A decade ago, American journalist and photographer Edward Serotta decided to collect the life stories and family photographs of every elderly Jew living in Central Europe that he could find. “I wanted to document a whole world,” he said.
It was a world that few Jews or Europeans knew about. Jews were unaware that a considerable number of Holocaust survivors chose to remain in Central Europe after World War II, while Europeans knew little about Jewish life and Jewish contributions to European society in the early part of the 20th century.
“Jewish Witness to a Polish Century: Pictures and Stories from the Centropa Interviews 2001-2008,” an exhibition now on view at Beth Tfiloh School in Baltimore, following exhibits in Northern California and before stops in Atlanta, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, is just one facet of Serotta’s work. Centropa, the organization he founded and which is based in Vienna, bills itself as an “interactive database of Jewish memory.” Its primary focus is educational, drawing on its collection of 1,200 transcribed interviews with elderly Jews in 15 countries, as well as 22,000 digitized family photographs.
View a sideshow from ‘Jewish Witness to a Polish Century’:
J.D. Salinger was a fan of Burger King, according to letters by the deceased author released today.
Forward contributor Sarah Wildman writes in Slate about the “Hitler and the Germans” exhibit at the German Historical Museum in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Google has partnered with Yad Vashem to provide access to the museum’s documents and allow the public to fill in missing information.
Anne Applebaum writes about “The Way Back,” the first Hollywood film about the Soviet Gulag.
The Denver Museum of Contemporary Art is exhibiting a collection of Russian avant-garde paintings discovered in an “unclaimed shipping container in German customs.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
In what appears to be an astounding coincidence, ceremonies took place at exactly the same time on exactly the same evening in adjacent halls in the Tel Aviv Museum. One was the launch of the Israeli architecture archive, and the other was a fundraising event for the establishment of a museum of contemporary Palestinian art in Umm al-Fahm, including an archive that would document its history, the first of its kind in Israel’s Arab community.
The two events are essentially two sides of the same coin. On one side is the archive in Tel Aviv, which aims to save and preserve architecture in Israel for the Jewish citizens of the state, and on the other, the museum in Umm al-Fahm, which aims to collect evidence of a legacy of Palestinian art and culture that was destroyed at the establishment of the state of Israel, and to gather up the pieces that are left.
New York music lovers need hardly wait for Purim to feel the springtime party mood. From February 3rd to 6th, a City Center Encores! production of Kurt Weill’s 1949 musical “Lost in the Stars” can be seen in New York. A prescient argument against South African apartheid, Weill composed his score after studying Zulu music, which infused his music with what he called a “Biblical tone that we hope the public will like.”
A different kind of spirituality can be heard in “Rothko Chapel” by modern American Jewish composer Morton Feldman, performed at Alice Tully Hall on February 24 by Jeffrey Milarsky’s Axiom chamber ensemble. Composer Dániel Biró has aptly pointed to Feldman and the painter Mark Rothko, apart from being friends, sharing European Jewish heritage, a need for abstraction, and a will to “discover the mystery of perception within art.” Also performed at the same concert will be works by the great Hungarian Jewish modernist György Kurtág.
“Public Enemies,” far from being the “duel” suggested by the book’s subtitle, is in fact an act of mutual masturbation by two of France’s leading luminaries, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq (pronounced Wellbeck). In the book-length series of letters, the friends encourage each other to indulge in self-reflection. They talk about their fathers. They spar over Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. But mostly they trade notes on celebrity and use the opportunity to solidify their images.
Lévy aggrandizes his commitment to being an “engaged” intellectual. Houllebecq explains his indifference to injustice and persecution. He is, he implies, not interested. We do learn some things: Judaism — at least Lévy’s idealized and intellectualized version of it — is central to Lévy’s thinking. He likens himself to Albert Cohen’s protagonist, Solal, and says he is a “positive Jew” as opposed to Sartre’s ““negative Jew,” who is only Jewish in so far as others regard him as such. Houellebecq, in his most sympathetic moment, describes his own spiritual journey. He ultimately walked away from the Church but plainly retains sympathy and respect for the faithful.
Crossposted from Haaretz
A legal issue to be arbitrated in the Tel Aviv District Court this May raises a philosophical-artistic question that exceeds both the narrow boundaries of law books and the broader limits of the stage. Y., the victim of a gang rape on Kibbutz Shomrat in 1988 when she was 14, is suing playwright Edna Mazya, author of the play “Games in the Backyard,” with the claim that the work violates her legal right to privacy. Mazya’s play, which deals with the gang rape of a teenage girl in an unspecified community, was written in 1993 and mounted since at the Haifa Theater and dozens of theaters around the world. For the past three years, it has been performed again at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.
This specific case is the focus of a legal battle, and a thorny one at that because — aside from the clash between an individual’s right to own her life story and an artist’s right to freedom of expression — the matter of rape is also at issue. In this case there are precedents for protecting a victim’s privacy, as evidenced in the release of only part of the recent court decision to convict former President Moshe Katsav of rape in order to shield the victims.
The French Jewish film director Jean-Pierre Melville (born Grumbach; 1917–1973), famous for films about crime and France’s wartime Résistance, is being rediscovered by cinema addicts. A remake of Melville’s 1970 heist film “Le Cercle Rouge” is currently in development as “The Red Circle” starring Orlando Bloom while Melville’s equally influential 1967 “Le Samouraï,” about a hit man (played by Alain Delon), has inspired filmmakers from Jim Jarmusch to Hong Kong’s Pang Ho-cheung.
Following the October release of a 7-DVD box set of his films from StudioCanal DVDs, and a retrospective at Paris’s la Cinémathèque française from last November 3 to 22, “Riffs for Melville” (Riffs Pour Melville) a new book from the Belgian publisher Les éditions Yellow Now has appeared.
Of all the stories of Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the Shoah, there’s one story that rarely gets told: the Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews.
Norman H. Gershman’s photographic exhibition “Besa,” currently showing at the Soho Photo Gallery, redresses this imbalance, focusing exclusively on the unsung Albanian Muslim heroes who hid their Jewish neighbours from the Nazis, as well as thousands of other Jews fleeing across Europe, often at great risk to their lives.
The portraits, which have been published in a book with the same title, were painstakingly taken by Gershman over a seven-year period, in which he tracked down these ordinary Albanian and Kosovar Muslims whose families closely observed the principle of “Besa” to save Jewish lives.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The atmosphere on the set of the film “Lemalei Et Hahalal” (“Filling the Void”) is different, special. In a ground-floor apartment in central Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin area, the monitors, lights and other equipment whirl, surrounded by professionals clothed in cool clothes — some holding ever-present cigars or joints — as well as bearded, black-garbed Orthodox men, and Orthodox women in long dresses with wigs or head coverings. This is a curious mixture of the outright secular and the ultra-Orthodox — both groups united by a common goal: to make a movie directed by a newly pious woman, who prowls around the set with a clear agenda.
“Filling the Void” is the first film written and directed by Rama Burstein for the Israeli mainstream audience. Burstein is an ultra-Orthodox woman who lives with her husband and children in Tel Aviv, a few streets away from the studio; she is a graduate of the second class of students at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, in Jerusalem. Among other things, she studied alongside Tali Shemesh, who directed the acclaimed documentary “Moadon Beit Hakvarot” (“The Cemetery Club”).
I never learned to speak Yiddish. As a child in the 1950s and ‘60s, it was the language of my grandparents, the language that my parents only spoke when they didn’t want me or my brothers to understand what they were talking about (and I don’t think they spoke it when my childhood friend Michael Wex was in the house). And yet, there is something about Yiddish theater and song (and, of course, Yiddish theater songs) that makes me feel very connected to my Jewish heritage.
Adrienne Cooper is one of the Yiddish singers I’ve come to most appreciate over the past 15 years or so. I’ve heard her collaborate with several klezmer bands, and “Ghetto Tango,” her CD of Holocaust-era Yiddish theater and cabaret songs with pianist Zalmen Mlotek, has been a particular favorite.
While “Ghetto Tango” was a masterful look back at a previous era, Cooper’s new album, “Enchanted: A New Generation of Yiddish Song,” is a project that is very much of these times. Newly written songs along with re-imagined versions of older songs are presented in a postmodern variety of seemingly disparate, yet somehow seamless musical styles, including jazz, rock, pop, cabaret, klezmer and folk. It is an album that, on one track, reaches back to Cooper’s mother and grandparents, and, on several others, reaches forward to her daughter’s generation.
Durham, N.C. is not an easy place to be a non-conformist. It is the home of Duke University, notorious for its male lacrosse team’s behaving badly and its “Cameron Crazies,” obsessed basketball fans. Even in January 2011, when the Durham public schools need to make up a snow day, school is scheduled for Saturday, Jewish students notwithstanding.
Yet Durham was, for over 50 years, home to Reynolds Price, who died January 20 at age 77. A revered American writer, Price authored over 20 volumes of novels, poetry, memoirs and translations, as well as the lyrics for two songs with fellow North Carolinian James Taylor. As a teacher at Duke, Price was unafraid to publicly critique the school’s anti-intellectual ambiance in a 1992 lecture. He was also openly gay, though he preferred the term “queer,” and was openly what he called an “outlaw Christian.”
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Di mode” (“Fashion”), a poem by the early Yiddish writer Yitskhok Yoel Linetski, as adapted by his grandmother, Lifshe Schaechter-Widman:
I never thought I would thank Google Books in this blog, but the website has opened up tremendous possibilities for the Yiddish folksong researcher. In addition to having access to song collections, one can type in a search word in Yiddish and find it in dozens or hundreds of works. The Harvard Library and its unique Leo Wiener Collection, which is full of 19th-century Yiddish folk literature, is being made available on the site.
And so I was able to look at Yitskhok-Yoel Linetski‘s work “Der beyzer marshelik” (1869) for the first time in its entirety. One of the poems is called „Di mode‟ (“Fashion”; “mode” has two syllables) and I immediately identified it as the source of a song my grandmother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman [LSW] sang called „Di mode.”
Linetski (1839–1915) was one of the earliest maskilic (“enlightened”) Yiddish writers, and his novel “Dos Poylishe yingl” (1868) later called “Dos khsidishe yingl‟ was the first bestseller of modern Yiddish literature.
Crossposted from Haaretz
When one is talking about jazz, the word “dissonance” often is heard in reference to avant-garde, cacophonic-sounding music. At the Red Sea Winter Jazz Festival, held over the weekend for the first time (as the new, younger sibling of the veteran Red Sea Jazz Festival, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August), the music was not cacophonic, but a different sort of dissonance hovered over the festivities: climactic dissonance. Watching a jazz festival in Eilat when you are covered in three layers of clothing, and still feel chilled to the bone, is like being in an alternate universe.
Jazz in Eilat during the annual festival in August routinely stirs metaphors of hell, since it is about 38 degrees Celsius in cool years. But last weekend we sat and listened to jazz in Eilat with two pairs of socks on. Guitarist and piano player Egberto Gismonte, whose performance brought the second day of festival events to a close, exclaimed at the start of his show: “It was so cold behind the scenes, that I just had to come here and sit down to play the piano, to get warmer.”
Film Criticism is doing better than ever, according to Roger Ebert.
Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award include novelists David Grossman for “To the End of the Land” and Hans Keilson for “Comedy in a Minor Key”; Christopher Hitchens for his autobiography “Catch 22”; Tom Segev for his biography of Simon Wiesenthal, and Forward contributor Susie Linfield for “Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence.”
Tullia Zevi, a longtime leader of Italian Jewry, has died at age 91.
Young Isrealis just love Berlin, according to Der Spiegel.
Eric A. Goldman shares his discovery of the classic Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me.”
Katherine Preston looks at the similarities between “The King’s Speech” and “Going With the Flow,” a short documentary about speech therapy.
Debra Nussbam Cohen praises the accomplishments of Jewish feminist Judith Plaskow.
Philologos gets out his trunk.
There are upwards of 180,000 women incarcerated in U.S prisons today. Of those, an estimated 80% are victims of rape, assault, incest, and other forms of sexual and domestic violence. Considering what a closeted problem this sort of abuse is in many communities, it wouldn’t be shocking if the true percentage were actually higher. Responding to that overwhelming statistic, California passed a law in 2002 to allow the reopening of cases of convicted domestic abuse victims, with the circumstances of their suffering allowable as evidence. The California law was the first, and is still the only, one of its kind in the United States.
Thus the jumping-off point for “Crime After Crime,” the surprisingly intimate documentary from director Yoav Potash, screening January 23 to 29 at the Sundance Film Festival and on January 27 at the New York Jewish Film Festival. The film follows the case of Deborah Peagler, an inmate serving a life sentence for conspiracy to murder her boyfriend in 1983.
Although it may seem odd to hear a man who drew caricatures for a living talk about what it felt like to live through the horrors of the former Soviet Union, this is exactly what happens in the documentary “Stalin Thought of You.”
Meet Boris Efimovich Efimov, a political cartoonist who witnessed every major event in the history of the Soviet Union — from the Russian Revolution to the collapse of the Berlin Wall — before he died at the age of 109, in 2008. In the film, which screened on January 12 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, Efimov appears as a small, fragile man with a robust personality. His prescription glasses are weighty, yet his attitude is buoyant. His wit and charm and ability to tell an endearing story all seem natural before the camera. Either that, or these qualities are the result of over ten decades of practice.
A longer version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Some weeks ago, on December 12, I was involved in a commemoration at YIVO of the 120th birthday anniversary of the great Yiddish actor and director Solomon (Shloyme) Mikhoels.
I am not sure if Mikhoels is well known among the younger generation in Russia, or anywhere else. Older people, however, specifically in America and Canada, may recall the trip that he and the poet Itsik Fefer took from the Soviet Union to North America in 1943. They came as representatives of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, of which Mikhoels was the chairman. What is often forgotten is that not all Jewish organizations made the two artists welcome.
It is sadly fitting that in a play about language’s inability to explain political and religious differences, set design and subtitles conspired to thwart the actors.
But such was the case at the opening of the Tel Aviv-based Cameri Theatre’s production at Theater J in Washington, D.C. of Return to Haifa, which runs until January 30 as part of the theater’s Voices From a Changing Middle East festival. The play explores a tug-of-war between Palestinian parents Sa’id (Suheil Haddad) and Saffiyeh (Raida Adon), and Miriam (Rozina Kambos), the Jewish woman who adopted their abandoned son Dov/Khaldun (Nisim Zohar).
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three pieces by Ivan Klein.
Reading Ivan Klein’s work I imagine a man, sitting alone in an empty room, and talking. Not to anyone specific; probably to himself. In the emptiness his words echo off the walls, and in the echoes is the musicality, response, sub-text. Ivan’s work is mystical; both cerebral and physically frank. Kabbalistic imagery and Kafka’s fingerprints keep appearing, as does Melville and the streets of Greenwich Village. Jewishness is among the poet’s primary concerns — the mystery and misery of it, exile and redemption. The writer easily slides between poetry and prose, references and tonalities. As he states: “There is no such thing as poetry, / Just let yourself be.”
Aside from his book of collected works, “Alternatives to Silence,” Klein has also recently published a chapbook “Some Paintings by Koho & a Flower of My Own.” This sampling of Ivan’s work features a timely Tu B’shvat piece, “Amaryllis,” where the strangeness of celebrating the “Jewish Arbor Day” in the middle of January comes as a lingering metaphor for the absurdity and incongruence of exilic living. The poem “Primo Levi Departing Auschwitz” pays tribute to the great thinker and writer and the moment of his liberation — the freedom that is fraught with the inescapable confinement of memory. Finally, “Poem to David” is the author’s tangled and cryptically mighty advice to his son.