The Arty Semite

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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'The Imagination Is the Body of God'

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 post here and her poetry on The Arty Semite here.

Yesterday I wrote that the biblical Eve lived in, as Goethe called it, “the poet’s trance.” But then the snake seduced her out of that place of passionate clarity.

‘Eve Tempted by the Serpent’ by William Blake.

Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman, otherwise known as the Ramban or Nachmanides, the leading Medieval Spanish scholar who later settled in Israel, commented on the following language from the text: “Let us make humans in Our image and in Our likeness” (1:26). He wrote that the word which means “Our likeness” in Hebrew, “kidmutanu,” finds its root in the word “dimyon,” which means “imagination.” Ramban suggests that human beings are defined by the power of broad imagination — God’s imagination was transferred to humanity, and Eve’s “poet’s trance” included what Keats called “the truth of the imagination.” Blake intuited Ramban’s insight when he wrote that “the imagination is the body of God” and “Imagination is evidence of the Divine.”

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

By Adrienne Cooper and Sarah Mina Gordon

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

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

FIGHTING BACK

Soreles khasene / Sarah’s Wedding

When Sorele wed, people laughed and scoffed.
Why the laughter? The brand new bride
Couldn’t even make kugl for Shabbes.
She began on Wednesday morning
Finished late on Friday, but on Shabbes
There was stuff in there that made that kugl inedible.
Her husband, furious, beat his wife
With each end of a stick.
“Oh, my husband, What the hell are you doing?
You beat your wife for a pudding?”
“Oh my cursed little wife, that kugl cost me money.”
She grabs her poor possessions
And takes off for her father’s for Shabbes.

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Wilted Desert Rose

By Noam Dvir

Crossposted from Haaretz

Noam Dvir

Rarely does a single building play such an important role in the life of a city. Philip Murray House, the Histadrut labor federation’s local headquarters and the first public building in Eilat, is one such case.

Since its inauguration in 1957, when only a few thousand residents lived in the southern city, it has been and remains a focus of cultural and communal activity.

“A theater, movie house, dance classes, municipal library, matriculation exam study courses and night classes, the first photography club in Eilat, all the important things in the city happened here,” attests Shmulik Tager, who managed the place for many years. “All of the country’s leading artists appeared on stage here, Haparvarim, Hatarnegolim, Hava Alberstein; even the philharmonic did a concert here.”

Read more at Haaretz.com


The Poet's Trance and the Biblical Eve

By Eve Grubin

Crossposted from The Best American Poetry, where poet Eve Grubin is guest blogging this week. Read Grubin’s poetry on The Arty Semite here.

‘Satan Exulting over Eve,’ William Blake, 1795.

Last week, C.K. Williams gave the annual Poetry Society lecture in London where he quoted Goethe who said (this is paraphrased — Williams said the words quickly, and I scribbled down what I could): “The poet’s trance is the most eloquent armour in his armoury.”

I have been thinking about the poet’s trance — that room we enter (or room that enters us) in the middle of, or just before, writing a poem: a necessary space fusing silence and music, detachment and emotion, calm and energy. It’s a room of stirring clarity and peaceful vitality. The Goethe quote is not unlike Wordsworth’s “Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity.”

It’s a state that poets wait for, long for. We fear it will not come.

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

By Adrienne Cooper and Sarah Mina Gordon

This is the first part of a four-part article originally appearing in the Spring 2011 issue of Lilith Magazine.

Picture the stairwell in the poor apartment: the neighbor descends the steps and the woman in the doorway repeats, “Good night, good night,” and then haltingly speaks the words: “He hit me yesterday. I’m black and blue. I was ashamed to tell you. Good night.”

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

I found the song “Good Night, Brayne” in a 1984 anthology of Yiddish folksongs published by The Hebrew University while I was working with poet Irena Klepfisz and pianist Joyce Rosenzweig on the lives and writings of Yiddish-speaking women. Later, teaching an intergenerational workshop at KlezKanada in Quebec, I asked the class if any of them knew this song. Hands went up. They had learned it as children in their secular Yiddish school, part of the relentless truth-telling that runs through Yiddish culture and the institutions that have taught its values. An East European Jewish folk song collected and preserved by Jewish folklorists in the 19th and early 20th centuries had served as part of a school lesson in 1950s Canada, although the only recorded versions of “A Gutn Ovnt Brayne” that I know of are my own (on “Dreaming in Yiddish” and “Mikveh”).

In the European countries where Yiddish was the language of daily life, there were traditions of extravagantly emotional songs of love, suffering, courtship and marriage. People sang violent ballads and graphic depictions of hard lives; songs of war, poverty, danger and natural disasters. Folksongs were like broadsides — carrying the news of the day, declaring the troubles in society. These songs were created and sung largely by women. Women working alongside other women in fields, markets, factories and homes shared songs reflecting their lives, their experiences, thoughts, dreams, imaginings.

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Hearing Palestinian Voices

By Emily L. Hauser

Americans often hear about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the U.S.-Israel relationship. We read Israeli authors in translation, buy Israeli products, and anyone within driving distance of a JCC can hear an Israeli speak on a nearly weekly basis.

What we don’t often hear are Palestinians.

This is, I believe, understandable — particularly for the Jewish community. We want to know more about ourselves, our brothers and sisters, our homeland. We want to support our people and our future. We know the story, and don’t feel a need to hear the version told by Israel’s enemies.

But perhaps that’s exactly why we do need to consider Palestinian voices — because after all these years, Israel and the Palestinian people are still enemies.

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May You Be Who You Are

By Haley Tanner

Haley Tanner‘s debut novel, “Vaclav and Lena,” is now available. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning‘s Author Blog. 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:


The day my first novel, “Vaclav and Lena,” was published, I didn’t do anything wild or anything flashy. There were only two people in the world I wanted share the experience with: my parents. After dinner, and some champagne, we walked to our local bookstore to visit my book — to see my book for the first time in a bookstore. My mother, who is completely without shame, found the manager and proudly announced that there was an ACTUAL author in the store. My dad and I hung back and giggled. The store manager indulged us, had me sign some copies, and stuck some “local author” stickers on the books. We thanked him, and he walked away, and then my mother ran after him — for what, we didn’t know. She came back with an extra “local author” sticker and stuck it right on my chest. We all cracked up. It was a long and difficult road to that “Local Author” sticker and my parents were there every step of the way.

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When Art Is Only Skin-Deep

By Ofer Aderet

Crossposted from Haaretz

Einat Dan spent three full weeks preparing for the Beauty Forum, a major cosmetics fair held late last week in Leipzig, Germany. For five hours, she applied makeup from head to toe, fainting twice from all the excitement and tension.

In the end, the 38-year-old Israeli model took first place at the Beauty Forum, marking her seventh first-place win at an international beauty competition. Dan claimed the prize for her work with body art. She drew a picture of Queen Elizabeth on the front of her body; on her back, Dan drew a geisha in a kimono. Usually Dan’s boyfriend helps her with the body art, but this time she did it alone, since her boyfriend also participated in the competition, finishing third out of thirteen contestants from all over Europe.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Sigalit Landau's Bridges at the Venice Biennale

By Caroline Lagnado

‘DeadSee,’ by Sigalit Landau. Courtesy of the artist and Kamel Mennour Gallery.

While pavilions at the Venice Biennale are typically shrouded in secrecy in the months approaching one of the art world’s biggest events, the content of Israel’s pavilion this year is under especially opaque wraps. In June, Israel will be represented by 42-year-old artist Sigalit Landau, who is prone to keeping mum about her work. But in an event held last March at Sotheby’s auction house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Landau sat down with one of her curators, Jean de Loisy (the other is Ilan Wizgan), to speak about her concept, “One Man’s Floor Is Another Man’s Feelings.” The event was sponsored by Artis Contemporary Israeli Art Fund and by Kamel Mennour Gallery, which represents Landau in Paris.

Though the project was still in formation at the time, we can report that Landau will address the situation in the Middle East while putting it in a larger perspective; de Loisy put it as “speaking of the local, dealing with the universal.” Using water as an overarching metaphor, as well as salt and land, Landau will discuss coexistence and interdependence, reflecting on Israel’s close proximity to its neighbors. She also seemed to be interested in pre-state settlement activity.

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In Song: Bamidbar

By Martin Stone

Each week ‘In Song’ links the weekly Torah reading — however tenuously — to classic works of rock ‘n’ roll.

This week’s parsha, Bamidbar (in the desert), kicks off the Book of Numbers, starting with a census of the nation of Israel (603,550 males of military age) and a description of their camping arrangements. Then the tribe of Levi is counted separately, for their dedication to serve in the Tabernacle. The final part of the parsha describes the duties of the Levite family of Kehat. Whereas the other Levite families transported the structural elements of the Tabernacle in wagons, the Kehat family had the privilege of carrying the functional elements. However, they had to “Carry That Weight” by hand!


Campy Lizards, or, A Look Back to My Literary Beginnings

By C. Alexander London

Earlier this week, C. Alexander London wrote about being an accidental adventurer and sequels and the Torah. 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:


In honor of the end of Book Expo America 2011, and appearing on a blog aimed at the People of the Book, I am presenting the full, unedited, text of the first book I ever wrote: “Lawrence and Luther Lizard Go to Camp.”

This work, written in 1988 with my coauthor Jon Kleinman, tells the epic tale of two lizards on their first trip to summer camp. With its elements of the paranormal and vivid depiction of dystopian society, it was sure to be a bestseller had we ever gotten around to our revisions. As it stands, the book, written on an Apple IIe and printed on an old dotmatrix printer, was inspired by our own previous summer’s adventures at camp Kennebec in Maine, which, while being mostly filled with Jews (Wet Hot American Summer sums it up pretty well) had, like so many Jewish summer camps, appropriated North American indigenous culture in what I am sure are terribly offensive ways. That’s probably a blog entry for another time.

For now, I present “Lawrence and Luther Lizard Go to Camp.” I will leave the exegeses for the comments section.

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Friday Film: Leader of the Anti-Madoff Crusade

By Michael Kaminer

Getty Images

What’s left to tell about the Bernie Madoff scandal? Plenty, if you’re Harry Markopoulos, the famed whistleblower whose repeated cries of “fraud” were ignored by everyone from the SEC to the Wall Street Journal. Markopoulos gets his day in “Chasing Madoff,” partly based on his book “No One Would Listen” (and originally titled “The Foxhounds”). But he doesn’t come off much better than his prey in this highly stylized documentary, screening June 5 at the Berkshire International Film Festival.

A self-described crusader who calls Madoff “evil,” Markopoulos seems to relish vamping for the camera as much as he savors telling his story; director Jeff Prosserman pads the film’s 90 minutes with po-faced dramatizations that literalize what we hear in Markopoulos’s clammy voiceover (Harry taps the keyboard to e-mail reporters; Harry looks under his car for a bomb; Harry frenetically faxes documents). In case we miss the point, Prosserman also overlays fake news announcements over vintage newsreel footage to remind us that crime doesn’t pay, whistleblowers get hurt, and the stock market’s unfair.

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Einstein and Marilyn, Together Forever?

By Benjamin Ivry

wiki commons
Albert, Is That You?: Marilyn Monroe, probably not talking to Einstein, in this detail of a film still from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

The fascination with the 20th century’s unsurpassed brain, Albert Einstein, and starriest sex goddess, Marilyn Monroe, inspired Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 film “Insignificance” and a 2005 optical illusion made at MIT still available on the internet, in which an image of Einstein turns into Marilyn if you back away from the computer screen. Although they never in fact met, let alone melded, what would happen if they did is the basis for a novel, “Albert & Marilyn,” out in February from Les éditions Le Pommier.

Written by the French journalist and author of Polish Jewish origin, Jean-Jacques Greif, “Albert & Marilyn” shows the two as chatterboxes with a surprising amount to say to each other, particularly on the subject of Judaism. Greif’s many previous works include two books on Einstein as well as one on Marilyn.

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NYC’s Warm Weather Concert Sounds

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of Ye Eun Choi

As temperatures climb, some New Yorkers gather their families and head for the countryside, while others remain en ville to seek similar experiences in concerts redolent of Yiddishkeit. One such is a May 26 recital at The Austrian Cultural Forum in which Austrian soprano Ursula Langmayr performs a selection of Gustav Mahler’s outdoors-inspired songs, accompanied by pianist Russell Ryan. Instead of strenuous exercise in rural settings, music lovers can experience virtuosic derring-do in the form of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Variations sérieuses” played on June 1 at Bargemusic by pianist Victoria Korchinskaya-Kogan, whose grandparents were the mighty Ukrainian Jewish violinists Leonid Kogan and Yelizaveta Gilels.

On June 3, the PRISM Saxophone Quartet takes over Symphony Space with a happy family of world premieres, including works by David Rakowski, Perry Goldstein, and Matthew Levy, the last-mentioned being the tenor sax player of PRISM. Summer is nothing without old relatives, and pieces by two elder statesmen of musical modernism, Milton Babbitt (who died in January at age 94) and Mario Davidovsky will be featured in a Bargemusic performance by the composer/performer collective, counter)induction.

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Getting Out of the Roman Bath: Poetry by Susan Comninos

By Jake Marmer

Wiki Commons

This week we’re pleased to feature a poem by Susan Comninos, “Rome Visits When I’m in the Bath.” The poem is a bit of a maze. On the surface there’s the juxtaposition of Jewish and Christian identities, but then more layers begin to emerge. Do the two identities refer to different modes of inspiration, to routes through which the free-associative mind travels? Or is it about the unavoidable assimilation and intrusion that comes as “dull” banging? Then again, contemplating the two religions, the author finds herself in the bath — a long-standing symbol of Roman wealth and leisure. The poem’s language is twisted and elusive but that, perhaps, is the point: The poet’s meanings cannot be, as it were, nailed down.

Susan Comninos’s poetry has appeared in TriQuarterly Online, the Forward, Quarterly West, Lilith, Tikkun and “The Blueline Anthology” (Syracuse University Press, 2004), among other publications. Last year she won Tablet Magazine’s Yehuda Halevi Poetry Contest.

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New Beginning in Brandenburg for Composer Joseph Achron

By A.J. Goldmann

Wiki Commons

The virtually forgotten Lithuanian-Jewish composer Joseph Achron (1886-1943) is getting a premiere this weekend in the German city of Brandenburg an der Havel.

As part of their season-long exploration of music suppressed by the Third Reich, the Brandenburg Symphoniker, conducted by Robin Engelen, will present the first German performance of Achron’s third violin concerto (and the first performance in over 70 years), on a program that also includes Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony and Mozart’s Symphony No. 26.

Born in Lithuania in 1886, Achron was a violin prodigy who made his first public appearance at age 7. He was educated in Warsaw, St. Petersburg and Berlin by some of the great teachers of the age, including Leopold Auer and Joseph Joachim.

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Welcoming the Apocalypse at the Jerusalem Philosophy Festival

By Alon Raab

Courtesy Jerusalem Season of Culture

Two
 days
 before
 the
 world
 was
 to
 end,
 as
 calculated
 by
 engineer
 and
 prophet 
Harold
 Camping,
 seemed
 as
 good
 a
 time
 as
 any
 to
 find
 answers
 to

 eternal
 questions
 about
 human
 life
 and
 meaning. Thus
 I
 joined
 “What’s
 on
 your
 Mind?
” an “International Philosophy Festival” in Jerusalem that ran from May 18 to May 20 as part of this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture. The
 city
 where
 more
 philosophers,
 prophets and
 messiahs
 roam
 than
 on
 any
 other place
 on
 earth,
 and
 in
 which
 the
 momentous
 events 
of 
the 
Apocalypse 
will 
unfold, 
was 
the 
obvious 
locale. 
The festival 
was 
held
 in
 a 
large 
tent 
erected 
at 
the 
beautiful 
cultural
 center 
Mishkenot
 Sha’ananim,
 a 
stone’s
 throw

 from
 the
 walls
 of
 the
 ancient
 city
 and
 facing
 Mount Zion.

The sessions included “Old Man, What Is His Life,” about modern medicine’s growing ability to extend life, with the participation of a gerontologist, a jurist and 80-year-old novelist Yoram Kaniuk; the impact of social networking on the concept of friendship, led by Web editors and a professor of management; the ways new discoveries in brain research impact the concept of free will and whether it exists, with talks by an Israeli clinical psychologist and by Princeton philosophy professor and author of the best selling study “On Bullshit,” Harry Frankfurt; “The Sexual Revolution — What Next?”; and “Man in the Role of God,” examining scientific innovations in the field of human reproduction. Well Known Israeli law professor Ruth Gavison, philosophy teacher David Heyd, and progressive Orthodox rabbi Yuval Cherlow debated such issues as “improving” the human race.

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