The Arty Semite

Poetics of Fasting

By Jake Marmer

Each Thursday The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week Jake Marmer introduces “Aggadic Guidelines to Ta’anit Esther.”

Wiki Commons
‘Esther and Mordecai’ by Aert de Gelder, 1685.

It is perhaps not surprising that most Jewish holiday poetry out there is either about the High Holidays or Passover. The extensive liturgy and introspection in the case of the former and the mythic storytelling cannon of the latter lend themselves to metaphors and color our language with their musicality. Yet, as Kafka has shown, there’s nothing quite like the poetry of the lesser known occasion, the undesired calendar date. On that note, I would like to introduce a piece of my own, which addresses Ta’anit Esther — the fast of Esther that preceedes Purim.

Read more


Out and About: Midrash and the Megillah; Einstein's Archives Unleashed

By Ezra Glinter

Poet Itzik Manger

Read more


Power Company to the People

By Noam Dvir

Crossposted from Haaretz

Legendary city engineer Yitzhak Ben Sira planned Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu area to be a neighborhood of public housing with an industrial area at its northern edge.

Israel Architecture Archive

Beginning at the end of the 1940s, high-quality housing projects were constructed alongside public buildings, including arts and recreation centers. Some of them, like the Yad Eliahu Nokia sports arena (planned by the Milstein-Singer engineering office), and the Golden Age Home (Arieh and Eldar Sharon), are icons of Israeli modernist architecture.

But the industrial area has some architectural gems of its own. There is, for example, the Cinerama Theater, which is now slated for demolition, and the Israel Electric Corporation’s technical center, inaugurated in 1966, and which the company uses to this day.

Read more at Haaretz.com


April Classical Concerts Turn Cruelest into Coolest Month

By Benjamin Ivry

Jonathan Nimerfroh

A notoriously anti-Semitic poet claimed that April is the cruelest month; all the more reason for Manhattanites to sweeten it with delightful classical concerts redolent with Yiddishkeit. On March 29, the Israeli-American violinist Yuval Waldman will perform “Music Forgotten and Remembered” at Merkin Concert Hall, including such rarities as Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1952 “Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes,” and works by two Czech Jewish composers: Gideon Klein, who was murdered at Auschwitz, and “Colloque Sentimentale” (A Chat about Feelings) by Jaromir Weinberger.

On April 4 at Weill Recital Hall, “A Fine Romance: Songs by Jerome Kern is presented by The New York Festival of Song, featuring Joseph Kaiser and Kelli O’Hara in Kern’s suave melodies. For more fiery temperament, on April 5 at Merkin Hall violinist Elena Urioste will perform “Carmen: fantasie brillante” by the Hungarian Jewish composer Jenö Hubay with pianist Michael Brown. And, on the same day, a series of concert performances (continuing through April 9) of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company begin at Avery Fisher Hall starring Neil Patrick Harris.

Read more


Shifra Lerer, 95, Yiddish Star of Stage and Screen

By Itzik Gottesman

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here

On March 12 the Yiddish theater lost one of its most beloved stars. Shifra Lerer, an Argentine-born actress who toured the world and who later appeared in films by Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet, died in Manhattan at the age of 95.

Joan Roth

I met Shifra during my first — and last — foray as a Yiddish actor for the Yiddish National Theatre in 1980. Lerer was among the founders of the troupe, which was created to ensure the future of Yiddish theater in America. The experience was a shock for me. I was literally stupefied by the sight of 80-year-old actors screaming curses at 70-year-olds backstage. Their talents were great, but so were their egos and eccentricities. Shifra, by contrast, was an island of calm and rectitude, earning everyone’s respect.

Lerer was born in Argentina, on a Jewish colony in the Pampas, on August 30, 1915. As a child she showed a precocious talent for the theater, and was discovered at age 5 by the famous Yiddish actor Boris Thomashefsky. She soon began acting with other renowned theater figures such as Zigmund Turkov, Samuel Goldenberg and Jacob Ben-Ami, with whom she performed in dramas such as Peretz Hirschbein’s “Green Fields” and H. Leivik’s “The Poet Who Became Blind.”

Read more


Miss Venezuela Material

By Reyna Simnegar

On Monday, Reyna Simnegar, the author of “Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love,” wrote about Sephardim Strike Back! 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:


It had been nine years since I had not seen my beautiful cousin Isha. She lives a busy life in Florida working in the restaurant industry and going to school. It was my turn to feed her, and I decided to invite her for Shabbat dinner. After all, is there a better time than Shabbat to impress anyone with delectable dishes?

Isha is half Venezuelan and half American. She is the perfect combination of Latin American charm and American beauty. As we were reminiscing about the past (over a slice of my favorite dessert, Persian Roulade), it was impossible not to talk about how much we suffered starving together in the name of our modeling careers. You see, both Isha and I were part of a Venezuelan modeling agency that recruited girls for the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant.

Read more


Living Letters From the Past

By Len Abram

Before the telephone and the Internet, those separated from each other by great distances depended on letters to communicate. Although gifted writers have brought the form to the level of high art, for many people, the letter served more essential purposes. With it, they shared ideas, expressed feelings, collaborated on plans, and communicated information both trivial and vital.

In “36 Letters: One Family’s Story,” Author Joan Sohn describes finding one such bag of letters from her grandparents, their families and their friends. When she had them translated, mostly from Yiddish, Sohn discovered the people behind her childhood memories and old photographs. The book is based on 36 of these letters, many dating from 1904 to 1906, and centers around the courtship and immigration of her grandparents, Yente and Chaim, or as she knew them, Yetta and Hyman Korman.

Read more


Rappaport Prize Awarded to Artists Asaf Ben Zvi and Michael Halak

By Daniel Rauchwerger

Crossposted from Haaretz

Self portrait by Michael Halak.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art announced the selection of painters Asaf Ben Zvi and Michael Halak as the winners of the 2011 Rappaport Prize. This is the sixth prize awarded since its establishment in 2006 in honor of Ruth and Baruch Rappaport. The prize is awarded annually to two painters, an established painter (Ben Zvi) and a young painter (Halak). Beyond the monetary sum given to the painters, the prize funds two solo exhibitions at the museum as well as the production of the catalogs accompanying the exhibitions.

The official announcement of the prize, scheduled for next Tuesday at the museum, will coincide with the opening of the exhibition by artist Sharon Poliakine and painter Oren Eliav, last year’s recipients of the prize. The exhibitions of works by Ben Zvi and Halak will open at the museum in March 2012.

Read more at Haaretz.com


How the Violin Became the 'Jewish National Instrument'

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Courtesy of University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections Department

Just the other night, amidst the glorious surroundings of the Music Room of The Phillips Collection, whose walls are bedecked with one masterpiece after another, over 100 people gathered together under the aegis of George Washington University’s Program in Judaic Studies to hear Professor James Loeffler of the University of Virginia incisively discuss how it came to pass that the violin became known as the “Jewish national instrument.”

I suspect this was the very first time that the Music Room rang with explicit talk of the storied relationship between the Jews and classical music. But it’s hardly the first time that the nation’s capitol engaged in such a discussion. Many years before, Israel Zangwill’s potboiler of a play, “The Melting Pot,” debuted in D.C. Applauded enthusiastically by Teddy Roosevelt, the country’s president at the time, the four-act drama centered on music.

Read more


From Broadcast to 'G-dcast'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy of Sarah Lefton

Where would you go to learn Torah, not only from famous rabbis like Lawrence Kushner, but also feminist rapper Hesta Prynn and legal pundit Dahlia Lithwick? It wouldn’t be to any synagogue, JCC or school. In fact, you wouldn’t even have to leave your home. G-dcast, created by Jewish educational entrepreneur Sarah Lefton and writer Matthue Roth, brings commentary on the weekly Torah portion by Jewish artists, writers and public personalities directly to your computer via animated short films streamed on the Internet.

G-dcast, supported by funders including ROI, Natan, Righteous Persons Foundation, UpStart and the Joshua Venture Fellowship, has recently released a DVD of all 55 of its Torah portion videos (“the offline version of the online hit”), accompanied by a book of creative lessons written by educator Emily Shapiro Katz. In addition, an iPad and iPod G-dcast app is in development.

Read more


Found in Translation

By Maya Sela

Crossposted from Haaretz

Moshe Sakal lived for six years in France, where he learned to speak fluent French with a Parisian accent, but when he talked to his Egyptian-born, French-speaking grandmother back home in Israel - she would give him a haughty look.

Daniel Tchetchik

“She spoke like Dalida,” he said, referring to the popular multilingual Egyptian singer. “For her, an Egyptian accent was the real thing, authentic and beautiful, while my Parisian accent was a sort of jargon, a contemptible dialect. Not only did she look down on it, she also corrected me, and at some stage stopped understanding: I would be speaking the fluent French of someone who lived for years in Paris and she would just look at me, roll her eyes and say, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying.’”

In his new book “Yolanda” (published by Keter in Hebrew), which is autobiographical in a sort of misleading way, Sakal depicts the protagonist’s Egyptian-born grandmother, who immigrated to Israel in 1948, but preserves Cairo within her; a Zionist, she speaks basic Hebrew, reads only in French, and never leaves Israel’s borders.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Jack Gottlieb, Composer for the Synagogue and the World

By Gina Genova

Composer Jack Gottlieb, who passed away February 23 at the age of 80, was often asked to speak and write about Leonard Bernstein, the maestro whom he served in his youth as an assistant at the New York Philharmonic. But Gottlieb was one of the finest musicians around in his own right, and in a complete and studied way that is rare among modern prodigies. Jack was a consummate scholar, author, thinker, and composer of artistic, high-level sacred music for the synagogue; he also wrote songs, chamber music, orchestral, choral, and theater pieces, and he could entertain an audience from the piano like no one I have ever seen.

Though Gottlieb’s works were performed and lauded throughout the United States, he felt that he struggled as a composer, always in the shadow of his mentor. In the end, however, his prolific body of work stands on its own, and will no doubt be kept alive by the conductors and musicians who will continue to perform it.

Read more


Monday Music: Klezmer That's Coming and Going

By Mike Regenstreif

Arjen Veldt

Although they’ve had a number of earlier releases, “Where we come from… Where we’re going,” a challenging CD that is almost equal parts avant-garde jazz and klezmer music, was my introduction to Klezmokum, an Amsterdam-based band (Mokum is the old Jewish name for Amsterdam) led by Burton Greene, a pianist with a long history and discography dating back to the early 1960s. One of the other band members, clarinetist Perry Robinson, has been a significant musician on the free jazz scene for about as long as Greene.

Greene, who arranged all of the dozen compositions on this 70-minute CD, notes that “Where we come from… Where we’re going” is “the third in a trilogy of my arrangements and extended compositions based on little known, mainly Jewish works of composers active since before World War II until the present time.” Despite the emphasis on contemporary Jewish composers, there are also several traditional pieces on the album’s track list.

Read more


Sephardim Strike Back!

By Reyna Simnegar

Reyna Simnegar is the author of the recently published “Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love.” 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:


Sephardic Jews are really something to ponder. According to Rabbi Chaim Amsellem, “The Sephardic way is a paradox: to keep tradition but to stay open. The Torah is not there to put handcuffs on you. We try to find solutions. We put unity first.” I am including under Sephardic all Jews that come from Middle Eastern Countries (although these are actually Mizrahi Jews) and Jews from Spain Italy and some other countries in Europe.

I was waiting to receive Rabbi Haim Levy at Logan Airport. I have been to the airport many times to receive prominent Rabbis…but never a prominent Sephardic Rabbi. I was so excited to finally meet the author of what apparently is the book that has revolutionized Sephardic Halacha (laws) and finally brought it to the hands of the regular people like me: Anshei Chayil.

Read more


Out and About: Woody Allen on Marriage; Cynthia Ozick on Being a Jewish Writer

By Ezra Glinter

Read more


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Read more


Friday Film: 150 Years of French Class

By Allen Ellenzweig

Courtesy NYSJFF

And now, a different kind of Jewish film festival. “In the Beginning Was a School…,” a two-part documentary celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, has its American premiere March 13 at the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival. Traditional in its visual presentation — talking heads intercut with archival footage, animation, video montage, and old black and white clips of maps that look like out-takes from Casablanca — this television production tells a story little known on these shores, even if legendary among the francophone Sephardic diaspora. Its director, Josy Eisenberg, is a prominent figure in France, known as host — for over 40 years! — of a television program on Jewish life, history, and culture, and as the co-screenwriter of the 1970s cult film comedy, “The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.”

The Alliance, or AIU, was founded by six French Jewish eminences in 1860 on the heels of the Mortara Affair, which saw a six-year-old Jewish child in Bologna, Italy forcibly taken from his parents by the Church, on the rationale that Edgardo’s secret baptism by his nurse made him a Catholic. The Affair prompted international controversy; it also encouraged communitarian solidarity among assimilated French Jews.

Read more


Friday Film: In Search of the 36

By Shoshana Olidort

Courtesy NYJFF

In “36 Righteous Men,” Argentinian director Dan Burman, who goes in this film by his newly discovered Hebrew name, David ben Leah, joins an organized tour of Orthodox Jews visiting the gravesites of Hasidic leaders across Eastern Europe. What brings Burman, a thoroughly secular Jew, on board a bus where only strictly kosher food is served, and where many of the participants sport beards and large yarmulkes, is a quest to learn about the 36 hidden righteous men in whose merit, it is said, the world exists.

Burman is curious about this phenomenon: What does it mean to be a hidden tzaddik, or a righteous person? Can a secular person be a tzaddik? Do these men know that they are among the 36 righteous? And is their righteousness somehow compromised when the secret becomes revealed? But Burman’s curiosity about the legend of the 36 righteous men, for which the film is named, falters as he finds himself inundated with information about a culture he knows little about — the laws of kashrut and Shabbat, for example, as well as Hasidic notions of God and Godliness.

Read more


Isaac Stern Called him 'Petunia'

By Benjamin Ivry

The pianist Eugene Istomin, born in New York in 1925 to a Russian Jewish mother and Russian Orthodox father, is mostly remembered as a stellar chamber musician. Istomin, who died in 2003, anchored the celebrated Istomin-Stern-Rose trio (alongside superstar violinist Isaac Stern and cellist Leonard Rose) which is still remembered thanks to superb DVDs from EMI Classics of their performances of Brahms and Beethoven, as well as CDs on Sony Classical.

Istomin’s collaborations with cellist Pablo Casals are no less striking, on CDs from Sony Classical and Music & Arts. Yet Istomin also deserves plaudits as a soloist, as Pianist: A Biography of Eugene Istomin by James Gollin which appeared in July, 2010 from Xlibris Books to unjustly little fanfare, convincingly argues.

Read more


Dreams and Disillusion: 'Mayn Rue-Platz' by Morris Rosenfeld

By Michael Imlah

Something happens to the human psyche when an event reaches the 100 year mark, as is the case this month with the Triangle Factory Fire. It’s as if it can finally be relegated to the “dust bin of history” or tales of “long, long, ago.” But we can choose to remember, and we can read the work of poets determined to enshrine the daily life of people in verse. One poem, “Mayn Rue-Platz” by Morris Rosenfeld, captures the dismal world of the modern industrial worker, and continues to remind us of the dark conditions met by America’s new immigrants.

Rosenfeld, one of the “Sweat Shop Poets,” wrote of the disturbing nature of the garment industry, where he himself had worked for years. “Mayn Rue-Platz” contrasts natural beauty and pleasure with the realities found in American industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each step begins with the hoped for American experience but ends with the inevitable and oppressive realities of the industrialized world.

The forlorn nature of the poem suggests a single voice speaking to a dear friend or love, perhaps one yet to arrive in America or about to disembark at Ellis Island. The narrator reminisces about the splendor of their shared dreams and contrasts them with the realities the listener is bound to find. While dreaming of the simple pleasures of youth, springtime greenery, and singing birds, the reader is shocked by the simple truth, “you will not find me there.”

Read more


Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.