On her first visit to Israel in 1987, Czech-born Canadian singer Lenka Lichtenberg looked out from the top of Masada and never looked back. It was at that moment that she decided to leave behind her lounge singing career in pop, jazz, rock and folk and focus solely on perpetuating Yiddish culture through her music. Now, having built a noted international career in performing and recording Yiddish songs, Lichtenberg has recently released a new album called “Fray” (pronounced “Frei” and meaning “Free”), in which she circles back to Israel through her melding of Yiddish poetry with Middle Eastern and World sounds.
“I was always more attracted to sounds of the Middle East than of Eastern Europe, even though I was born and grew up in Prague,” the petite and animated singer with long curly blonde hair explained in an interview with The Arty Semite in her home in Toronto. However, her desire at the start to be “authentic, legitimate, to justify my connection to my personal roots,” (her father was from Moravia and her mother and grandmother were survivors of Theresienstadt) led her to ground herself firmly in the repertoire of Yiddish standards. Having grown up in Communist Czechoslovakia atheist and uneducated about her Jewish heritage, she “sometimes felt like an imposter. It was a strange dynamic singing to people who knew more about the culture than I did. But my voice really helped me to ease my way into the whole thing,” she reflected.
Image courtesy of Sanford Kearns
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
This year, or so it seems to me, the American Jewish community is awash in new editions of the haggadah, the age-old ritual text that structures the Passover seder.
At one end of the spectrum, there’s the stunning Washington Haggadah, a facsimile edition of a 15th century text. Its brightly colored illustrations of daily life — women stir the pot, an entire family crowds atop a horse, birds chirp, a jester beats a drum — dazzle the eye and enlarge our sense of wonder at the ways in which earlier generations of Jews claimed the haggadah as their own.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a brand new version of the Maxwell House Haggadah, whose very ordinariness belies its extraordinary hold on the American Jewish imagination. Households across the country may lack a Kiddush cup and perhaps even a set of Shabbat candlesticks, but chances are they own a copy or two of the unadorned and down-to-earth Maxwell House Haggadah, which has been around in one form or another since the 1930s.
Vanessa Davis illustrates Passover’s seeming absurdities.
Sarah Lazarovic illustrates her Passover Seder with her converted huband, Benjamin Errett.
Jeff Goldblum wows Coachella festival with his jazz orchestra.
The Arty Semite contributor Jenny Hendrix takes on the gender-neutered Bible for The New Yorker.
Eli Valley re-interprets the four sons in light of the Egyptian Revolution.
Philologos has difficulties and questions, both.
Meredith Ganzman looks back on the career of Rochelle Slovin, founding director of the Museum of the Moving Image.
Karen Alkalay-Gut began her illustrious poetry career here in the Forward at the age of 10. Recently we unearthed that first foray into poetry here on The Arty Semite, along with a few of her other poems. Celebrating National Poetry Month, we not only have the pleasure of featuring Karen’s interview (along with six others), but also another batch of her works.
In the first poem Alkalay-Gut posits herself as an “apicorous” (heretic), the fifth son, riffing on the classic Haggadic image. One would be hard pressed to agree with poet’s self-description as a heretic, however, based on the second poem, which interacts closely with Judaism’s essence — the multiplicity of meanings derived through interaction with tradition, a blessing that can sometimes turn into a curse.
Born in London, Karen Alkalay-Gut grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and in 1972 she moved to Israel, where she teaches at Tel Aviv University. Her sixth volume of poems in Hebrew translation will appear after Passover.
Courtesy Fatpossum Records
Having launched their self-titled debut album in February and now embarking on an American tour, British indie-rock band Yuck are causing quite a stir. A successful stint playing to crowds at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas last month generated a great deal of conversation, particularly in the blogosphere. On April 6 the band took the top spot on Hype Machine, a buzz tracking system that aggregates information from more than 1,000 music blogs worldwide, making Yuck, unofficially, the world’s most talked about new band.
Guitarists and vocalists Max Bloom and Daniel Blumberg started the group in 2010, later inviting New Jersey drummer Jonny Rogoff and Japanese vocalist Mariko Doi to join. Blumberg’s sister Ilana occasionally provides backing vocals. While international in makeup, the band have a strong connection to the Jewish community, with Bloom and Blumberg meeting at cheder in New North London Synagogue at age 4.
Earlier this week, Austin Ratner wrote about Hillel sandwiches and patricide, photography, and Audrey Hepburn. His first book, “The Jump Artist,” is the winner of the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. 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:
It goes against my convictions as a novelist to characterize any person as either a demon or a hero; human nature isn’t so simple. It’s the fascist psyche that adores such black-and-white categories: good or bad, Aryan or Jew, friend or enemy, worthy of life or of extermination. But even in a psychologically mature piece of fiction, there are protagonists and antagonists and what divides them from one another in “The Jump Artist,” is precisely their degree of maturity of thought — i.e., their ability or inability to think in a nuanced, non-binary way. Karl Meixner, a fascist, had a lot of trouble thinking that way. Philippe Halsman’s attorney in the second trial, by contrast, refused to see the world in the polarized terms that would later dominate the politics of Grossdeutschland.
It sounds like a high-concept Hollywood pitch: Feisty 86-year-old Holocaust survivor meets tough inner-city high-school kids. In fact, a documentary about the indefatigable Fanya Gottesfeld Heller — and her conversations with students at Brooklyn’s “alternative” Pacific High School — airs on PBS affiliates throughout April. Richard Gere narrates “Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story,” partly based on Heller’s 1993 autobiography “Love in a World of Sorrow.” Heller spoke to the Forward’s Michael Kaminer from her Upper East Side apartment — on the day she learned that Pacific High School was slated to close.
Michael Kaminer: What do you hope the film accomplishes beyond what you’ve already achieved with your lectures and book?
The poetic practice of praising God through his works is of such long standing (as long as the history of religious poetry, perhaps) that it would seem difficult, if not impossible, to offer a new and contemporary take on the tradition. But in the title poem of David Caplan’s recent collection, “In the World He Created According to His Will,” Caplan manages to turn the form inside out, while still creating a deeply spiritual meditation on nature, human relationships, and God. Here, instead of perceiving God through nature, the opposite is the case — the beauty of a natural scene is imbued with a spiritual aura thanks to the prayer uttered by the speaker’s partner. “What returns you to these words/ in the pause between tides, the rising/ and falling back not only of water?” Here God is as much a means as an end, with the supplicant’s prayer binding the rest of the poem’s elements together.
Caplan is a professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University and a contributing editor to the Virginia Quarterly Review and Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. His poetry has been published in the New England Review and the Antioch Review and he is the author of “Questions of Possibility: Contemporary Poetry and Poetic Form,” among other books.
Courtesy lucetg.com/Centaur Theatre
In Montreal, not only can a musical about smoked meat be more than a gag, but “Schwartz’s: The Musical” is a $240,000 professional production. That’s around twice the usual cost of a play at the Centaur Theatre, where the show is playing until May 7.
Schwartz’s, a “Hebrew Delicatessen” founded in 1928, is a mecca for meat lovers, and its waiting line is as much of a trademark as the items on the menu. Clippings on the wall testify to the many celebrities who have passed through: Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Mick Jagger, and many sports and political figures (there’s even a running joke that eating at the diner ensures future Canadian prime ministers a majority government when they come into power — a pertinent theory seeing as Canadians are going to the polls on May 2).
The musical reads like a dream — albeit the dream you’d have falling asleep with the “Best of Broadway” playing on repeat after a night of beer and that smoked meat sandwich that seemed like a good idea at the time. Alternatively, it feels like a two-hour infomercial for the famed delicatessen.
Three hundred of Charlotte Salomon’s beautiful expressionist paintings illustrating a young German Jewish women’s self-discovery can be seen at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum until July 31. The same week that the San Francisco exhibit opened, an enormous comic book convention nearby attracted thousands of young readers searching for their latest superhero (Green Lantern this year) and his predecessors. I would like to report that all the comic book readers paraded a few blocks across town to pay homage to Salomon’s landmark project, “Life? or Theatre?,” after hearing that her gouaches painted in 1942 anticipated contemporary graphic novels and the films based on them.
Regrettably few of the comic book acolytes left their convention center, as far as I know; but Salomon already has quite a following, thanks to prior exhibits of her masterwork in other cities. First brought to public attention in 1971 by the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam, the series of 1,300 paintings was celebrated over a decade ago at New York’s Jewish Museum, as well as at Boston and Toronto exhibitions. (Amsterdam’s Joods Historisch Museum, repository of the collection, organized the selections in the current West Coast premiere.) By now Salomon’s work also has been well documented in scholarly books, and inspired a fine play by Elise Thoron and a volume of poems by Anne Barrows.
“The Revolution Will be Televised”: A webcomic, some Jews, and the Egyptian Revolution.
It isn’t over until the fat rabbi sings: Gordon Haber on giving his ex-wife a get.
A history of Haggadah parodies.
In Israel, a sneak peek of Ohad Naharin’s latest creation, “Sadeh 21.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
Last night the exhibit “Parameter: Digital Collaborative Design” opened in the ZeZeZe Architectural Gallery in the Tel Aviv port. The exhibit is the product of collaboration between the department of interior design in the academic track of the College of Management and the Institute for Advanced Architecture in Catalonia, and it presents the work of students and professors from both. It was created by Ariel Blonder, Guy Austern and Mushit Fidelman.
Digital architecture is the bon-ton of contemporary professional discourse the world over. Everyone wants to take part in the computerized celebration and the innovative and complex aesthetic that it is capable of creating — works by architects such as Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry are examples of that.
Like the Psalmist who demanded his listeners to “sing a new song,” American poet, writer and cultural activist Esther Cohen proposes two alternative ways of engaging with Haggadic texts this Passover. The first piece we’re featuring on The Arty Semite today is as “new” of a song as it gets; in the light of recent events, it makes us rethink the image of Egypt, as represented in Jewish mythic lore.
A regular contributor to Jewish Currents magazine (where these poems first appeared), Naamat Women, Alimentum Journal, and about a dozen other publications, Esther Cohen challenges the notion of canonized prayer and invents prayers of her own. The second poem we’re featuring today is such a prayer — a free-flowing inspired and magnanimous festive rant. Enjoy!
On Monday, Austin Ratner wrote about Hillel sandwiches. His first book, “The Jump Artist,” is the winner of the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. 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:
People who have read “The Jump Artist” sometimes ask me what’s fact and what’s fiction. My answer is that it’s all fiction, but it’s fiction that incorporates as many facts as I could uncover and reasonably include. Years of research yielded certain results that tested me as a fiction writer — and none more so than those concerning Karl Meixner. To write about him truthfully was to risk caricature or cliché. Did he really keep Max Halsman’s head in a jar? Lest anyone think I invented him and his bizarre activities with human remains, here are some of the historical facts I uncovered about him:
A new radio drama titled “The Witches of Lublin” is being offered to public radio stations as a Passover special. Written by Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom, the hour-long production features original klezmer music by Strom and the handiwork of Long Island-based audio drama producer Sue Zizza. The cast includes the prolific audiobook narrator Barbara Rosenblat, author Neil Gaiman and Tovah Feldshuh as the protagonist Rivka, a 18th-century klezmer musician who is a single mom, a weaver of lace and a Talmudic scholar to boot.
“We definitely approached the story from a feminist point of view,” said Schwartz, who also sings in the radio drama. She has collaborated with her klezmer musician husband Strom on films, books and musical projects since the mid-1990s.
As the story unfolds, listeners learn that Rivka and her two daughters, Leah and Sorele, have a reputation as some of the best klezmer musicians in Poland. Enter the anti-Semitic Count, who commands the women to perform at a celebration in honor of his son. It’s an untenable choice because women performing in public would be scandalous in the world of 18th-century observant Jews. But declining to perform might trigger a pogrom against the entire Jewish community of Lublin.
Crossposed from Haaretz
For years now the Cameri Theater has been the country’s busiest cultural project. On an ordinary day one can choose to see any one of five productions in the building in Tel Aviv (Cameri 1, Cameri 2, Cameri 3, Cameri 4 and also a cafe-theater, where the performances are not part of the theater’s work plan), or two or three plays being performed in halls around the country.
The theater’s Internet site gives information about 39 “running productions” — 39 plays. If we deduct from this four productions of the Itim ensemble, which is a kind of subsidiary, five one-man shows by actors from the theater, two that are in the pre-tryout stage or three that are “on life support” for tours abroad, we are still left with more than 20 different productions in the current repertoire.
Charles Bernstein has effectively argued that National Poetry Month celebrations tend to focus on establishment-endorsed, “blockbuster poets,” and he has reminded us just how much great poetry exists outside of well-known publishing houses and literary journals.
Bernstein’s dictum came to mind when I came across Bracha Meschaninov’s poetry collection “Tender Skin,” published over a decade ago. The collection features gentle, pensive, wonderfully crafted works that appear to be written without much concern for contemporary trends. It is simply good, soulful work, the kind poets write “for themselves,” if for no other reason than to commit to paper the emotional world, spirit’s stirrings, and above all, a certain degree of pain that poetry can’t quite heal, but does illuminate and uplift.
Despite such pioneering exhibits as 2003’s “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals: 1933-1945” at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, official commemorations of the Nazi mistreatment of gay men and women pose still-evolving problems, as a brilliantly researched study, “Pink Triangle: Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals and its Remembrance,” (Triangle rose. La persécution nazie des homosexuels et sa mémoire) establishes.
Published on January 26 by Les éditions Autrement, “Pink Triangle,” written by Régis Schlagdenhauffen, a post-doctoral student at the University of Strasbourg, explains that the pink triangle, widely adopted during the 1970s as a symbol of gay people’s ordeals during the Fascist era, was worn by only a small minority of Nazi victims. In concentration camps, green, black, and red triangles were also used to label gay people. In a preface, Holocaust historian Annette Wieviorka praises Schlagdenhauffen’s “powerfully innovative” research, which establishes that there was no Europe-wide mass deportations of gay people.
The new single and music video titled “The Japan Song,” released March 29 and featuring prominent Hasidic singers Avraham Fried and Shloimy Daskal, is not what you might expect. Although its purpose is fundraising for relief efforts, and the video includes some footage of the tsunami, it is not a fundraiser for Japan at all. Rather, it is the latest in a new trend of Haredi musical activism on behalf of Jewish prisoners.
In the spring of 2008, Yoel Zev Goldstein (then 22), Yaakov Yosef Greenwald (then 19), and Yosef Banda (then 17), three young Hasidim from Bnei Brak, Israel, were arrested at Japan’s Narita International Airport after customs officials found $3.6 million worth of Ecstasy pills hidden inside their suitcases.
According to the young men, they believed they were delivering legal antiques from Amsterdam to Tokyo for an acquaintance, and were unaware that the suitcases had drugs inside them. In February 2009, Israeli police arrested two Hasidic men for allegedly scamming the trio into smuggling the drugs.