The Arty Semite

Customs Officials as Curators

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz

One day designer Eyal Burstein was asked to submit a proposal for the design of the Camper shoe store in Berlin, where he lives. For that purpose he visited the store, spoke to the salespeople and finally even bought a pair of shoes in order to use them as part of the proposal.

Courtesy of Gestalten

At the end of the month Burstein sent the receipt for the shoes’ purchase to his accountant, together with all the receipts and invoices for that month. The accountant refused to register the purchase of the shoes as a tax-deductable expense; only after a prolonged argument did she agree to declare the purchase a loan from the owners of the business. In the end Burstein’s proposal for designing the store was not accepted, but this event caused him to delve into the tax laws for design and art, which he had already encountered in the course of his work as a designer who often transfers objects between countries.

Last month Gestalten published a book documenting Burstein’s research, called “Taxing Art: When Objects Travel.” The book jacket has a photograph of a chair he created, one side of which is functional and smooth while the non-functional side is in the shape of a pyramid. When you look at the smooth side it’s simply a chair, whereas when you look at the pyramid side it can be seen as an objet d’art.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Eighty-Two Years Later, Anne Frank Remains the Subject of Commemoration and Dispute

By Ezra Glinter

If Anne Frank hadn’t died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March, 1945, she might have turned a grand 82 years old on June 12. It’s useless to try and imagine what she — or the world — would have been like had she survived. What is certain, however, is that Frank is as present in the public consciousness as ever.

Wiki Commons

In one of the quirkier stories to come out in recent weeks, the Jewish Chronicle reported that a London theater company is taking their production of “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank” on its second tour of China only months after a sold-out first run. As the article points out, China has a unique relationship to the Holocaust. Not only did the country suffer brutally under Japanese occupation, but it also provided a safe haven to tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in Shanghai. In addition to the story of Anne Frank, Chinese interest in the Holocaust also includes the recent animated film, “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai,” which The Arty Semite covered when it screened at the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, and which is currently making the rounds of Jewish film festivals worldwide.

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Celebrating Jewish Difference in the Dead of Night

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Wiki Commons

Many moons ago, when I was in college, I rarely pulled an all-nighter. I had too hard a time staying up until the wee hours of the morn. But now, when my internal clock sees to it that I’m wide awake in the middle of the night, I have come to understand what I missed way back when. Pulling an all-nighter is fun, especially when you have someone to keep you company.

Just the other evening, I had lots of company, when, in celebration of Shavuot, the ancient Jewish festival that commemorates, among other things, the giving of the Torah, hundreds upon hundreds of American Jews, myself among them, descended en masse on the JCC in Manhattan for a tikkun leil Shavuot, which commenced at 10 p.m. and ended at sunrise. An age-old custom that has been revived of late, the tikkun infuses the rhythms of the all-nighter with religious and cultural meaning.

Flooding the lobby, the halls and the stairwells of the JCC, some of us came for the cheesecake, others in search of companionship and still others for the learning, which ran the gamut from traditional text study to film screenings and classes in meditation and dance.

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Monday Music: Furious Hip-Hop for Comp. Lit. Majors

By Mordechai Shinefield

Courtesy of Yitz Jordan/Shemspeed Records. Photo by Jonathan Hunter.

Y-Love, also known as Yitz Jordan, is a black Jewish convert from Baltimore who feels just as comfortable at underground freestyles as he does at the Sabbath table. The son of a Puerto Rican mother and an Ethiopian-American father, Y-Love converted in 2000 at Brooklyn’s Conversion to Judaism Resource Center and has since become one of the most outspoken Orthodox artists alive. He makes hip-hop music in the tradition of N.W.A. and Public Enemy, raging political tirades chock full of deft wordplay and witty rhymes. He’s also, by self-description, “furious.”

Over the past few years Y-Love has undergone something of a musical transformation. His 2008 debut, “This Is Babylon,” borrowed heavily from backpacker socially conscious hip-hop artists like Taleb Kweli. His material traded heavily on his lingual prowess — often substituting Bakhtian polyphony and code swapping for more traditional hip-hop wordplay. You need a master’s degree in jargon to decode the in-jokes of most contemporary hip-hop artists. For Y-Love, you might be better equipped with a degree in comparative literature.

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A Museum Director to Play Ping-Pong With

By Daniel Rauchwerger

Crossposted from Haaretz

Sigalit Landau

Former Tel Aviv Museum of Art director Professor Mordechai Omer was complex, comprehensive, multilayered, beloved and controversial at one and the same time. In his various roles, he influenced thousands of people.

“We’re left with a large black hole, and it will be a tough assignment to find a replacement who can fill his huge shoes,” says Omer’s former student, Doron Sabag, chairman of the exhibitions committee of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and an art collector. “Married to art, like a Buddhist monk, he was so involved in the field that he was almost divorced from everyday life,” Sabag adds.

From the eulogies delivered two days ago at Omer’s funeral by family members who called him “Uncle Mordechai,” many of those present heard personal details about the man who was so protective of his privacy for the first time.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Chaim Soutine in New York; 'Weiner!' the Musical

By Ezra Glinter

Chaim Soutine, ‘The Beef,’ 1920
  • How the daughter of an American diplomat had the time of her life in Nazi Berlin.

  • A new exhibit in New York brings the spotlight back to the life-filled paintings of Chaim Soutine.

  • A fight has broken out over the Anne Frank tree.

  • Ben Greenman gives us Weiner!, the musical.

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

  • Eitan Kensky looks at portrayals of Hasidim in contemporary films and television.

  • Philologos compares and contrasts the recent speeches of Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama.

  • Jenna Weissman Joselit follows the Jewish trek from city to suburbia.

  • Leonard Kriegel reflects on Hank Greenberg, a reluctant Jewish hero.

  • Benjamin Ivry appreciates the life-long work of French-Jewish publisher and historian Pierre Nora.


Using Videos, Jerusalem's Arabs and Jews To Shoot the Inside Scoop

By Renee Ghert-Zand

As intractable as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is in general, it is at its most contentious and high profile in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, where small enclaves of diehard religious Jewish settlers live in overwhelmingly Palestinian neighborhoods.

Last week, “60 Minutes” aired a report on the tensions between the developers of the City of David archaeological site just outside the southeast corner of the Old City walls (the developers also fund the expenses of Jewish settlers) and the Palestinian residents of Silwan, which is the area’s Arabic name.

But “60 Minutes” could provide only the perspective of an American journalist looking in on the situation. Now, the British newspaper the Guardian, in partnership with B’Tselem, has provided us with a different viewpoint — that of everyday Palestinians living in the contested area.

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Jewish Identity at the Crossroads of Race, Religion and Revolution

By Rokhl Kafrissen

Trish McCall, Dan Bielinski and Marcus Naylor in ‘Under the Cross.’ Photo by Louis Zweibel.

This summer New York remains the center of Yiddish theater. Audiences looking for a lighthearted romp can go see Hershele Ostropolye (in Yiddish) at the Folksbiene. Those looking for a grittier Yiddish theater experience can head to Midtown and see I.D. Berkovitch’s 1924 play “Under the Cross” (“Untern Tseylm”) (in English), running until June 25 at June Havoc Theatre. “Under the Cross” is a production of New Worlds Theatre Project, a small theater company whose mission is to present new English language productions of Yiddish drama.

“Under the Cross” is set in 1923 Belarus, in the midst of the post-Revolution civil war. Berkovitch, like many Yiddish writers, had already left Russia by the time of the civil war, but remained keenly interested in events there. Unlike Dovid Bergelson, Der Nister and others, Berkovitch never returned to the Soviet Union.

The drama of “Under the Cross” centers on paterfamilias Moshke Ferapontov (Charles Roby), his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Moshke is a man in conflict. During a 25-year tour in the Russian army he became a Christian. Now a middle aged man, he’s spent most of his life as a Christian, living with Christians. Even so, his actions betray an inner connection to Jews, a connection that will test his sanity and propel the drama unfolding across the 25 hours of Yom Kippur.

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We Pay _____(adjective) Homage to Leonard Stern

By Eddy Portnoy

Getty Images

Leonard Stern, creator of the __________ (adjective) popular fill-in-the-blank word game, “Mad Libs,” _________ (verb) this week at the age of 88. An Emmy award winning comedy _______ (noun) whose work appeared in “The Honeymooners” and “The ________ (name) Silvers Show,” Stern happened upon the unusual __________ (noun) after asking fellow “Honeymooners” writer, Roger Price, for an ___________ (noun). The two writers developed the idea, coming up with _________ (adjective) stories in which blanks filled in by game players provided absurd, raucous and often __________ (adjective) humor. May his _________ (noun) be a ________(noun).

Eli Valley, the Forward’s __________ (adjective) artist in residence for 2011-2012 wrote this satirical piece about contemporary Jewish hipsters for the __________ (adjective) website Jewcy in 2008.


Lev Berinsky, a Poet in Exile Between Time and Eternity

By Mikhail Krutikov

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

Gilgulilm

Lev Berinsky is poet who cannot be bounded by easy definitions. He writes in Russian and Yiddish, and lives in Israel, but is best known in Germany. A poet to his core, he is also a gifted translator, journalist and essayist. Though his work is scattered throughout the pages of different publications in several languages, it is all part of a larger project, in both style and substance.

Now, Berinsky’s collected works are available for the first time in Russian. The first volume, containing his poetry, was published in 2009, and the second volume, of prose, is now out. How much these collections will raise Berinsky’s profile is unknown.

Yet Berinsky’s marginality is a position he has intentionally cultivated his entire career. Born in 1939 in the small Bessarabian town of Căuşeni (Kaushen in Yiddish), then part of Romania, Berinsky made his living during most of the Soviet era translating little-known Romanian and German modernist poets into Russian. He began writing in Yiddish in 1981, during Brezhnev’s Era of Stagnation. Though he didn’t yet know the Alef-Beys, the magnificent Bessarabian Yiddish of his childhood was still with him.

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In Song: Beha'alotcha

By Martin Stone

Each week The Arty Semite connects the Torah reading — however tenuously — with a classic work of rock and roll.

In this week’s parsha, Beha’alotcha, the Levites are prepared for their duties in the Tabernacle, with the title referring to Aaron being given the privilege of lighting the Menorah. Passover is celebrated for the first (and only) time in the desert. Those who are unable to bring the Passover offering are given a second chance a month later, thus establishing the “Second Passover.”

Then Moses is commanded to make two silver trumpets for signalling the camp. The Israelites up camp and move on for three days. Moses’ father-law-Jethro takes his leave, whereupon things start to go downhill. First there are general grumblings, which are punished by fire. Then there are complaints that there is no meat, whereupon God provides a supper of quail every night for a month until the Israelites are literally sick of it, with many dying. Moses gathers 70 elders who are endowed with prophetic abilities to help him in deal with the rebellious hordes, while another two elders prophesy independently.

In the final passage in the parsha Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings, talk about his relationship (or lack thereof) with his wife, Tzipporah. They refer to her as black-skinned, which many rabbis take to mean beautiful.


Para Español, Oprima el Dos!

By Lévana Kirschenbaum

Earlier this week, Lévana Kirschenbaum blogged about domestic disputes and gourmet food and Spanish chocolate-chip cookies. 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 a language enthusiast, I have often deplored the fact that languages, against all wishes, are not contagious or transmissible by any means. In the absence of some reliable formal base, except for some language geniuses, there is rarely ever a way to just “pick up” a language, in the streets as it were, and I have often noted with some dismay that Arabic and French, in which I conduct many conversations with my relatives in my husband and children’s presence, remain hopelessly impenetrable to them.

When I arrived in New York almost 40 years ago, I settled in Washington Heights. To my mother’s question, “Are you at least learning a little English?” I remember replying, without any sarcasm, “Non, Maman. In New York no one speaks English. They only speak Spanish, and I am not learning that either!” Almost nothing has changed in the Heights!

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Friday Film: The Netherlands' Mile High Club

By Ralph Seliger

Courtesy of Music Box Films

Reputed to be the most expensive Dutch-language film ever made, “Bride Flight,” a sensual melodrama with something of a Jewish theme thrown in, debuts commercially in the United States on June 10.

The film recounts the experiences of four Dutch expatriates who meet on a KLM airliner in 1953, wending their way to New Zealand on a flight that wins a trans-continental race with several other airlines. Over the ensuing 50 years, these passengers’ lives continue to intersect in unexpected ways.

Three of them are young brides planning to settle in their new country with proper Dutch husbands. The fourth is Frank, who is immigrating to New Zealand to become a wine maker. The actor who plays him as a young man, Waldemar Torenstra, is physically reminiscent of the 1950s movie icon James Dean, but even better looking (in old age the character is portrayed by Rutger Hauer). As you might imagine, Frank gets romantically entangled with no fewer than two of the women.

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Stay Up All Night!

By Ezra Glinter

Happy Shavuot, everybody!


Listening in Portland to the Voice of Bugs Bunny

By Michael Kaminer

Courtesy of Noel Blanc

He was a Portland Jew who dropped out of high school to find fame and fortune in New York. And while he never became a household name, his alter egos — Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Pepé Le Pew, and Barney Rubble, among hundreds of others — became part of pop culture lore.

Now, voice actor Mel Blanc is the subject of a new exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum in Portland. “That’s All, Folks: The Mel Blanc Story,” which runs through September 11, “is a sunny exhibition about a genuine local celebrity who also seems to have been a genuinely nice guy,” reports the Portland Oregonian. “It abounds in photographic, documentary and voice-recorded memories of Blanc’s life and times in Portland and Hollywood (he died in 1989), including recorded reminiscences by other top voice actors, photos of Blanc with the likes of Jack Benny, and animations and other material from those Warner Bros. cartoon days.”

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Israeli Museum to House Original Drawings of American Cartoonist Joe Kubert

By Ronen Shnidman

Courtesy of the Israeli Cartoon Museum

The third wave of the comic book craze may soon be reaching Israeli shores, with 1960s comic book icon Joe Kubert scheduled to visit the country in August. During his first visit to Israel, Kubert is expected to donate some of his original artwork to the Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon.

Kubert is a comic book legend who reached the peak of his mass appeal during the Silver Age of Comics (1960s to 1970s), creating the original series ““Tales of the Green Beret” about a group of elite U.S. Army soldier and Tor, a prehistoric human.

The trip and donation, arranged with the help of Israeli comic book artist Dorit Maya Gur, is expected to be a major coup for the recently opened Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon. Gur, a former student of Kubert’s, is perhaps best known for the creation of Israeli comic book hero and all-around shlemazel, Falafel Man. The Israeli Cartoon Museum opened in Holon in 2007 as part of an initiative by Mayor Moti Sasson to rebrand the city as a children-friendly place dedicated to supporting the fine arts.

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Hungarian Modernist László Krasznahorkai's Inner Animal

By Vladislav Davidzon

For almost a decade now, New Directions Publishing has doggedly been bringing the late, late Hungarian modernist László Krasznahorkai’s novels of impassioned decrepitude and finely cadenced apocalypticism into English. Next year will see the much-anticipated translation of his “Satantango.” To tide us over until then we now have the publication in the Cahiers Writing and Translation series of “AnimalInside,” his collaboration with German Jewish neo-expressionist painter Max Neumann.

Krasznahorkai originally wrote a text in the third person to illustrate a painting of Neumann’s. In it, a ferocious black beast is suspended and elongated mid leap along the contours of a bare pastel expanse. Posts, fuzzy architectural motifs and the occasional outline of a human figure inhabit the beast’s barbed wire-enveloped world. The entire text is composed of his letting loose a primordial howl in impotent rage:

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Chocolate Chip Cookies: CCC? Sisisi!

By Lévana Kirschenbaum

Yesterday, Lévana Kirschenbaum blogged about domestic disputes and gourmet food. 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:


We all think of cookies as a short-lived and vaguely illicit pleasure. Except I honestly don’t think, and you can ask anyone, there’s a cookie in the world more worshipped and more baked than my smart little chocolate chip cookie. I will attempt to give you an idea just how much mileage it gets.

The first time my daughter Bella went away to summer camp, I asked her what she would like me to bring her on visiting day, and she said with great glee: “Duh, chocolate chip cookies, mom, what else?” For her and her bunkmates. And, lots of them for the long hot summer ahead.

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Jean-Jacques Duval's Connecticut Synagogue Stained Glass Still Dazzles After 50 Years

By Samuel D. Gruber

Crossposted from Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments

Chapel windows by Jean-Jacques Duval, Congregation B’nai Jacob, Woodbridge, CT. Photo by Samuel D. Gruber.

In 2009 I wrote an article for Tablet Magazine about Abstract Expressionist artist Adolph Gottlieb’s stained glass windows in the Kingsway Jewish Center in Brooklyn (this article has just been republished, without slide show, in a special Shavuot synagogue issue of The New York Jewish Week). I was already long interested in synagogue stained glass, but Gottlieb’s work made me more attentive to the innovative techniques, colors and symbols employed by synagogue stained glass artists in the 1950s and 1960s, the heyday of American abstract art. Gottlieb was able to successfully transform the traditional Jewish use of a limited number of religious and cultural symbols to a larger abstract artistic aesthetic. Gottlieb’s program also suggested a nearly-attainable grasp of archetypal highly charged symbols of both personal and cosmic significance, in the tradition of Jewish mysticism.

I was therefore delighted when visiting Connecticut earlier this spring to encounter two exemplary stained glass programs by artist Jean-Jacques Duval (b. 1930) in synagogues I was visiting for their architecture. Both Congregation Mishkan Israel in Hamden and Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge were designed by Fritz Nathan and Bertram Bassuk (1918-1996), and both include chapels with stained glass by Duval, and Duval did the sanctuary work at B’nai Jacob, too. According to Duval, who remains active as an artist today with more 450 major commissions completed, he and fellow artist Robert Pinart were brought in by the architects for Mishkan Israel.

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