s and 70s by Carole King, Carly Simon, and Paul Simon. Opera fans will note that May is hitherto the official Regina Resnik Appreciation Month, for the great Bronx-born mezzo-soprano, 89, has vocal-coached a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff to be performed by The Mannes Opera on May 5 and May 6.

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Terrorist Noire

By Ishai Mooreville

It is often forgotten that before the existence of film noir, there was literary noir. The genre came to prominence in novels by James Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who wrote “The Maltese Falcon” in 1930. Its origins can be found even further back, in Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent,” from 1907. It is therefore no surprise that someone has finally decided to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of literary noir. After all, the conflict has been full of hidden motives, personal vendettas, and tragic killings.

In his novel “Limassol,” translated from the Hebrew by Barbara Harshav, author Yishai Sarid uses the conventions of noir — the cynical, hard-boiled detective, the femme fatale, overweight gangsters and, of course, guns — to tell an emotionally wrenching story.

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