On Monday, Erika Dreifus, the author of “Quiet Americans,” wrote about Jewish-American Literature as Multicultural Literature. 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:
Today is a special day: It’s the official “pub date” for my debut short-story collection, “Quiet Americans,” which is being released by Last Light Studio, a new, Boston-based micropress.
It is also a special day on an even more personal level: It is the 70th anniversary of the date on which my paternal grandparents, Ruth and Sam Dreifus, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s and met here in Manhattan, were married.
Daniel Libeskind’s ‘Wheel of Conscience’ in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Courtesy Canadian Jewish Congress.
The ill-fated voyage of the MS St. Louis, the Hamburg-based ocean liner intended to transport 907 mostly German Jewish refugees to Cuba in May 1939, has always played a central role in early Holocaust history, and not only because it unraveled, tragically, like a Hollywood drama. (Indeed, the story was made into a 1976 film called “Voyage of the Damned,” based on a book of the same name.) Rather, the episode exposed a peculiar unwillingness on the part of the United States and Canada to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, even though Hitler’s anti-Semitism was already well known. Turned away at Havana, the ship unsuccessfully sought safe harbor in Florida and Nova Scotia before returning to Europe. Many of the passengers eventually died in the Holocaust.
In Canada, the story of the country’s anti-Jewish immigration policies has been recorded in the seminal 1983 book “None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948” by Irving Abella and Harold Troper. Yet the public’s awareness of the Holocaust tends not to linger on that aspect of history. On January 20, however, Pier 21, Canada’s Immigration Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Canadian Jewish Congress, will unveil an MS St. Louis monument designed by New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind. Pier 21 was the entry point for over one million European immigrants to Canada, from 1928 to 1971.
The diplomatic career of Yehuda Lancry includes postings as Israel’s Ambassador to France in the 1990s, followed by service as a member of the 14th Knesset, and in 1999, as Israel’s representative to the United Nations. Yet before these lofty responsibilities, Lancry, who was born in Bujad, Morocco and emigrated to Israel in the 1960s, earned a masters degree in French literature, focusing on the works of 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and then received a doctorate on the contemporary author Michel Butor.
This literary preparation became highly useful when Lancry decided to write a memoir, “The Wounded Envoy: Memoires of an Israeli Ambassador,” (Le messager Meurtri: Mémoires d’un ambassadeur d’Israël) which recently appeared from Les éditions Albin Michel. Interwoven with recollections of his professional duties is an account of his mourning for his businessman son Ran, who died in 2002 at age 27, after prolonged health difficulties (which had earlier necessitated Yehuda Lancry’s donating a kidney to his son).
King David is a smiling child in a red T-shirt and corduroys. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fills in for Haman. David Ben-Gurion is leading Holocaust survivors across the Red Sea.
That’s the aim of the Dura Europos Project, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art until March 27 — to present a decidedly modern take on the oldest known examples of Jewish artwork.
Discovered in 1920 in a synagogue in the ancient Roman town of Dura, the Dura Europos frescoes date to 245 C.E. and depict scenes from the Tanach — everything from the story of Esther to Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones.
The project, curated by Joel Silverstein and Richard McBee, features paintings created specifically for the exhibit by members of New York’s Jewish Art Salon, based on portions of the frescoes.
View a slideshow of images from the ‘Dura Europos Project’:
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Dmitri Slepovitch writes about “Ikh vel nit ganvenen” (“I Will Not Steal”), a song he recorded in his native Belarus:
I recorded “Ikh vel nit ganvenen” (“I Will Not Steal”) in Mogilev, Belarus, from Sterna Gorodetskaya, born in 1946 into the only Jewish family that got reunited after the war in the village of Komintern, a Mogilev suburb.
Sterna is also the aunt of Yuri Gorodetsky, a young opera singer who was for while involved performing Yiddish songs and cantorial pieces in Minsk, taking part in Jewish cultural revivalist movement there.
It was amazing to hear this song from a person of Sterna’s generation. She sang the song to me in memory of her mother, and that was the first time she performed it since she was a child.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
During the Q&A period of a December 1 event at the National Press Club titled “Why journalists must understand religion,” I asked Sally Quinn, founder and moderator of the Washington Post’s On Faith, if it was an advantage for reporters to approach the religion beat with insider knowledge of the faiths they are covering.
After all, I’ve found that some of my most creative stories have stemmed from a nuanced understanding of rabbinic and biblical Judaism, whether it was noticing Hebrew typos in William Blake’s paintings, mistranslations in the promotional materials of Hebrew inscriptions on rings in a gift shop at a mega-church or examining seemingly incongruous visual elements (like rabbit hunts or twisted pillars) in Jewish illuminated manuscripts and synagogues.
If Jews are the people of the magazine, there is now one fewer in the tribe. Meretz USA has pulled the plug on Israel Horizons, a voice of left-wing Zionism for more than a half-century.
The final issue of the 58-year-old quarterly rolls off the presses this month. The periodical had already been limping along, publishing only one issue in 2010. Meretz USA, a nonprofit organization working to create partnerships between dovish Americans who support Israel and their counterparts within the State of Israel, has now issued the final issue in 2011.
“The journal was a source of pride,” said Ralph Seliger, who was editor from 1991 to 1995, and again from 2003 to the present. “It really was my calling.” Circulation hovered between 1000 and 2000 readers, and was funded by Meretz USA with additional donations from subscribers.
When Erez Safar started the Sephardic Music Festival in 2005, he was thinking about the future of Sephardic music. Having spent the last decade watching klezmer explode in popularity among artists like the avant-garde composer John Zorn and the Brooklyn punk band Golem, Safar realized klezmer was moving into a brave new future and was leaving its Sephardic counterparts behind. If the annual festival is Safar’s response to that problem, “Sephardic Music Festival Vol. 1,” is the permanent document illuminating a musical movement at a moment of uncertain transformation.
“Klezmer had this hip factor, but that never happened to Sephardic music. So the idea was to have cool different styled Sephardic music,” Safar told the Forward. The 18-track compilation reads like a who’s who of Jewish Middle Eastern sounds. Movement names like Moshav Band, Sarah Aroeste, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Jon Madof and Galeet Dardashti pepper the tracks alongside less familiar figures. The most startling inclusion is a six-minute opener by rock-reggae Hasid Matisyahu. On the track, Matisyahu mostly discards the twisting breathless vocals he built his career on, in favor of softly spoken words over a funky electronic maqam beat. His inclusion indicates the scope of Safar’s Sephardic dream: a pan-ethnic space that draws musically on places as diverse as Morocco and Ibiza.
Listen to Matisyahu’s ‘Two Child One Drop’:
Erika Dreifus‘s first book, “Quiet Americans,” will be published on January 19th. 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:
Early next month, four other writers — Andrew Furman, Kevin Haworth, Margot Singer, and Anna Solomon — and I will gather in a conference room for a panel titled “Beyond Bagels & Lox: Jewish-American Fiction in the 21st Century.” (Hopefully, some semblance of a critical mass of an audience will be there as well.)
This session is just one among a dizzying array of offerings organized by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) for its annual conference. If you aren’t familiar with AWP, you may find this description from Executive Director David Fenza to be helpful:
Crossposted from Haaretz
One of the first stops made by visitors to the new Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exhibit in the Yad Mordechai Museum, in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, is the projection of a yellow star on their clothing. By moving your body, you put the virtual patch in the place where it belongs. It’s part of the concept of bringing viewers into the experience.
Later on, in order to peek at a model of the Warsaw Ghetto one takes a virtual journey on a railway car to a death camp. After the doors shut, with a realistic-sounding noise, the trip begins. A subwoofer speaker under the car simulates the sounds of traveling by train, while images of the ghetto, and then of the extermination camps, go past the barbed-wire-covered windows.
At the Golden Globe awards last night, winners included “Boardwalk Empire” for best TV drama (discussed in the Forward here and here); Al Pacino for his turn as Jack Kevorkian in HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack” (discussed in the Forward here); Paul Giamatti as best actor in “Barney’s Version” (here and here); Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” (here); and David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin for best director and best screenplay, respectively, for “The Social Network,” which also took home the prize for best drama.
Speaking of Hollywood, will “war and terrorism insurance” help lure American production companies to Israel?
Greet “Kehilah,” a new online magazine for Jews of color.
Benjamin Ivry investigates the literary chameleon, Romain Gary.
Rachel Barenblat writes a tree poem for “Birch Magazine.”
Raphael Mostel goes to see the story of Ruth at the New York Chinese Opera Society.
Tongues have been clicking in the Orthodox world about the U.S. debut of Eve Annenberg’s feature film “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” (which I previously wrote about for the Forward here), but the New York Jewish Film Festival screening on January 16 at Lincoln Center sold out quickly and the Hasidic dropouts-turned actors who star in the film expect a huge black hat turnout.
On the frum woman’s web site imamother.com someone who grew up in Boro Park with former Satmar beauty Malky Weisz, who plays Juliet, posted: “I think this film is going to create a huge chilull ha shem [desecration of G-d’s name], even though I have no inkling as to what the story line is.”
Readers do not expect witnesses to historical tragedy to be supremely intelligent, producing gimlet-eyed conclusions about executioners and victims. Yet Ludwik Hirszfeld, a Polish Jewish microbiologist and serologist (expert in blood serum) who died in 1954, did just that in a book issued last August to no fanfare from University of Rochester Press.
“Ludwik Hirszfeld: The Story of One Life” was translated by Marta A. Balinska, and edited by Balinska with William Schneider. Hirszfeld’s memoir, dictated in the 1940s, is fascinating on many accounts; in the Warsaw ghetto, Hirszfeld heroically organized anti-epidemic measures and vaccination campaigns against typhus, as well as teaching clandestine medical classes. A major scientist who made discoveries about blood grouping with relation to disease, Hirszfeld recounts how the rise of European fascism affected the scientific world.
For those accustomed to seeing Lou Reed as the snarling badass of the New York music scene, his first directorial effort, “Red Shirley,” will come as something of a shock. Far from touching on the trademark obsessions of his Velvet Underground days — sadomasochism and drugs, to be precise — the film is a loving, strenuously respectful portrait of his cousin, Shirley Novick, on the eve of her 100th birthday.
The documentary, which screens January 15 at the New York Jewish Film Festival and clocks in at a mere 28 minutes, is full of awkward angles and random shifts from color to black-and-white. It’s a clumsy effort, technically speaking, full of production flaws that are bizarre to the point of distraction, yet the story that Reed tells is charming enough that you can almost overlook the film’s defects.
Crossposted from Haaretz
For decades the music band Al-asheqeen has provided a soundtrack to life in the Palestinian territories; their songs are heard at weddings, funerals, and in daily living.
The band, which was created in Damascus by Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon, has become a symbol of national heritage and a bastion of Palestinian cultural and religious tradition. But until last month, the group had never set foot on Palestinian land.
Under the auspices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the group of 33 singers and dancers performed in ten concerts across the West Bank’s major cities and towns, including Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and Abu Dis.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “Going to the Movies” by Andrei Codrescu. This piece originally appeared on March 2, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Mr. Codrescu was born in 1946 in Sibiu, Romania, and in an early autobiography, “Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius,” he vividly describes the anti-Semitism of Stalinist Romania. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager, landing initially in Detroit, where he was helped by Jewish charities. Already an accomplished poet in Transylvania, he carried the surrealist tradition headlong into the New York poetry scene of the 1960s, where he was influenced by the writing of Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan.
Poet, novelist, essayist, autobiographer, editor of the online literary review “Exquisite Corpse” and National Public Radio commentator, Mr. Codrescu has forged a persona half de Tocqueville and half Henry Miller as he comments on American life with a mixture of wisdom, bemusement and wonder.
Orly Adelson’s employees do not salute her when they report for work in the morning.
“I would like that, but they won’t,” she said, laughing at the thought.
Adelson is president of dick clark productions, the company that produces shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Shaq Vs.,” the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards, which will be presented January 16. What prompted the question about the salute was less her current duties than a job she held years ago: lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces.
In some ways, that experience proved a burden. “It’s in every article about me,” Adelson said. “‘She was in the military,‘ [they write]. I’m proud of it. But I’ve done many things since then.” Still, she conceded that “it’s part of what shaped me.”
Get ready for the Robert Moses musical.
Find out what the New York Times best sellers were the week you were born (or any week, really).
New research shows that Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929), the namesake of the Bode Museum in Berlin, was — get this — an anti-Semite.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
I’ve been meaning for quite some time now to write about the Judaica Sound Archives, an online treasure trove of American Jewry’s musicological patrimony, but I couldn’t quite find the right note to strike. In the wake of the sudden and untimely passing of Debbie Friedman, whose musical contributions to the shaping of contemporary Jewish life are virtually without parallel, the appropriate occasion presents itself.
I don’t know whether the Judaica Sound Archives, which is maintained by the Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, actually contains any of Debbie Friedman’s songs — I’m sure it will in due course — but the collection houses just about everything else that once made for American Jewry’s varied and lively acoustic culture.