The Return of Richard Foreman, Rabbi of New York's Downtown Theater Scene
The Hank Greenberg Story That '42' Forgot
Vladimir Nabokov and the Jews
The History of Mel Brooks, Part I
How Do You Say 'Fuhgeddaboudit' in Yiddish?
How a 1976 Exhibit Changed the Way We Think About Jewish History
Vladimir Nabokov's Son Says Famous Father 'Was Close to Jewish Culture'
14-Year-Old Author Tells Story of Holocaust in Graphic Novel
Jews of Bukhara Helped Me To Understand Personal History
The Secret Jewish History of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby'
Vera Gran's Biographer Reconsiders the Stigma of Wartime Collaboration
Ancient Tchotchkes Deepen Our Understanding of Jewish Pilgrims
What 'Girls' Could Learn From the 'Good Wife's' Wife
Man Thinks, God Laughs, a Reader Writes and a Columnist Contemplates
Francesco Lotoro's Mission To Save the Music of European Jews
David Roskies and Naomi Diamant Guide Readers Through Holocaust Literature
A Son's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Saul Bellow
Vasily Grossman's Armenian Sketchbook Finally Debuts in English
Remembering Hungarian Cello Master János Starker
Photographer Clemens Kalischer Survived Holocaust But Struggles To Adapt
The Tsarnaev Brothers Are Many Things. But Cowards? Not So Much.
Diary of Girl's Time in Concentration Camps Invites Comparisons to Anne Frank
Robert Alter Is Truly a Translator of Biblical Proportions
Jennifer Gilmore's New Novel Confronts the Mother of All Struggles
Stuart Nadler's Story of Interracial Love Explores Tensions in Jewish Families
Nothing Beat the Spa for Wealthy 19th Century Jews
Is Rise of Jewish Fundamentalism Endangering Israeli Democracy?
How Adam Kadmon Made the Leap From Kabbalah to Italian Television
Why Susan Steinberg May Be the Best Jewish Writer You've Never Read
Haifa Museum Brings Outsider Artists Inside the World of Israeli Art
Retelling Jewish American Story Through History of Cinema
Janice Steinberg Preaches Gospel of Second Chances
The Secret Jewish History of David Bowie
How Three Jewish Boys From Wilmette Became the 'Brothers Emanuel'
Yiddish Words That Punch Above Their Weight
Why Jews Are Among World's Happiest People
Harvey Fierstein Gets 'Kinky' and Discusses His Jewish Roots
Playing Jewish Geography From California to the New York Islands
Documentary Sheds Light on Andre Gregory, Star of 'My Dinner With Andre'
A.B. Yehoshua Looks Back at His Country and Art
Understanding Pope Francis's Surprising Affinity For Jewish Art
For D.A. Mishani's Hero, Police Work Is a Dull Gig
Why Jews Didn't Always Seem To Have a Word for Sarcasm
Was Hank Greenberg Braver Than Sandy Koufax?
Gal Beckerman is a staff writer at the Forward. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” will be available September 23. 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:
Writing history that is recently past always carries with it certain challenges. Most obviously, the competing versions of what happened or who did what aren’t fought out through yellowed letters in an archive but are argued by living, breathing, often highly invested people. In the five years I spent working on my book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” I can’t count anymore the number of late night phone calls I got or angry emailed screeds claiming that I was clearly not going to give enough credit to so-and-so or put enough emphasis on what some long forgotten activist who was really, truly, the sole person responsible for saving Soviet Jewry had done. For those who had been the protagonists of this story, this was their first — and for some, last — chance to make sure they were remembered the way they wanted to be, or at all.
Performing even the most mundane ritual can be calming — grinding coffee, scooping it into a filter, pouring water into the coffeemaker, turning the pot on — over time, the actions becomes so familiar that the objects pass through your hands unnoticed.
Though they can come to seem as commonplace as a coffee pot, when it comes to Jewish ritual objects, there are latent meanings waiting to be explored. In her artistic renderings of everything from mezuzot to menorahs, Silversmith Anika Smulovitz, an associate professor in the Department of Art at Boise State University, reveals the deeper significance of such objects. In the tip of a Torah pointer or the curve of a candlestick holder she explores Jewish concepts and conjures up thousands of years of history.
Smulovitz’s Judaica was recently included in the exhibition “Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life” at the Jewish Museum in New York, and it made an appearance in Ray Hemachandra’s book “500 Judaica: Innovative Contemporary Ritual Art.” On August 30, she opened a solo show, “Contemporary Judaica,” in Gallery One of the Liberal Arts Building at Boise State, which is on view until October 22.
Crossposted from Haaretz
“In theater, they all speak the same language,” Israeli stage director Yoram Lowenstein explains when asked how actors from different countries, speaking different tongues, perform together in a new show currently on stage in Tel Aviv. “Human beings all have the same feelings: they love, they hate, they are jealous, they are angry. And there is no need for words, actors speak with their bodies.”
In June, using this universal, unusual way of speaking, Israeli and Italian young actors cooperated to stage “Miracolo” (miracle). This unique initiative has come about as a fertile seed sprouted from a 1998 project by Lowenstein and Serbian director Vladimir Jevtovic. The two directors decided to initiate an itinerant festival between the Mediterranean countries, so that every year actors and directors from different countries would meet and perform together, showcasing cross-cultural theatrical experiences. And thus the Olive Festival was born.
The Arty Semite — along with the rest of the Forward — will be off Thursday and Friday for Rosh Hashanah. Here, then, is this week’s Arts & Culture section, just in time to print out and smuggle into shul between the pages of your machzor. (May we also recommend, as a New Year’s treat, a subscription to the very elegant print edition of the Forward.) A gut gebenscht yor to you all!
• Michael Kaminer chats with songstress Clare Burson, whose album “Silver and Ash” is out next week on Rounder Records.
• Philologos observes that 5771 is a “pregnant” year. Now what does that mean?
• Jay Michaelson looks ahead to see how we can make Yom Kippur more than just an occasion for pseudo-solemnity.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
There’s something about the sea that captivates. Perhaps it’s the play of light on the water’s surface or the inexorability of its motions: back and forth, back and forth, it goes. Whatever the reasons, the sea beckons. Its hold on us is even more irresistible when joined to rituals such as tashlich, the symbolic casting of our sins into the water, an activity that is as much a part of the Rosh Hashanah repertoire of extra-synagogal things to do as eating a new fruit or dousing it with honey.
Little wonder, then, that over the years tashlich has held its own.
Wherever Jews lived — in England, France, the United States, Turkey or India — they could be found on the first day of the Jewish New Year, standing by a body of water, be it ocean, river, lake, stream, pond or creek. Some clutched clumps of bread in their hands, which they then threw into the current: away, away with our wrongdoings!
“Den Zverya,” a new film by Russian director Mikhail Konovalchuk, must be one of the few foreign films screened this year at a North American film festival without subtitles. That’s because the movie, which runs 84 minutes and is titled either “The Sniper” or “The Day of the Beast” in English, is completely without dialogue. The richness of “Den Zverya’s” other sounds, however, makes the characters’ silence almost unnoticeable after the first few minutes.
The film, which finished a brief run on September 6 at the Montreal World Film Festival, where it screened out of competition, follows a young German sniper (Johannes Van-Utr) hiding out in an abandoned building at the end of the Second World War. Though the lack of dialogue makes his mission unclear, he has apparently been ordered to assassinate an officer who may visit the house — or perhaps he is simply acting on his own, trying to kill any enemy soldiers he can.
For anyone who has embarked on a road trip across America, camera in hand, the images collected in “America By Car,” an exhibition of Lee Friedlander’s photography on now through November 28 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, will seem familiar.
There’s the shrine to the teen killed by a drunk driver, the “ME RY RISTMAS” billboard, the churches and pastures and flags of the American landscape. But Friedlander concentrates on shots that other travelers may disregard: pictures bisected and framed by the windows, mirrors and doors of half a dozen rental cars. Taken together, the images form a kind of travelogue: the pictorial musings of an idiosyncratic and keen-eyed wanderer.
Born in Aberdeen, Wash. in 1934, Friedlander moved to New York in 1956; several years later, he was photographing the urban landscape alongside his stylistic peers, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. Since then, Friedlander has produced thousands of images of American life, chronicling storefronts and jazz musicians and even a nude Madonna circa 1979, who was then a student looking to earn some cash.
Over on the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman discusses the ballad “Az es shtarbt nor up dus ershte vaybele” (“As Soon as the First Wife Dies”), as sung by Lifshe Schaechter Widman.
Formally, “Az es shtarbt nor up dus ershte vaybele” (“As Soon as the First Wife Dies”) could be considered a classic ballad. The first three verses set the stage for the dialogue between the children and their father. As a narrative though, the last verse, which is sung by the father, leaves no resolution to the hopeless situation at all.
The melody in ballads almost always stays the same for all the verses. However, in this song the melody changes for the dialogue verses, becoming more dramatic, as does Lifshe’s moving, mournful singing.
For most New Yorkers, the idea of Jews beyond Israel, New York and New York South (aka Florida) is an annoying complication. For many American Jews, the existence of proud, older, historically significant communities in places other than America and Israel is a constant surprise. As a friend of my then girlfriend asked when first meeting me, “There are Jews in England? Does the Queen know?”
So when the Man Booker Prize longlist was announced, containing within the baker’s dozen Britain’s best known living Jewish novelist and a Levy (Andrea), the general inclination was to either ignore it or to grasp at straws — “Didn’t the New Yorker do a piece on David Mitchell?” “Was “The Sopranos” based on Alan Warner’s book of the same name?” “Will Howard Jacobson make it in America?”
Jacobson, who was named one of the shortlisted authors today (along with Levy and four others), has been an important writer for over 20 years. He was previously longlisted for the Booker twice: for “Kalooki Nights” (2006) (which he described as ”the most Jewish novel that has ever been written by anybody, anywhere”) and for “Who’s Sorry Now?” (2002).
Streetcar bells clang, workers hurry to their offices, and shoppers and tourists meander along the crowded sidewalk. Lital Dotan, a fair-skinned young woman with long, frizzy, strawberry blond hair, clad in a white terrycloth bathrobe, stares out at the busy downtown San Francisco scene from a couch in the front window of the Marina Abramovic Institute West.
Performance artist Dotan and her artistic and life partner Eyal Perry are living in “The Glasshouse,” a combined gallery and performance space, from July 8 until October 6. In it, they have turned a raw, empty, street-level loft-like area into a home — albeit one with no privacy.
Imagine a klezmer band where the vocalists rap in English, chant in Arabic, and sing in Spanish and Serbian. That band is Balkan Beat Box, a group led by two Israelis — Ori Kaplan (saxophone) and Tamir Muskat (drums) — who merge traditional Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Eastern European sounds with hip-hop and electronica.
With the release of their third album, Balkan Beat Box continues to ride the wave of a Gypsy Revival that includes groups such as Slavic Soul Party, Raya Brass Band, and Gogol Bordello, with whom Kaplan has played. In August, Balkan Beat Box performed at Lollapalooza, one of the country’s premier music festivals. They are now wrapping up their North American tour dates with gigs on September 4 in Seattle and September 5 in Toronto, before heading to Israel for a show at the end of the month.
Watching an actor burst into tears during a monologue, Hamlet marvels at how the performer inhabits the scene so deeply — if only he could evoke such dramatic feelings in real life, Hamlet reasons, he might save his kingdom. Thus inspired, Shakespeare’s hero rewrites the script of a play that dramatizes what’s wrong with his country, and presents it at the royal theater. Hamlet believes he can use the stage to shake-up the state; Israel’s actors seem to have taken the cue.
On August 25, a group of nearly 60 actors, directors, writers and theater professionals released a letter saying that they will refuse to perform in Ariel, a large West Bank settlement which is set to open a cultural center in November. The center, which took twenty years to build and cost about $10.5 million, will be the first space in the West Bank that is large enough to host Israel’s six major theater repertories. At least eight shows have already been scheduled, and the first set of memberships to the center sold out quickly, according to Ariel mayor Ron Nachman.
• Benjamin Ivry dusts off Benjamin Botkin, a pioneering folklorist vilified for his scholarly openness.
• Shlomo Schwartzberg celebrates journalist Ruth Gruber, who became the youngest Ph.D. in history — in 1932.
• Philologos investigates the word “synagogue,” and why nobody seems to use it very much.
• Yossl Huttler contributes two poems about the High Holy Days.
• Gordon Haber critiques “The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election” by Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz.
Earlier this week Stacey Ballis wrote about Rosh Hashanah cooking and fasting on Yom Kippur. Her newest book, “Good Enough to Eat,” will be available September 7. 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’ve long been fascinated with the relationship women have with their own bodies and appetites. While the subject of weight and body image and struggling with sexuality and attractiveness is universal to all women, when I speak to groups of Jewish women, these issues seem heightened somehow. And it is a topic that comes up frequently when I meet with people to discuss my books.
“Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word,” Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding (Morgan Freeman) notoriously tells the parole board in “The Shawshank Redemption.” “So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.”
Three decades into her incarceration as an accessory to the murder of a police officer, Alison Moulten, the heroine (or anti-heroine) of Willy Holtzman’s “Something You Did,” which opened this week at Theater J in Washington, D.C., is as cynical as Red is about the prospect of freedom. But whereas Red mocks the parole board, Moulten decides to contact the victim’s daughter (Aakhu Freeman) and tries to enlist her help, as well as that of a former colleague-lover turned political nemesis.
In her light, lilting accent, Flory Jagoda is happy to tell the story of her life, with one caveat: although she did live through it, hers is not a tale of the Holocaust. “This one is an accordion story,” she laughed. “We have so many Holocaust stories.”
For all intents and purposes, Jagoda’s accordion saved her life. The Ladino singer-songwriter, who will be performing September 4 at the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, was born in Sarajevo in 1923, and grew up in the Bosnian village of Vlasenica.
Jagoda’s folk songs evoke the musical motifs of the Balkans, but are performed in Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish. Her family history dates back to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain; though they were forced to leave their homes, they took their language with them. For her preservation of Ladino, Jagoda has been recognized with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and has earned the epithet “keeper of the flame.”
Crossposted From Under The Fig Tree
For centuries, taking to the road has been the stuff of grand adventure and equally grand literature. From Benjamin of Tudela’s 12th century “Book of Travels” to Jack Kerouac’s 1957 “On the Road,” travel has been bound up with freedom and an enhanced sense of self.
But what if travel turned out to be more a matter of constraint, of diminished expectations, than of affirmation?
Consider the experience of kosher-keeping Jews in America of the early 1900s, at a time when kosher food was hard to come by. For them, traveling throughout the United States was surely no picnic.
After years of writing for the likes of Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore and Bing Crosby, Kenny Solms has finally struck out on his own. The result is “It Must Be Him,” a frothy musical comedy in the well-worn tradition of shows about show business, which opened September 1 at New York’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater.
Louie Wexler (Peter Scolari), the protagonist of Solms’s transparently autobiographical tale, is a frustrated, aging writer who lives in a Beverly Hills mansion but fears that Hollywood has left him behind. Louie’s prime — like Solms’s — was in the golden age of variety television, and he now spends his unhappy days tinkering with an unfinished screenplay and bickering with his sassy Hispanic housekeeper. Worst of all, he’s desperately lonely: In lieu of a real boyfriend, Louie pines after the gorgeous 23-year-old Scott (Patrick Cummings), an aspiring actor who lives with him but sleeps in a separate bedroom.
Last week, Columbia Records announced that it will be releasing the ninth volume of Bob Dylan’s long-running Bootleg Series on October 19. Titled “The Witmark Demos, 1962 – 1964,” the new collection will consist of 47 demo recordings Dylan made for his music publisher, the eponymous M. Witmark & Sons. In addition, Columbia will release Dylan’s first eight albums in their original mono format.
Critics have greeted the news enthusiastically. Writing for The Daily Beast, Sean Wilentz argued that these recordings represent a seminal moment in American music history, when the old Tin Pan Alley model of commercial songwriting gave way to a more individualist ethos. Whatever larger cultural phenomenon these recordings might be said to exemplify, however, taken on their own merits, they are not that exciting.
On Monday, Stacey Ballis wrote about Rosh Hashanah cooking. Her newest book, “Good Enough to Eat,” will be available September 7. 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:
As I mentioned before, my Judaism, while deeply rooted and very important to me, is something that falls more on the side of culture and tradition and less specifically on the side of religion or spirituality. But there are certain aspects of every holiday that resonate for me, and one of the things I appreciate about being Jewish, is that I can feel free to cherry pick the pieces I like and leave the rest behind.
As we look towards the High Holidays, I thought I would share some of my traditions with you, and some of my traditional recipes.
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