The Arty Semite

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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He Beat Me Black and Blue: Yiddish Songs of Family Violence, Part Four

By Adrienne Cooper and Sarah Mina Gordon

This is the last part of a four-part article originally appearing in the Spring 2011 issue of Lilith Magazine. Read the first three parts here, here and here.

Shifra Whiteman, ‘Gedrukte Shtumkayt’ (‘Printed Silence’), 2011.

ALLUSIONS TO RAPE

Margaritkelekh / Daisies

In the woods, by a stream
The daisies grow like little suns
With white rays.
Khavele goes there, quiet and dreamy,
Her braids unfastened,
Her blouse open at the neck, she sings.
When a boy approaches
Hair black like coal, eyes aflame,
He answers her song.
“What are you looking for out here,
Did you lose something?
What do you want to find in the grass?”
“I’m just looking for daisies”, she blushes.
“Still looking? He asks. “And me,
I just found the prettiest one in the forest.
With braids and sapphire eyes, what eyes.”
“No, let me go, I can’t do this.
My mother says it’s wrong.
She’ll be so angry.”
“What Mother, where is she.
There are just trees here.”
“Do you like me?” “I like you.”
“Are you ashamed?” “I am ashamed .”
Then love me, and be ashamed, and be silent.
And see how my black curls mix with your golden.”
The sun in gone now, the boy — gone,
And Khavele still sits in the woods.
Looks off into the distance, murmuring the song….

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France’s Favorite TV Comic Host Examines his Jewish Roots

By Benjamin Ivry

wiki commons

With the demise of Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman, Jewish comic story-tellers have mostly vanished from American TV, but they are alive and well in France, in good part due to the raconteur, compère, and interviewer Philippe Bouvard, born in 1929 in Coulommiers, north-central France. Although Bouvard has broadcasted since the 1950s, his ongoing program “Les Grosses Têtes,” launched in 1977, represents his most indelible success, with rude jokes recounted by the singer Enrico Macias (born Gaston Ghrenassia to an Algerian Jewish family), journalist Claude Sarraute, and many others.

“Les Grosses Têtes” ridicules its own format by offering questions to the panel from fictitious viewers with punning names such as “Madame Lenvie de Béziers” (or Mrs. Lenvie from the city of Béziers, which in French sounds like “Mrs. Has the Desire to Screw.”). One fellow performer described Bouvard’s style as a “mixture of toilet jokes and quotes from Marcel Proust.” With the pose of a grand seigneur, Bouvard confronts corny jokes with the mock aplomb of William Shatner, before dissolving into laughter.

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Truth and Beauty vs. the Dominating 'I'

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 and here, and her poetry on The Arty Semite here.

Wiki Commons

If “Imagination is evidence of the Divine” then, as John Keats wrote in a letter, “What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.”

When something beautiful captured Eve’s imagination, she knew it was “truth.” This link between the imagination, beauty, and truth is surprising, even counterintuitive. We would normally expect an instinctual response to beauty to involve a sense of feeling good, satisfied, a sense of enjoyment in what is pleasing to us. We don’t think of beauty as “true.” Beauty is subjective, not objective. What was Keats suggesting by this link?

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A New Breath of Yiddish Poetry

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Jeremy Kargon

“I’m not going to be on Oprah,” said Zackary Sholem Berger matter-of-factly about his new book, “Zog khotsh l’havdil / Not in the Same Breath.” He’s realistic about his completely negligible chances, not because Oprah’s show and book club have just come to an end, but because he knows his work of original Yiddish poetry is not destined for a wide audience.

With no U.S. city today coming anything close to what pre-World War II Warsaw was (or even what New York was, for that matter) in terms of Yiddish publishing, producers of new literature in mameloshn need to go it alone and get creative about getting their work out there. Berger, 37, having translated a number of popular and beloved children’s picture books into Yiddish over the past decade, was well aware of this prior to writing his collection of poetry. He and his wife started their own Yiddish House (formerly Yiddish Cat) publishing company in 2003 to produce and distribute their Yiddish translations of Dr. Suess’s “The Cat in the Hat” and “One Fish Two Fish,” and “Curious George” by Margret and H.A. Rey.

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He Beat Me Black and Blue: Yiddish Songs of Family Violence, Part Three

By Adrienne Cooper and Sarah Mina Gordon

This is the third part of a four-part article originally appearing in the Spring 2011 issue of Lilith Magazine. Read the first part here and the second part here.

Shifra Whiteman, ‘On Verter’ (‘Without Words’), 2011.

Shvigern / Mothers-in-Law

When couples married they did not necessarily become autonomous heads of their own households. Many a new bride — often a teenager in an arranged marriage — moved in with her husband’s family. There she lived under the control of a stranger, her mother-in-law. A large repertoire of proverbs and songs describe the conflict and the lack of empathy in these relationships between women:

A mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law in one house are like two cats in one sack.
A shviger un a shnur in eyn hoyz zenen vi tsvey kets in eyn zak.

The mother-in-law has forgotten that she too was once a daughter-in-law.
Di shviger hot fargesn az zi iz amol aleyn geven a shnur.

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Rosh Camping

By Haley Tanner

On Tuesday, Haley Tanner wrote about her mother’s blessing. 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:


Years ago my family decided to take our celebration of Rosh Hashanah out of our Conservative synagogue. We were feeling stifled by the long hours sitting in uncomfortable clothes — we were distracted by the outfits, the gossip, the perfume and the fur coats. Rosh Hashanah had lost its meaning for us, and we wanted it back.

My mother is fond of saying that of all the animals on earth, human beings are unique in our ability to step back, to reflect, to separate certain times and days as sacred or special. We knew that we had to maintain the sacredness of the holiday, to separate it from the sameness of other days. For years we had relied on the institution of synagogue to do it for us — now we were on our own. So we took to the woods. We went camping. And we are not avid campers. We are not campers by any stretch of the imagination.

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Out and About: A Triptych for Today; Music of the Holocaust, Online

By Ezra Glinter

Simon Dinnerstein, detail from ‘The Fulbright Triptych, 1971-74.
  • A new website on music and the Holocaust has been launched in Berlin.

  • Simon Dinnerstein discusses his monumental 1970s artwork, “The Fulbright Triptych.”

  • Russian novelist Ludmila Ulitskaya’s “Daniel Stein, Interpreter,” a book that takes its inspiration from the real life Polish Jewish Partisan Oswald Rufeisen, is now available in English.

  • Dutch Jewish novelist and Holocaust survivor Hans Keilson has died. Read the Forward’s review of two of his novels here.

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