Almost 150 years after shots rang out at Fort Sumter, the United States has yet to fully recover from the brutalities of the Civil War. The conflict ripped families apart along regional lines, and pummeled the economy and infrastructure of many Southern cities into such disrepair that many are still working on their reconstruction. When the increasingly bitter fight over slavery and states’ rights developed into full-on war, thousands of men on both sides rushed to volunteer for the armed services, including hundreds of Jewish Americans. And yet, according to the documentary “Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,” screening February 13 and 22 at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Jewish militiamen’s accomplishments have been woefully overlooked.
He gave chic new definition, boosted the New York art scene, and went to such brazen lengths as to deliver artwork unrequested to the Museum of Modern Art and simply send a bill. He was known to have commandeered a gondola with his pals to transport art in time to compete in the Venice Biennale. He even vowed he would break down a gallery door rather than cut an artwork in half. Few dealers were ever so devoted to their artists as Leo Castelli.
Castelli is perhaps best known for helping make artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns the legendary names they are today. But few realize the extent to which one New York Jewish institution helped spur his own career.
“The Jewish Museum played an unexpected role in Castelli’s success,” said Annie Cohen-Solal, author of “Leo and His Circle: The Life of Leo Castelli” at a recent panel in New York (Solal will also be speaking on Castelli at upcoming lectures in Maryland, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Chicago). There, in 1957, Castelli first glimpsed Jasper Johns’s green wax painting of a target and had an epiphany. “I can’t think of anything else,” Castelli told his first wife Ileana at the time.
The finalists for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature have been announced.
Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library has become home to Maurice Sendak’s only mural.
Jonah Lehrer retrieves Thorstein Veblen’s forgotten essay on why Jews become intellectuals.
An Iranian grandmaster claims to have beaten an Israeli chess record after playing 614 people simultaneously in Tehran.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Zackary Sholem Berger reviews “70 Faces” by Rachel Barenblat.
There are a few very good poems in Rachel Barenblat’s “70 Faces,” a collection of “Torah poems” published last year following the sequence of the weekly reading. For instance, the Akedah Cycle, 10 poems on the binding of Isaac, brings that ancient mountaintop sacrifice into sharp focus. Barenblat, who is also a rabbi and blogger, can make the patriarchs and matriarchs immediate and narrative possibilities concrete: “Maybe there’s always a ram,” she writes, “waiting just outside the frame.”
Similarly, “Larger than Life/Shlakh-Lekha” deftly compares the contemporary Jewish state, or something very like it, to the land the spies gave a bad report about: “If you don’t feel at-home there./ the minute the wheels kiss the ground / for God’s sake don’t tell a soul!”
Tracing Old Testament influence on modern literature is a never-ending study, but “The Sign and the Seal: Literary Variations on the Song of Songs” (Le Signe et le sceau: Variations littéraires sur le Cantique des Cantiques) by Dominique Millet-Gérard, out last August from La Librairie Droz in Geneva, offers precious new insights on the subject.
Nobel-Prizewinning poet Paul Claudel was long fascinated and mystified by the Song of Songs. In 1938, Claudel wrote to a friend, puzzling over certain lines such as “Thy cheeks are beautiful as the turtledove’s.” “A turtledove’s cheeks?” asked Claudel, clearly baffled: “All this needs to be seriously meditated and explicated.” A 1954 book, “Paul Claudel Examines the Song of Songs” was the result.
The Firebird Dance Theatre dancers soared on stage last month at a benefit performance at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., in celebration of the company and school’s 20th anniversary. With a 21-part program featuring Firebird’s signature fusion of modern, folk, lyrical, ballet and ballroom styles, dancers ranging in age from 3 to 26 joyfully honored the memory of founder and original artistic director, Roza Lysaya, who died in a car accident 12 years ago.
“She is unfortunately gone, but the tradition, the legacy is alive,” said Lotta Lysaya Burton, Firebird’s director, of the work her mother did in translating her success as the director of leading dance schools in the Former Soviet Union into a new school which has flourished over the past two decades in Silicon Valley. It was the Palo Alto JCC that provided Roza Lysaya a professional home upon her immigration to the United States, and Firebird has maintained close ties to it even years after having moved into its own studio space in nearby Mountain View.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Singer Avigail Roz has spent many hours with Yoni Bloch, who produced her albums “Milchama Yomyomit” (“Daily War”), which was released three years ago, and “Hetzi Nehama” (“Half a Consolation”), forthcoming at the end of the month.
But when it comes to technology, they are on opposite sides of the barricades. While Bloch, the head of the startup Interload, defines himself as a computer geek, Roz says she finds it difficult to keep up with technological developments connected to the music world.
“I would like to know how to produce [music] at home, that’s important to me, but I’m not there yet, which puts me behind somewhat,” she says.
Once Hosni Mubarak is liberated from his heavy chains of office, he’ll have time to kick back and appreciate some of the new classical CDs on offer. And, as many Egyptians have taken time to point out, he’s a big fan of Yiddishkeit.
If he decides to take up American hospitality he might be especially interested in the gifted young ensemble, the Claremont Trio which has a new CD, “American Trios.” It includes works by American Jewish composers Leon Kirchner and Paul Schoenfield, the latter is an ex-kibbutznik who maintains a part-time residence in Migdal HaEmek with probably a soft spot for the Arab leader who presided over 30 years of peace with Israel. Schoenfield’s 1986 “Café Music,” especially as played by the Claremonts, is a rhythmic delight.
When I entered Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in Greenwich Village on a recent Sunday afternoon to see the play “In Between,” which explores the cultural identity of a Palestinian-Muslim/Jewish-Israeli man, I suddenly felt hyper-aware of my own Jewish identity. It seemed telling to me, and surprising, that the only current New York performance of this show was being held at a church (the play is also being staged February 9 at Nichols College in Dudley, Mass). While I’m sure there were Jews in the audience (I overheard an Israeli woman speaking with the performer after the show in Hebrew), the crowd was indeed mixed. Many attendees were members of Pax Christi, the organization that hosted the event and which is a part of the national Catholic peace movement.
“In Between” is an autobiographical one-man play created by Ibrahim Miari, who was born in Akko, Israel, to a Palestinian-Muslim father and a Jewish-Israeli mother (Miari’s mother converted to Islam in order to marry his father, though both were not religious at the time). The circumstances of his parents’ meeting are shrouded in mystery, as they were elusive about it with their two children, so Miari conceives a fictional account in which his dad spots his mom walking on the street as he drives by in a VW Beetle, blasting the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love.” Throughout the play, Miari seems to imply that while the “love-conquers-all” veneer of cross-cultural romance may appear simplistic, a sweet approach to such stories, combined with a touch of silliness, is sometimes necessary in the face of serious political conflict.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The story of “Labrador Labratories” (sic) should be taught in workshops for developing creativity. A year and a half ago, after the unknown Makolet band broke up, soloist Tom Gottlieb found himself suffering from a creative block. “In Makolet there was a very critical atmosphere,” he says. “We would sit a lot in the rehearsal room, think about every song for a very long time, play it for others, correct, change and correct again, until I reached a point where I was simply sick and tired of it. Music is supposed to reflect a moment, an atmosphere, a mood, a specific experience, and all that talk about what’s working and what isn’t working simply wipes that out, at least for me.”
Gottlieb, 27, sat at home and tried to write alone, but his increasingly sophisticated self-criticism made that impossible.
“Simply nothing came out,” he recalls. “And then I read somewhere about an exercise for someone who has a block and is unable to write songs. The exercise was to record one album a week, no matter what emerges. The main thing is to get rid of the sense of criticism and do something.”
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
The modern period in Yiddish prose began with Yisroel Aksenfeld’s novel “Dos Shterntikhl” (“The Headband”), written some time in the 1820s, which opens with a detailed description of the shtetl “Loyhoyopolie.” The name, which can be translated as “Nosuchville,” is a neologism, made up of the Hebrew words meaning “never was” and the Slavic geographical suffix, “polie.”
Aksenfeld’s artistic intention was to create a literary portrait of a shtetl that was both general and concrete. Loyhoyopolie, which incorporates features of real places, represents a typical shtetl in the Podolia region of Ukraine in the first half of the 19th century. In the decades that followed the publication of “Dos Shterntikhl,” Aksenfeld’s device was taken up by the classic Yiddish writers Mendele Moykher-Sforim and Sholom Aleichem, in the form of Glupsk and Kasrilevke, also symbolic Jewish towns.
This is one source of Forverts editor Boris Sandler’s new novella, “Keynemsdorf.” The other comes from Yiddish folklore, namely, the tales of the Wise Men of Chelm. Putting the two together, Sandler tells the story of Keynemsdorf, a shtetl located “in a forgotten corner of Arizona.” It’s inhabitants, who call themselves the “Free Citizens of Keynemsdorf,” speak a language similar to Yiddish, made up of archaic Daytshmerish and vestiges of Galician or Bessarabian dialect. The book is provided with a short glossary, ironically intended, since almost everything is understandable anyway.
Male midlife crisis is apparently a cross-cultural phenomenon. The television comedy “Traffic Light,” an Israeli import, is enjoying critical acclaim on the eve of its February 8 debut on the Fox network. Sitcom humor just may be able to cross the Israel-U.S. divide.
The show centers around three 30-something buddies, each of whom is at a very different stage of life when it comes to relationships with women. One has just moved in with his girlfriend, another is married with a toddler, and the third is a swinging bachelor who can’t commit to one girl but who has a very meaningful relationship with his dog. The comedy has enjoyed two successful seasons in Israel and its creator and star Adir Miller recently won an International Emmy award for best comedy.
The Skirball Center, a sober cultural institution on Los Angeles’s ritzy Westside, was unusually alive on January 27. Music journalists, record executives and South American diplomats with an array of Spanish accents — from Argentina to Spain to East Los Angeles — bounced about the room. Along with the requisite contingent of L.A. yentas and Hollywood types, the event brought out an eclectic crowd.
They came for Jorge Drexler. When examining the life and work of the Oscar-winning musician, it becomes clear why such a diverse audience would show up.
Born in Uruguay to a German-Jewish family, 46-year-old Drexler grew up practicing classical guitar. But like others in his family, he studied medicine, eventually becoming an otolaryngologist. Yet music still beckoned, and at the urging of Joaquin Sabina, a Madrid-based singer-songwriter, Drexler left medicine — and Montevideo — for Spain.
Crossposted from Haaretz
A few weeks from now, a new fringe theater center is slated to become home to a number of experimental groups now working in temporary spaces around the Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Theater Group, Psik and Incubator (the local branch of the Nisan Nativ Studio), will all use the new space.
The center will operate in the historic Mazya House, a beautiful urban villa located between Mordechai Eliash and Mesilat Yesharim streets near Nachlaot and the city center, which has recently undergone comprehensive renovation and preservation work.
The building has a considerable Jewish and Palestinian heritage and is characterized by fine period architecture, but over the years was left abandoned and neglected.
Does the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” draw on ancient Indo-European myth?
Israeli musician Avi Avital has become the first mandolinist to be nominated for a Grammy award in the classical music category.
Four less admirable Israelis were caught trying to steal Judaica from a synagogue in Milan.
Gabrielle Birkner watches Yossi Madmoni’s “Restoration,” the only Israeli selection at the Sundance Film Festival.
Pianist András Schiff talks to the Forward about growing anti-Semitism in his native Hungary.
Gordon Haber reflects on integration and re-segregation in his native Los Angeles.
Eileen Reynolds goes to see Yoav Gal’s biblically inspired space-age video opera “Mosheh.”
David Biale reads through the new crop of second-generation Holocaust memoirs.
Like Homer’s “Odyssey,” the film “Anita,” which screened in January at the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival and is showing until February 8 at the New York Reelabilities film festival, is the story of someone trying to find her way home. During the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association building in Buenos Aires, Anita becomes separated from her family. On her voyage back, Anita doesn’t encounter any gods, nymphs, or Cyclopes, but rather a disgruntled drunk, an uptight shopkeeper, and a lonely nurse.
Anita, played by Alejandra Manzo, has Down syndrome, and therefore lacks the king of Ithaca’s cunning. She knows what a phone is, but doesn’t know how to use one; she longs to be reunited with her family, but doesn’t know her home address. Like Odysseus, however, Anita must quickly bond with strangers if she hopes to survive. And what she lacks in street smarts, she makes up for in compassion. She is patient. She is kind. She is loyal to the point of relieving herself on a woman’s couch instead of disobeying a command to stay put. Anita’s gentle devotion and humble tranquility eventually win over everyone who takes her in.
Earlier this week, Saul Austerlitz wrote about his recent author tour and five not-as-terrible-as-you-think movies. His 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:
One of the trickiest aspects of writing my book was figuring out how to structure it. After tinkering with a variety of approaches, I settled on 30 chapters, each dedicated to a single filmmaker or performer whose body of work I considered to be significant to the history of American film comedy. These 30 selections were joined by about 100 additional short entries on comic figures significant enough to deserve a mention, if not quite meritorious enough to earn a chapter of their own. 130 directors and actors seems like a lot, and I got to include most of the people I wanted, but as I expected from the outset, readers and reviewers have often been most interested in discussing the exclusions. (That is, after all, a significant part of the pleasure of assembling a list, and what is a book about film other than a bulked-up list of movie suggestions?) I’ve enjoyed the discussions, kept them in mind, and pondered who else might deserve inclusion. (Second edition, anyone?)
Here, then, are a handful of performers and directors who just missed the cut.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The young Maria Kong dance troupe shines in its professional production of “Miss Brazil.”
It is unlike other independent dance groups, and seems more like an offshoot of the Bat Sheva Dance Company, with the same style of movement and high quality but without Ohad Naharin’s choreography.
This is Maria Kong’s second program and it is even better than its first. Meanwhile, the company is still searching for its own path and its artistic potential has yet to be exploited.
In the first piece, “Miss,” the dancers look like the remnants of an apocalypse, figures that have undergone a metamorphosis and built a new life. A lovely metal construction sits in the middle of the stage, in this case at the Suzanne Dellal Center, a sort of moving sculpture that folds and unfolds into apartment-like spaces, of which only the metal remains. Avi-Yona Bueno’s beautiful lighting colors the structure and creates a magical atmosphere.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces two poems by Eve Grubin.
“I am certain of nothing but the holiness,” writes Eve Grubin in one of the poems published in her 2005 debut collection “Morning Prayer.” Both uncertainty and holiness are key ingredients in her writing, intertwining co-dependents, often sharing the space of a poem’s single line. As the book’s title implies, prayer — or failed attempts at it — is among Grubin’s chief concerns, and morning is the recurring setting for it, where leftover bits of dreams are lifted against the morning light in a moment of encounter with the divine. Writing is also an extension of the poet’s prayer, a religious practice of persistent observation of the life of the soul. Moments of piety often mingle with the voice of desire, yet the work is not about sensationalist juxtapositions or paradoxes — it is more about quiet meditation on the totality of human experience. It is religious poetry at its best.
This week, we’re featuring two of Grubin’s works from “Morning Prayer,” both of them re-imagining the poet’s biblical namesake, Eve. Although the first poem explicitly references verses from the Tanach, it is hardly hermeneutics or even midrash, but rather a mythic, archetypal mirror held up against the poet’s deeply personal inner world. The second poem achieves its poignancy in the two final lines, where amnesia meets the unspoken and yearning ripens into frankness.