The French Jewish film director Jean-Pierre Melville (born Grumbach; 1917–1973), famous for films about crime and France’s wartime Résistance, is being rediscovered by cinema addicts. A remake of Melville’s 1970 heist film “Le Cercle Rouge” is currently in development as “The Red Circle” starring Orlando Bloom while Melville’s equally influential 1967 “Le Samouraï,” about a hit man (played by Alain Delon), has inspired filmmakers from Jim Jarmusch to Hong Kong’s Pang Ho-cheung.
Following the October release of a 7-DVD box set of his films from StudioCanal DVDs, and a retrospective at Paris’s la Cinémathèque française from last November 3 to 22, “Riffs for Melville” (Riffs Pour Melville) a new book from the Belgian publisher Les éditions Yellow Now has appeared.
Of all the stories of Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the Shoah, there’s one story that rarely gets told: the Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews.
Norman H. Gershman’s photographic exhibition “Besa,” currently showing at the Soho Photo Gallery, redresses this imbalance, focusing exclusively on the unsung Albanian Muslim heroes who hid their Jewish neighbours from the Nazis, as well as thousands of other Jews fleeing across Europe, often at great risk to their lives.
The portraits, which have been published in a book with the same title, were painstakingly taken by Gershman over a seven-year period, in which he tracked down these ordinary Albanian and Kosovar Muslims whose families closely observed the principle of “Besa” to save Jewish lives.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The atmosphere on the set of the film “Lemalei Et Hahalal” (“Filling the Void”) is different, special. In a ground-floor apartment in central Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin area, the monitors, lights and other equipment whirl, surrounded by professionals clothed in cool clothes — some holding ever-present cigars or joints — as well as bearded, black-garbed Orthodox men, and Orthodox women in long dresses with wigs or head coverings. This is a curious mixture of the outright secular and the ultra-Orthodox — both groups united by a common goal: to make a movie directed by a newly pious woman, who prowls around the set with a clear agenda.
“Filling the Void” is the first film written and directed by Rama Burstein for the Israeli mainstream audience. Burstein is an ultra-Orthodox woman who lives with her husband and children in Tel Aviv, a few streets away from the studio; she is a graduate of the second class of students at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, in Jerusalem. Among other things, she studied alongside Tali Shemesh, who directed the acclaimed documentary “Moadon Beit Hakvarot” (“The Cemetery Club”).
I never learned to speak Yiddish. As a child in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was the language of my grandparents, the language that my parents only spoke when they didn’t want me or my brothers to understand what they were talking about (and I don’t think they spoke it when my childhood friend Michael Wex was in the house). And yet, there is something about Yiddish theater and song (and, of course, Yiddish theater songs) that makes me feel very connected to my Jewish heritage.
Adrienne Cooper is one of the Yiddish singers I’ve come to most appreciate over the past 15 years or so. I’ve heard her collaborate with several klezmer bands, and “Ghetto Tango,” her CD of Holocaust-era Yiddish theater and cabaret songs with pianist Zalmen Mlotek, has been a particular favorite.
While “Ghetto Tango” was a masterful look back at a previous era, Cooper’s new album, “Enchanted: A New Generation of Yiddish Song,” is a project that is very much of these times. Newly written songs along with re-imagined versions of older songs are presented in a postmodern variety of seemingly disparate, yet somehow seamless musical styles, including jazz, rock, pop, cabaret, klezmer and folk. It is an album that, on one track, reaches back to Cooper’s mother and grandparents, and, on several others, reaches forward to her daughter’s generation.
Durham, N.C. is not an easy place to be a non-conformist. It is the home of Duke University, notorious for its male lacrosse team’s behaving badly and its “Cameron Crazies,” obsessed basketball fans. Even in January 2011, when the Durham public schools need to make up a snow day, school is scheduled for Saturday, Jewish students notwithstanding.
Yet Durham was, for over 50 years, home to Reynolds Price, who died January 20 at age 77. A revered American writer, Price authored over 20 volumes of novels, poetry, memoirs and translations, as well as the lyrics for two songs with fellow North Carolinian James Taylor. As a teacher at Duke, Price was unafraid to publicly critique the school’s anti-intellectual ambiance in a 1992 lecture. He was also openly gay, though he preferred the term “queer,” and was openly what he called an “outlaw Christian.”
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Di mode” (“Fashion”), a poem by the early Yiddish writer Yitskhok Yoel Linetski, as adapted by his grandmother, Lifshe Schaechter-Widman:
I never thought I would thank Google Books in this blog, but the website has opened up tremendous possibilities for the Yiddish folksong researcher. In addition to having access to song collections, one can type in a search word in Yiddish and find it in dozens or hundreds of works. The Harvard Library and its unique Leo Wiener Collection, which is full of 19th-century Yiddish folk literature, is being made available on the site.
And so I was able to look at Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski‘s work “Der beyzer marshelik” (1869) for the first time in its entirety. One of the poems is called „Di mode‟ (“Fashion”; “mode” has two syllables) and I immediately identified it as the source of a song my grandmother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] sang called „Di mode.”
Linetski (1839–1915) was one of the earliest maskilic (“enlightened”) Yiddish writers, and his novel “Dos Poylishe yingl” (1868) later called “Dos khsidishe yingl‟ was the first bestseller of modern Yiddish literature.
Crossposted from Haaretz
When one is talking about jazz, the word “dissonance” often is heard in reference to avant-garde, cacophonic-sounding music. At the Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival, held over the weekend for the first time (as the new, younger sibling of the veteran Red Sea Jazz Festival, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August), the music was not cacophonic, but a different sort of dissonance hovered over the festivities: climactic dissonance. Watching a jazz festival in Eilat when you are covered in three layers of clothing, and still feel chilled to the bone, is like being in an alternate universe.
Jazz in Eilat during the annual festival in August routinely stirs metaphors of hell, since it is about 38 degrees Celsius in cool years. But last weekend we sat and listened to jazz in Eilat with two pairs of socks on. Guitarist and piano player Egberto Gismonte, whose performance brought the second day of festival events to a close, exclaimed at the start of his show: “It was so cold behind the scenes, that I just had to come here and sit down to play the piano, to get warmer.”
Film Criticism is doing better than ever, according to Roger Ebert.
Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award include novelists David Grossman for “To the End of the Land” and Hans Keilson for “Comedy in a Minor Key”; Christopher Hitchens for his autobiography “Catch 22”; Tom Segev for his biography of Simon Wiesenthal, and Forward contributor Susie Linfield for “Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence.”
Tullia Zevi, a longtime leader of Italian Jewry, has died at age 91.
Young Isrealis just love Berlin, according to Der Spiegel.
Eric A. Goldman shares his discovery of the classic Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me.”
Katherine Preston looks at the similarities between “The King’s Speech” and “Going With the Flow,” a short documentary about speech therapy.
Debra Nussbam Cohen praises the accomplishments of Jewish feminist Judith Plaskow.
Philologos gets out his trunk.
There are upwards of 180,000 women incarcerated in U.S prisons today. Of those, an estimated 80% are victims of rape, assault, incest, and other forms of sexual and domestic violence. Considering what a closeted problem this sort of abuse is in many communities, it wouldn’t be shocking if the true percentage were actually higher. Responding to that overwhelming statistic, California passed a law in 2002 to allow the reopening of cases of convicted domestic abuse victims, with the circumstances of their suffering allowable as evidence. The California law was the first, and is still the only, one of its kind in the United States.
Thus the jumping-off point for “Crime After Crime,” the surprisingly intimate documentary from director Yoav Potash, screening January 23 to 29 at the Sundance Film Festival and on January 27 at the New York Jewish Film Festival. The film follows the case of Deborah Peagler, an inmate serving a life sentence for conspiracy to murder her boyfriend in 1983.
Although it may seem odd to hear a man who drew caricatures for a living talk about what it felt like to live through the horrors of the former Soviet Union, this is exactly what happens in the documentary “Stalin Thought of You.”
Meet Boris Efimovich Efimov, a political cartoonist who witnessed every major event in the history of the Soviet Union — from the Russian Revolution to the collapse of the Berlin Wall — before he died at the age of 109, in 2008. In the film, which screened on January 12 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, Efimov appears as a small, fragile man with a robust personality. His prescription glasses are weighty, yet his attitude is buoyant. His wit and charm and ability to tell an endearing story all seem natural before the camera. Either that, or these qualities are the result of over ten decades of practice.
A longer version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Some weeks ago, on December 12, I was involved in a commemoration at YIVO of the 120th birthday anniversary of the great Yiddish actor and director Solomon (Shloyme) Mikhoels.
I am not sure if Mikhoels is well known among the younger generation in Russia, or anywhere else. Older people, however, specifically in America and Canada, may recall the trip that he and the poet Itsik Fefer took from the Soviet Union to North America in 1943. They came as representatives of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, of which Mikhoels was the chairman. What is often forgotten is that not all Jewish organizations made the two artists welcome.
It is sadly fitting that in a play about language’s inability to explain political and religious differences, set design and subtitles conspired to thwart the actors.
But such was the case at the opening of the Tel Aviv-based Cameri Theatre’s production at Theater J in Washington, D.C. of Return to Haifa, which runs until January 30 as part of the theater’s Voices From a Changing Middle East festival. The play explores a tug-of-war between Palestinian parents Sa’id (Suheil Haddad) and Saffiyeh (Raida Adon), and Miriam (Rozina Kambos), the Jewish woman who adopted their abandoned son Dov/Khaldun (Nisim Zohar).
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three pieces by Ivan Klein.
Reading Ivan Klein’s work I imagine a man, sitting alone in an empty room, and talking. Not to anyone specific; probably to himself. In the emptiness his words echo off the walls, and in the echoes is the musicality, response, sub-text. Ivan’s work is mystical; both cerebral and physically frank. Kabbalistic imagery and Kafka’s fingerprints keep appearing, as does Melville and the streets of Greenwich Village. Jewishness is among the poet’s primary concerns — the mystery and misery of it, exile and redemption. The writer easily slides between poetry and prose, references and tonalities. As he states: “There is no such thing as poetry, / Just let yourself be.”
Aside from his book of collected works, “Alternatives to Silence,” Klein has also recently published a chapbook “Some Paintings by Koho & a Flower of My Own.” This sampling of Ivan’s work features a timely Tu B’shvat piece, “Amaryllis,” where the strangeness of celebrating the “Jewish Arbor Day” in the middle of January comes as a lingering metaphor for the absurdity and incongruence of exilic living. The poem “Primo Levi Departing Auschwitz” pays tribute to the great thinker and writer and the moment of his liberation — the freedom that is fraught with the inescapable confinement of memory. Finally, “Poem to David” is the author’s tangled and cryptically mighty advice to his son.
In her previous posts, Erika Dreifus blogged on her upcoming panel at AWP, “Beyond Bagels and Lox,” and the inspiration for “Quiet Americans.” 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:
The online literary world has been atwitter (please pardon the pun!) about the changes — some are calling it censorship — that appear in a new edition that presents “updated” versions of Mark Twain’s classic novels, “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The change that has attracted the most discussion is the new book’s replacement of the word “nigger” with “slave”; a second modification is the substitution of “Indian” for “injun.” (For general summaries, I’ll point you to news items from The New York Times and Publishers Weekly; for a sample of some of the commentaries, I recommend an AOL News column by Tayari Jones, a blog post by The Christian Science Monitor‘s Marjorie Kehe, and the multiple contributions featured within the NYT Room for Debate forum.)
Joan Rivers and her daughter, Melissa, talk about their upcoming reality TV show.
Would you have watched “The Seinfeld Chronicles”?
Bob Dylan has signed on with Simon & Schuster to write no less than six new books.
Meet Ka’et, a dance troupe of Orthodox Jewish men in Israel.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The 17 cartons that held Naomi Shemer’s private archive contained a small black telephone book and tucked in its pages was a note in which the popular songwriter jotted down an extra stanza to “Jerusalem of Gold” at the end of the Six Day War: Just four lines in all, plus numerous erasures and doubts. The first line was changed from “The wells are ours” to “are ours” and added “We returned to.” This very tiny adjustment, just one word in Hebrew, still reflects the national (and individual ) mood of the time.
There is no mention of Shemer’s use of a Basque song, a theft that came to light only years later, and there is none in the archive, or at least none the family agreed to publicize.
The note is just an appetizer. Shemer’s archive, recently moved to the National Library in Jerusalem, contains hundreds of recordings, drafts and personal letters, which reveal her character as far more complex than the tough image she liked to project.
When the leftist French Jewish singer/songwriter Jean Ferrat (born Tenenbaum) died last March at the age of 79, the outpouring of affectionate tributes surprised some. After all, Ferrat had been retired to an Ardèche village in south-central France for a number of years. A detailed new biography has appeared from Les éditions Fayard, “Jean Ferrat: Singing is No Pastime for Me” (Jean Ferrat, Je ne chante pas pour passer le temps) by journalist Daniel Pantchenko, to explain the lastingly galvanizing emotional power of Ferrat’s songs.
Born in 1930, Ferrat experienced first the hopes of France’s Front Populaire movement led by the statesman Léon Blum, and then the rise of European Fascism. In an interview quoted by Pantchenko, Ferrat recalled how in German-occupied Paris, his Russian Jewish father, Mnacha Tenenbaum, returned from his job as a produce peddler with yellow stars which all Jews were henceforth required to wear:
We felt as if we were branded. In fact, there was no feeling involved, we were indeed branded! Like an animal! But we didn’t know the animal was being sent to the slaughterhouse.
On Monday, Erika Dreifus, the author of “Quiet Americans,” wrote about Jewish-American Literature as Multicultural Literature. 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:
Today is a special day: It’s the official “pub date” for my debut short-story collection, “Quiet Americans,” which is being released by Last Light Studio, a new, Boston-based micropress.
It is also a special day on an even more personal level: It is the 70th anniversary of the date on which my paternal grandparents, Ruth and Sam Dreifus, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s and met here in Manhattan, were married.
Daniel Libeskind’s ‘Wheel of Conscience’ in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Courtesy Canadian Jewish Congress.
The ill-fated voyage of the MS St. Louis, the Hamburg-based ocean liner intended to transport 907 mostly German Jewish refugees to Cuba in May 1939, has always played a central role in early Holocaust history, and not only because it unraveled, tragically, like a Hollywood drama. (Indeed, the story was made into a 1976 film called “Voyage of the Damned,” based on a book of the same name.) Rather, the episode exposed a peculiar unwillingness on the part of the United States and Canada to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, even though Hitler’s anti-Semitism was already well known. Turned away at Havana, the ship unsuccessfully sought safe harbor in Florida and Nova Scotia before returning to Europe. Many of the passengers eventually died in the Holocaust.
In Canada, the story of the country’s anti-Jewish immigration policies has been recorded in the seminal 1983 book “None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948” by Irving Abella and Harold Troper. Yet the public’s awareness of the Holocaust tends not to linger on that aspect of history. On January 20, however, Pier 21, Canada’s Immigration Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Canadian Jewish Congress, will unveil an MS St. Louis monument designed by New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind. Pier 21 was the entry point for over one million European immigrants to Canada, from 1928 to 1971.