The Arty Semite

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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Fine Arts Students in Haifa Think Outside the Box

By Ellie Armon Azoulay

From Danielle Itzhaki’s “Haya.” Photo by Danielle Itzhaki.

Crossposted from Haaretz

So flexible is the graduate program in creative arts at the University of Haifa that its students do not share a background in the same discipline. Sharon Poliakine, who heads the Fine Arts Department, says that nine of the 10 graduates this year previously studied at other schools and in different faculties, including graphic design, film studies, computers, philosophy, etc.

This openness, says Poliakine, first and foremost, is thanks to Uri Katzenstein, the multidisciplinary artist who chairs the master’s degree studies committee. Katzenstein insisted on expanding the standard discipline and creating “a place where to be an artist … can come from other places.”

Read more at Haaretz.com


Monday Music: Daniel Kahn and the Relevance of Yiddish Protest Songs

By Jake Marmer

Courtesy of Daniel Kahn

We all know people who seem to have been born in the wrong decade — or even in the wrong century. Only very few of them, however, attempting to connect their society with that of another world, stretch across eras, and become giants — artists and thinkers like Sun Ra, Walter Benjamin and Henri Matisse. Whether Daniel Kahn is merely an eccentric born in the wrong century, or is indeed a growing giant, is the question I kept returning to while listening to “Lost Causes,” Kahn’s third album with his band, The Painted Bird.

Although the material on the album is diverse, its backbone is Yiddish protest songs. These are century (or more) old Yiddish poems by writers such as Mordechai Gebirtig, David Edelstadt, and Mark Warshavsky, to which Kahn adds verses of his own English translation. The common thread running through the poems is class struggle, workers’ rights and demands of equality. Unlike the sardonic title of the album, the words are earnest. And music is simply fantastic. Klezmer tunes turn in the blink of an eye turn into New Orleans style marches, or Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan-esque ballads. It’s folk — that is, people’s music — and it works so well in no small part thanks to the band, which stars such young klezmer greats as clarinetist Michael Winograd, trombonist Dan Blacksberg and violinist Jake Shulman-Ment.

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A Marriage Made at the Museum

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Courtesy of the Jewish Theological Seminary

Now that June is upon us, it’s high season for weddings — and reason enough for The Jewish Museum in New York to mount an exhibition of ketubot, Jewish marriage contracts.

“The Art of Matrimony” showcases 30 different versions of the age-old document. Some hail from the Cairo genizah of the 12th century, others from the atelier of a contemporary artist. Some bear flowers, others fish and still others a sturdy handshake. For all their differences, each ketubah reflects a union of heart and head.

Elsewhere within the museum world, the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia has gone a step further in its commitment to the ketubah by operating a Ketubah Gallery where happy couples can have this “monumental milestone marker,” as one museum official would have it, made to order. And if that weren’t enough to highlight the central role that the Jewish marriage contract plays, both contemporaneously as well as historically, the most current issue of Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture features a fascinating article by Jeffrey Shandler on the multiple and varied meanings the ketubah has accrued over time and space: at once a legal document and a work of art, a token of steadfastness and an emblem of idiosyncrasy.

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Monday Music: Has Socalled Left the Jewish Scene?

By Josh Tapper

Courtesy of Socalled Music

Maybe it was only a matter of time before Socalled, the frizzy-haired, klezmer hip-hop hipster, tried to sidestep his ever-expanding identity as a “Jewish artist.” The arbiters of Jewish cultural identity go to great lengths to rope in the eclectic and the original, and a klezmer hip-hopper is a no-brainer. But no one wants to be pigeonholed.

While his first three albums oozed Yiddishkeit, Socalled’s musical range also bounced from funk to house to light jazz to gospel to reggae. On his latest effort, “Sleepover,” released in May, the Montreal-based artist continues his catholic approach to musical fusion but cuts out most of the Jewishness, offering 12 tracks with only thin traces of a freylekh or a nigun. Any fan taken by Socalled’s Yiddish-heavy 2003 album “HiphopKhasene” or his “Hip Hop Haggadah” follow-up, or his 2007 breakout release “Ghettoblaster,” might think the guy has completely lost his compass.

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Mozart in Nature at the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival

By Noam Ben-Zeev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Daniel Tchetchik

Twice a year, at Shavuot and Sukkot, there’s a pilgrimage to a hill overlooking the village of Abu Ghosh west of Jerusalem. On the hilltop sits the Kiryat Yearim Church — “a Protestant church in the heart of a Muslim village where Jews sing Catholic music. It is the epitome of tolerance and acknowledgment of the other,” says Hana Tzur, musician, conductor and musical director of the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival.

As musical director, Tzur has arranged 30 programs, each featuring some 20 concerts, around 70 pieces and the participation of hundreds (soloists, choirs, chamber ensembles and orchestras) for audiences of thousands. It’s her 15th year and her enthusiasm, intensity and sense of humor remain as before. The festival opens with a Mendelssohn motet and Mozart’s “Great Mass in C Minor,” performed by the Israel Stage Orchestra, the Kibbutz Choir ad soloists, conducted by Ronen Borshevsky, and will close on Saturday. “I listen to Bach, Mendelssohn and Mozart and know that this how to live life, amid this beauty,” says Tzur.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Welcome To Our Venus-Mars Home!

By Lévana Kirschenbaum

Lévana Kirschenbaum is the author of the forthcoming “The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple” (June 22). 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 came home late one recent evening, and found my husband uncharacteristically agitated. “I just put out a fire!” he said, panting. “I have no idea how it started, I just wanted to microwave some dinner and put it in a foil container to warm, and flames started leaping out!”

Now please don’t find me too biased: I ask you, how are un-domesticated husbands, who almost never prepare or even warm up their food, who almost always wait for their wives to tell them what dinner consists of, supposed to know that foil is the microwave’s nemesis? I looked all over the lethal appliance to see if the manufacturer had included some warning, but no, not a word about the hazards of using foil. Shame on you, I thought indignantly, you should learn from a sign I recently saw on an ad for bulletproof jackets: “Guaranteed or your money back,” or the warning sign on coffee cups that became ubiquitous after an infamous lawsuit: “Caution: Hot beverages are hot!”

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Out and About: Morton Feldman in Philadelphia; The 'Once Upon a Potty' App

By Ezra Glinter

Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby’s
  • Holland Cotter takes a look at the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s Gertrude Stein exhibit, reviewed by the Forward’s Joel Schechter here.

  • Alona Frankel’s 1975 classic “Once Upon a Potty” is now an app.

  • Philadelphia is holding an eight-day festival in honor of composer Morton Feldman, whose work has been covered by the Forward’s Raphael Mostel here and here.

  • Jewcy interviews Paris Review editor Lorin Stein.

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Courtesy of Sotheby's
  • Michael Kaminer talks to Tim Supple, the British-Jewish director of a new pan-Arab production of “One Thousand and One Nights.”

  • Lawrence Grossman reviews a history of the Synagogue in America.

  • Eli Valley’s first comic as the Forward’s artist-in-residence looks at the similarities between the Knesset and Kafka.

  • Susan Tumarkin Goodman leafs through a sketchbook kept by Bella Chagall.

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A Most Outlandish Awards Ceremony

By Daniella Wexler

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!”

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A Word That Contains Its Opposite

By Eve Grubin

This piece is crossposted from The Best American Poetry, where poet Eve Grubin is guest blogging this week. Read Grubin’s previous posts here, here and here, and her poetry on The Arty Semite here.

Wiki Commons

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.”

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Friday Film: A German Director's Alter Ego Bares All

By Michael Kaminer

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.

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In Song: Naso

By Martin Stone

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…


Physicist Steven Weinberg, Not Just Another Lady of Shalott

By Benjamin Ivry

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.

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