The Moby Awards are everything that your typical awards ceremony is not: irreverent, un-manicured, efficient, spare, and the best part? Everyone is invited. Whimsically invented to honor the best and worst book trailers — video previews that publishers use to promote their acquisitions — it’s the kind of event that doesn’t necessarily compel its presenters or award-winners to show up, but proves to be a blast for everyone who does. Last night the Mobies were hosted for the second year in a row by the indie Melville Publishing House, this time at the Powerhouse Arena bookstore in Brooklyn.
Among the judges were Melville House co-founder Dennis Johnson, Salon book critic Laura Miller and Slate TV critic Troy Patterson, all of whom mingled over cheap wine and beer before the event. Gold spray-painted Toys ‘R’ Us whale figurines were conferred upon the largely absent winners, which included Jonathan Safran Foer (Best Small House trailer for “Tree of Codes”), Sloane Crosley (Best Trailer As Stand Alone Art Project for “How Did You Get This Number”), and Gary Shteyngart (Grand Jury/We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards for “Super Sad True Love Story”). Shteyngart, who was in attendance, accepted his whale with token, Borat-appropriated shtickiness, flinging his list of thank-yous behind him and proclaiming in the thick Russian accent he hasn’t had since adolescence: “I can’t read!”
The speaker in Emily Dickinson’s poem, “A narrow fellow in the grass,” describes her response each time she meets a snake:
…never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.
Are these last lines from Dickinson’s poem absorbing the aftershock of Eve’s encounter with the snake? What essential snake quality tightens our breathing, creating a sense of fright to our very bones? Even when the snake is not fatally threatening, its presence can be daunting on a deep psychological level.
“The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
Courtesy of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival
Talk about baring all for your art. German-Jewish director Dani Levy does Woody Allen one better in “Life Is Too Long,” which made its North American premiere at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in May. A dyspeptic “Stardust Memories,” “Life Is Too Long” both exposes Levy’s fragile psyche and skewers family and friends with gleeful abandon. But Levy goes even further, literally revealing himself in a dream-sequence pickle shot that raises the stakes for self-disclosure.
With the production of a new film as the story’s binding thread, Levy takes us through several breakdowns — his marriage, his nerves, his work — via alter ego Alfi Seliger, played by the director himself. A has-been director whose film “Your Blue Miracle” was the hit of 1995, Seliger’s now flogging a disastrous-sounding screenplay — inspired by the Danish cartoon controversy — called “Moha-ha-med.” Colleagues dismiss him, his kids ignore him, and his voiceover-artist wife’s cheating on him with her boss; even worse, his bank’s tanking and he may have a fatal illness. Major Existential Crisis ensues.
Each week in ‘In Song’ The Arty Semite links the weekly Torah reading — however tenuously — to classic works of rock ‘n’ roll.
This week’s parsha, Naso, continues from last week with the allocation of Tabernacle relocation duties to the Levites and a census of those eligible for said duties. We then have laws relating to a suspected adulterous woman (sotah) and the laws of a nazir — a man who willingly elevates himself spiritually, in part by not cutting his…
A high point of this year’s World Science Festival will be the June 4 lecture by American Jewish physicist Steven Weinberg, “The Future of Big Science” at the NYU Kimmel Center. Predicting the future is always parlous, but Weinberg, 1979 Nobel Prize co-laureate for, as the Nobel Committee put it, “contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including inter alla the prediction of the weak neutral current,” is uniquely qualified to do so.
No weak force himself, Weinberg lectures in a resonant baritone, delivering his ideas with powerful imagery and literary force. Weinberg’s father Frederick was a New York court stenographer, which may have influenced his son’s solidly enunciated public speaking voice, as if dictating patiently for transcription. A graduate of The Bronx High School of Science, Weinberg is something of an Anglophile, and likens himself to “some lakeside Lady of Shalott” as he sits at home in Texas, overhearing noisy pleasure boat traffic on Lake Austin. The aforementioned reference to a celebrated Tennyson poem is in Weinberg’s “Lake Views: This World and the Universe,” out in 2010 from Harvard University Press, and due out in paperback on November 30.
ALLUSIONS TO RAPE
Margaritkelekh / Daisies
In the woods, by a stream
The daisies grow like little suns
With white rays.
Khavele goes there, quiet and dreamy,
Her braids unfastened,
Her blouse open at the neck, she sings.
When a boy approaches
Hair black like coal, eyes aflame,
He answers her song.
“What are you looking for out here,
Did you lose something?
What do you want to find in the grass?”
“I’m just looking for daisies”, she blushes.
“Still looking? He asks. “And me,
I just found the prettiest one in the forest.
With braids and sapphire eyes, what eyes.”
“No, let me go, I can’t do this.
My mother says it’s wrong.
She’ll be so angry.”
“What Mother, where is she.
There are just trees here.”
“Do you like me?” “I like you.”
“Are you ashamed?” “I am ashamed .”
Then love me, and be ashamed, and be silent.
And see how my black curls mix with your golden.”
The sun in gone now, the boy — gone,
And Khavele still sits in the woods.
Looks off into the distance, murmuring the song….
With the demise of Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman, Jewish comic story-tellers have mostly vanished from American TV, but they are alive and well in France, in good part due to the raconteur, compère, and interviewer Philippe Bouvard, born in 1929 in Coulommiers, north-central France. Although Bouvard has broadcasted since the 1950s, his ongoing program “Les Grosses Têtes,” launched in 1977, represents his most indelible success, with rude jokes recounted by the singer Enrico Macias (born Gaston Ghrenassia to an Algerian Jewish family), journalist Claude Sarraute, and many others.
“Les Grosses Têtes” ridicules its own format by offering questions to the panel from fictitious viewers with punning names such as “Madame Lenvie de Béziers” (or Mrs. Lenvie from the city of Béziers, which in French sounds like “Mrs. Has the Desire to Screw.”). One fellow performer described Bouvard’s style as a “mixture of toilet jokes and quotes from Marcel Proust.” With the pose of a grand seigneur, Bouvard confronts corny jokes with the mock aplomb of William Shatner, before dissolving into laughter.
If “Imagination is evidence of the Divine” then, as John Keats wrote in a letter, “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.”
When something beautiful captured Eve’s imagination, she knew it was “truth.” This link between the imagination, beauty, and truth is surprising, even counterintuitive. We would normally expect an instinctual response to beauty to involve a sense of feeling good, satisfied, a sense of enjoyment in what is pleasing to us. We don’t think of beauty as “true.” Beauty is subjective, not objective. What was Keats suggesting by this link?
“I’m not going to be on Oprah,” said Zackary Sholem Berger matter-of-factly about his new book, “Zog khotsh l’havdil / Not in the Same Breath.” He’s realistic about his completely negligible chances, not because Oprah’s show and book club have just come to an end, but because he knows his work of original Yiddish poetry is not destined for a wide audience.
With no U.S. city today coming anything close to what pre-World War II Warsaw was (or even what New York was, for that matter) in terms of Yiddish publishing, producers of new literature in mameloshn need to go it alone and get creative about getting their work out there. Berger, 37, having translated a number of popular and beloved children’s picture books into Yiddish over the past decade, was well aware of this prior to writing his collection of poetry. He and his wife started their own Yiddish House (formerly Yiddish Cat) publishing company in 2003 to produce and distribute their Yiddish translations of Dr. Suess’s “The Cat in the Hat” and “One Fish Two Fish,” and “Curious George” by Margret and H.A. Rey.
Shvigern / Mothers-in-Law
When couples married they did not necessarily become autonomous heads of their own households. Many a new bride — often a teenager in an arranged marriage — moved in with her husband’s family. There she lived under the control of a stranger, her mother-in-law. A large repertoire of proverbs and songs describe the conflict and the lack of empathy in these relationships between women:
A mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law in one house are like two cats in one sack.
A shviger un a shnur in eyn hoyz zenen vi tsvey kets in eyn zak.
The mother-in-law has forgotten that she too was once a daughter-in-law.
Di shviger hot fargesn az zi iz amol aleyn geven a shnur.
On Tuesday, Haley Tanner wrote about her mother’s blessing. 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:
Years ago my family decided to take our celebration of Rosh Hashanah out of our Conservative synagogue. We were feeling stifled by the long hours sitting in uncomfortable clothes — we were distracted by the outfits, the gossip, the perfume and the fur coats. Rosh Hashanah had lost its meaning for us, and we wanted it back.
My mother is fond of saying that of all the animals on earth, human beings are unique in our ability to step back, to reflect, to separate certain times and days as sacred or special. We knew that we had to maintain the sacredness of the holiday, to separate it from the sameness of other days. For years we had relied on the institution of synagogue to do it for us — now we were on our own. So we took to the woods. We went camping. And we are not avid campers. We are not campers by any stretch of the imagination.
Simon Dinnerstein discusses his monumental 1970s artwork, “The Fulbright Triptych.”
Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya’s “Daniel Stein, Interpreter,” a book that takes its inspiration from the real life Polish Jewish Partisan Oswald Rufeisen, is now available in English.
Yesterday I wrote that the biblical Eve lived in, as Goethe called it, “the poet’s trance.” But then the snake seduced her out of that place of passionate clarity.
Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman, otherwise known as the Ramban or Nachmanides, the leading Medieval Spanish scholar who later settled in Israel, commented on the following language from the text: “Let us make humans in Our image and in Our likeness” (1:26). He wrote that the word which means “Our likeness” in Hebrew, “kidmutanu,” finds its root in the word “dimyon,” which means “imagination.” Ramban suggests that human beings are defined by the power of broad imagination — God’s imagination was transferred to humanity, and Eve’s “poet’s trance” included what Keats called “the truth of the imagination.” Blake intuited Ramban’s insight when he wrote that “the imagination is the body of God” and “Imagination is evidence of the Divine.”
Soreles khasene / Sarah’s Wedding
When Sorele wed, people laughed and scoffed.
Why the laughter? The brand new bride
Couldn’t even make kugl for Shabbes.
She began on Wednesday morning
Finished late on Friday, but on Shabbes
There was stuff in there that made that kugl inedible.
Her husband, furious, beat his wife
With each end of a stick.
“Oh, my husband, What the hell are you doing?
You beat your wife for a pudding?”
“Oh my cursed little wife, that kugl cost me money.”
She grabs her poor possessions
And takes off for her father’s for Shabbes.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Rarely does a single building play such an important role in the life of a city. Philip Murray House, the Histadrut labor federation’s local headquarters and the first public building in Eilat, is one such case.
Since its inauguration in 1957, when only a few thousand residents lived in the southern city, it has been and remains a focus of cultural and communal activity.
“A theater, movie house, dance classes, municipal library, matriculation exam study courses and night classes, the first photography club in Eilat, all the important things in the city happened here,” attests Shmulik Tager, who managed the place for many years. “All of the country’s leading artists appeared on stage here, Haparvarim, Hatarnegolim, Hava Alberstein; even the philharmonic did a concert here.”
Last week, C.K. Williams gave the annual Poetry Society lecture in London where he quoted Goethe who said (this is paraphrased — Williams said the words quickly, and I scribbled down what I could): “The poet’s trance is the most eloquent armour in his armoury.”
I have been thinking about the poet’s trance — that room we enter (or room that enters us) in the middle of, or just before, writing a poem: a necessary space fusing silence and music, detachment and emotion, calm and energy. It’s a room of stirring clarity and peaceful vitality. The Goethe quote is not unlike Wordsworth’s “Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity.”
It’s a state that poets wait for, long for. We fear it will not come.
This is the first part of a four-part article originally appearing in the Spring 2011 issue of Lilith Magazine.
Picture the stairwell in the poor apartment: the neighbor descends the steps and the woman in the doorway repeats, “Good night, good night,” and then haltingly speaks the words: “He hit me yesterday. I’m black and blue. I was ashamed to tell you. Good night.”
I found the song “Good Night, Brayne” in a 1984 anthology of Yiddish folksongs published by The Hebrew University while I was working with poet Irena Klepfisz and pianist Joyce Rosenzweig on the lives and writings of Yiddish-speaking women. Later, teaching an intergenerational workshop at KlezKanada in Quebec, I asked the class if any of them knew this song. Hands went up. They had learned it as children in their secular Yiddish school, part of the relentless truth-telling that runs through Yiddish culture and the institutions that have taught its values. An East European Jewish folk song collected and preserved by Jewish folklorists in the 19th and early 20th centuries had served as part of a school lesson in 1950s Canada, although the only recorded versions of “A Gutn Ovnt Brayne” that I know of are my own (on “Dreaming in Yiddish” and “Mikveh”).
In the European countries where Yiddish was the language of daily life, there were traditions of extravagantly emotional songs of love, suffering, courtship and marriage. People sang violent ballads and graphic depictions of hard lives; songs of war, poverty, danger and natural disasters. Folksongs were like broadsides — carrying the news of the day, declaring the troubles in society. These songs were created and sung largely by women. Women working alongside other women in fields, markets, factories and homes shared songs reflecting their lives, their experiences, thoughts, dreams, imaginings.
Americans often hear about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the U.S.-Israel relationship. We read Israeli authors in translation, buy Israeli products, and anyone within driving distance of a JCC can hear an Israeli speak on a nearly weekly basis.
What we don’t often hear are Palestinians.
This is, I believe, understandable — particularly for the Jewish community. We want to know more about ourselves, our brothers and sisters, our homeland. We want to support our people and our future. We know the story, and don’t feel a need to hear the version told by Israel’s enemies.
But perhaps that’s exactly why we do need to consider Palestinian voices — because after all these years, Israel and the Palestinian people are still enemies.
Haley Tanner‘s debut novel, “Vaclav and Lena,” is now available. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning‘s Author Blog. 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 day my first novel, “Vaclav and Lena,” was published, I didn’t do anything wild or anything flashy. There were only two people in the world I wanted share the experience with: my parents. After dinner, and some champagne, we walked to our local bookstore to visit my book — to see my book for the first time in a bookstore. My mother, who is completely without shame, found the manager and proudly announced that there was an ACTUAL author in the store. My dad and I hung back and giggled. The store manager indulged us, had me sign some copies, and stuck some “local author” stickers on the books. We thanked him, and he walked away, and then my mother ran after him — for what, we didn’t know. She came back with an extra “local author” sticker and stuck it right on my chest. We all cracked up. It was a long and difficult road to that “Local Author” sticker and my parents were there every step of the way.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Einat Dan spent three full weeks preparing for the Beauty Forum, a major cosmetics fair held late last week in Leipzig, Germany. For five hours, she applied makeup from head to toe, fainting twice from all the excitement and tension.
In the end, the 38-year-old Israeli model took first place at the Beauty Forum, marking her seventh first-place win at an international beauty competition. Dan claimed the prize for her work with body art. She drew a picture of Queen Elizabeth on the front of her body; on her back, Dan drew a geisha in a kimono. Usually Dan’s boyfriend helps her with the body art, but this time she did it alone, since her boyfriend also participated in the competition, finishing third out of thirteen contestants from all over Europe.