Crusading Photographer Seeks To Save Israeli Mom-and-Pop Shops for Posterity
'Fill The Void' Offers Rare Glimpse Inside Hasidic Life
Judith Malina Joins Jewish Show Business Stars in Next Stage of Life
Could The Holy Ghost Be Jewish?
Who Was Afraid of Viviane Forrester?
The Return of Richard Foreman, Rabbi of New York's Downtown Theater Scene
The Hank Greenberg Story That '42' Forgot
Vladimir Nabokov and the Jews
The History of Mel Brooks, Part I
How Do You Say 'Fuhgeddaboudit' in Yiddish?
How a 1976 Exhibit Changed the Way We Think About Jewish History
Vladimir Nabokov's Son Says Famous Father 'Was Close to Jewish Culture'
14-Year-Old Author Tells Story of Holocaust in Graphic Novel
Jews of Bukhara Helped Me To Understand Personal History
The Secret Jewish History of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby'
Vera Gran's Biographer Reconsiders the Stigma of Wartime Collaboration
Ancient Tchotchkes Deepen Our Understanding of Jewish Pilgrims
What 'Girls' Could Learn From the 'Good Wife's' Wife
Man Thinks, God Laughs, a Reader Writes and a Columnist Contemplates
Francesco Lotoro's Mission To Save the Music of European Jews
David Roskies and Naomi Diamant Guide Readers Through Holocaust Literature
A Son's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Saul Bellow
Vasily Grossman's Armenian Sketchbook Finally Debuts in English
Remembering Hungarian Cello Master János Starker
Photographer Clemens Kalischer Survived Holocaust But Struggles To Adapt
The Tsarnaev Brothers Are Many Things. But Cowards? Not So Much.
Diary of Girl's Time in Concentration Camps Invites Comparisons to Anne Frank
Robert Alter Is Truly a Translator of Biblical Proportions
Jennifer Gilmore's New Novel Confronts the Mother of All Struggles
Stuart Nadler's Story of Interracial Love Explores Tensions in Jewish Families
Nothing Beat the Spa for Wealthy 19th Century Jews
Is Rise of Jewish Fundamentalism Endangering Israeli Democracy?
How Adam Kadmon Made the Leap From Kabbalah to Italian Television
Why Susan Steinberg May Be the Best Jewish Writer You've Never Read
Haifa Museum Brings Outsider Artists Inside the World of Israeli Art
Retelling Jewish American Story Through History of Cinema
Janice Steinberg Preaches Gospel of Second Chances
The Secret Jewish History of David Bowie
How Three Jewish Boys From Wilmette Became the 'Brothers Emanuel'
Yiddish Words That Punch Above Their Weight
Why Jews Are Among World's Happiest People
Harvey Fierstein Gets 'Kinky' and Discusses His Jewish Roots
Playing Jewish Geography From California to the New York Islands
Documentary Sheds Light on Andre Gregory, Star of 'My Dinner With Andre'
Crossposted from Haaretz
The Melbourne International Film Festival is a marquee event on the cultural calendar of Australia, in what some would call the world’s most livable and multicultural city. Once again, it was struck by controversy with independent film makers threatening legal action if their own movie was not revoked from the set-list. The row was sparked by funding for a return economy-class airfare for an Israeli director.
The makers of “Son of Babylon,” a film set in Iraq, wanted to withdraw their movie because the organizers of the festival received funding from the Israeli government. But the demand went unheard, and the film screened on July 26 and July 28 as scheduled.
“The festival was informed in enough time to stop the screening … therefore if you have knowingly disregarded our wishes and screened the film, we will of course be left with little alternative than to take appropriate action against the festival,” producer Isabelle Stead wrote to festival executive director Richard Moore last week in an email exchange leaked to crikey.com.au.
“That was simply amazing!” a normally jaded music executive exclaimed to me after the second act of Franz Schreker’s provocative “Der Ferne Klang” (“The Distant Sound”). Hounded to death as a “degenerate” composer by the rising Nazis, Schreker’s defiantly louche, wildly successful 1909 opera disappeared and had to wait a century for its first American production at the Bard Summerscape Festival. Though belated, it was an exhilarating performance and a brilliant production of a thrilling, involving, distinctive genius of a work.
I don’t often rave, but this was a superlative event in every way possible. Whatever small reservations I had after hearing “The Distant Sound” in concert in 2007 disappeared upon seeing it staged. Leon Botstein conducted the opera’s astonishingly complex score for huge (and multiple) orchestras with passion and clarity, revealing the sudden depths and multilevel range of the music.
On August 12, over 100 people gathered at New York’s Center for Jewish History to mark the 58th anniversary of the Night of the Murdered Poets, commemorating the Stalin-ordered execution of 13 prominent Soviet Jews, including five Yiddish writers.
Among those murdered were novelist David Bergelson and poet Peretz Markish, who was awarded the Stalin Prize just six years before his death by firing squad. The other victims included poets Leib Kvitko, David Hofshtein and Itzik Feffer. All of the writers had been members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee during World War II, which supported the Soviet war effort against Nazi Germany.
From the moment news of the execution came out in 1952, the Yiddish cultural world has held memorial services for the writers and, symbolically, for the oppression, and subsequent destruction, of Yiddish culture in the Soviet Union.
Jon Kalish goes to see “The Concert,” a French comedy about a Russian janitor who hijacks an invitation for the Bolshoi Orchestra to perform in Paris.
Jerome A. Chanes reads (take a deep breath) “An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew: Etymological-Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalents With Supplements on Biblical Aramaic.” It’s important, trust us.
Claudia B. Braude examines the conflicted Jewish identity of South African author Nadine Gordimer, as expressed in the Nobel laureate’s new collection “Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954-2008.”
Philologos takes the dictionary to task over the etymology of the word “hock.”
Sammy Loren hangs out with Orto-Da, an avant-garde Israeli theater troupe that made a big splash at the California International Theatre Festival.
Over at The Sisterhood, Renee Ghert-Zand reviews Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack.”
And on the Forverts video channel, Itzik Gottesman talks to professor Ber Kotlerman of Bar-Ilan University about Sholom Aleichem and Yiddish Film:
In honor of the Argentine bicentennial, and the country’s position as guest of honor at the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair, the Jewish Museum Berlin has turned over several of its rooms to “Jewish Life in Argentina,” a special exhibition that functions as a living archive of the community’s 150-year-old history, as well as a quiet acknowledgment of Germany’s involvement in it.
The theme of the exhibition is books, and each of the show’s five sections is oriented around the idea of the book, whether literally — stacks of Jewish Argentine biographies are piled on tables in the “Bookstore” section — or figuratively, with sculptures that take books as the central feature of their design.
Aside from steak and psychoanalysis, Argentina is known for its rich intellectual life and deep-seated Jewish community, and the exhibition aims to eliminate any doubt over the connection between the two. Writer Jacobo Timerman, playwright Ariel Dorfman, and a number of renowned chess players are among the community’s more notable members, and their biographies are the first things that visitors encounter upon entering the exhibition — a towering physical reminder of decades of cultural history.
Erica Strange, like many of us, sees her therapist regularly — only hers helps her work through her problems by sending her to the past, the future and even to alternate existences. Our shrinks can’t pull off tricks like that, and we’re certainly not getting the same bang for our buck that Erica is. In fact, she never gets a bill for her sessions with the mysterious Dr. Tom.
Erica Strange is the protagonist of the hit Canadian TV series “Being Erica,” set to launch its third season on September 22. Although she inhabits a world of magical time-traveling psychotherapy, Erica — Jewish and in her early 30s — has gained a very real following because she seems so, well, real.
TV watchers have related to Erica (played by Erin Karpluk) from the show’s debut episode in 2008, when they met her going nowhere professionally and personally, wracked by regret, and dealing with a serious guilt trip laid on her by her family. “I’m suffocating under the weight of your collective disapproval,” Erica cries.
Charles Fox, composer of more than 100 film and TV scores including “Happy Days,” “Wonder Woman” and “The Love Boat,” has always had a unique attachment to Poland. On the one hand, it’s a country that produced one of his favorite composers, Chopin. And on the other hand, his father’s entire family was murdered there during the Holocaust.
The tensions in that relationship will be laid bare when Fox conducts a chamber orchestra on August 21 in the city of Gdansk, to mark the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth.
“A lot of people have a very complex relationship with Poland,” Fox said during an interview at his home studio in Los Angeles. “They consider it the cemetery of the Jews.”
Fox’s father was born in the town of Szydłowiec and fled to Palestine in 1920 to avoid being drafted into the Polish army. He never saw his family again. Last year while touring Poland with 70 cantors and a documentary film crew in tow, Fox visited his father’s village.
“The politics these days are the worst I’ve ever seen,” lamented Robert Kaplan of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring. He was introducing The Klezmatics before they hit the stage at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park Bandshell on August 3 for the second show in the Music For a Better World series, which culminates on August 15 with the “Klezmer to Rock Street Party” at the Madison Avenue Summer Fair.
After talking about health insurance and alluding to the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, Kaplan urged the audience to “break the pattern of ‘me-ism’” in this country in order to bring forth a “bessere velt” (“better world”). One could forgive him for offering such an overtly political introduction. The Klezmatics, after all, were about to perform original material from their Grammy Award-winning 2006 album “Wonder Wheel” (reviewed here by Forward columnist Jay Michaelson), which is set to lyrics by Woody Guthrie, perhaps the most famous protest musician in American History.
Even as summer winds down, classical CD releases continue apace.
A pellucid live performance on DVD from VAI Music of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” from the 1964 Salzburg Festival is one of the season’s best choices. It’s conducted by the Hungarian Jewish maestro István Kertész, who died in a swimming accident at Herzliya beach in 1973. In Salzburg, Kertész already possessed the required wisdom for Mozart’s profound score. The American Jewish coloratura soprano Roberta Peters incarnates a nightmare Jewish mother as the berserk Queen of the Night.
Another Jewish diva of a different genre is Hungarian pianist Márta Kurtág, wife of the composer György Kurtág. An unsurpassed interpreter of her husband’s music, which she has recorded for the Budapest Music Center (BMC) label, Mrs. Kurtág is one pianist unimpressed by commercial considerations. She studied Beethoven’s rambunctiously finger-busting “Diabelli Variations” for a half-century before recording the piece in 1999, and that thrilling, soulfully sonorous recording is only now available on CD from BMC.
In May 1942, around three months before some 300,000 Jews were sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, Nazi filmmakers shot 62 minutes of propaganda footage intended to illustrate the inhumanity of their victims. Staged scenes showed rich Jews living in luxurious indifference to the poverty and death around them, purportedly demonstrating their callousness, even toward their own people.
Chances are you’ve seen this footage, though not in its entirety. One of the only film documents to emerge from the Holocaust, bits and pieces of it have been used in nearly every Holocaust documentary ever made. But only recently has a filmmaker undertaken to examine the footage as a whole, as well as the circumstances in which it was produced.
It seems obvious to note that Jesus — like Don Juan, Oedipus and Count Dracula — has a cultural life having little to do with his original narrative. Although it is now widely believed that he did exist, Jesus is so buried in centuries of Christian tradition that in 1906 Albert Schweitzer declared the search for a historical Jesus dead. Every scholar, Schweitzer wrote, merely produces a Jesus in his own image. Geza Vermes, a one-time Catholic priest, Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford, and author of such books as “Jesus the Jew,” pointedly disagrees. As the title of his latest book suggests, he claims to have located the “Real Jesus” beneath the many guises of Christ.
“The Real Jesus: Then and Now” (Augsburg Fortress) collects many short pieces on subjects surrounding early Judeo-Christian history. Though the collection would have been better served by a stricter edit, Vermes’s scholarship remains impressive. His Jesus is a Galilean Jewish mystic, a charismatic healer, exorcist and miracle worker, who preached a Kingdom of Heaven that would arrive in his lifetime. He recruited 12 apostles and 70 disciples, and was crucified as a rebel by the government of Pontius Pilate, with the cooperation the religious authorities, after causing a scene at the Temple of Jerusalem.
In this week’s Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts managing editor Itzik Gottesman writes about Yiddish writer Ita Taub and “Oy Vey Mame” a song she remembered from her shtetl.
Ita (or Eta) Taub (1908 – 2003) was born in the Ukrainian town of Stidenitse on the Dniester river. She immigrated to Montreal and then New York. She published two volumes of autobiography in Yiddish, “Ikh gedenk” (“I Remember”), with one volume appearing posthumously. She also wrote a volume of poetry, “In klem fun benkshaft” (“In the Fetters of Longing,” Jerusalem, 1993) and published the Yiddish love poetry and love letters sent to her by an admirer (“Libe briv un lider” by Itzik Freiman).
She was well known for her philanthropic generosity and financially supported numerous Yiddish causes, especially those connected to Soviet Yiddish literature. She was a classy lady, as they say, with a huge apartment on 106th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. By the time I recorded her, her voice was clearly not very powerful, but she still could sing an unaccompanied Yiddish folksong in a compelling way.
Read the whole post and listen to Ita Taub sing “Oy Vey Mame” here.
Kirtan, a Sanskrit call-and-response form of worship from India, and Rabbi, are two words not often found in the same sentence. Rabbi Andrew Hahn, better known as the “Kirtan Rabbi,” is on track to change that.
Hahn’s spiritual innovation was on display at the Jewish Heritage Museum in New York’s Battery Park last week, as around one hundred participants chanted and swayed to the words of traditional Jewish liturgy.
Kirtan is usually performed in Sanskrit, but Hahn has appropriated the form and infused it with Hebrew words and a Jewish theological and liturgical framing. But how did Hahn, who has a doctorate in Jewish Thought from the Jewish Theological Seminary and Reform rabbinic ordination, find himself in front of a harmonium, leading a flock of Jews in Sanskrit-inspired Hebrew chanting?
The short answer? Get Nat Hentoff to review it in the Wall Street Journal.
In Saturday’s paper, the eminent jazz critic published an appreciation of “Cantors, Klezmorim and Crooners 1905-1953,” a three-disc box set of remastered archival Yiddish music that was released in late 2009.
Hentoff had only good things to say about the remastered tracks: “Because of the extraordinary skills of engineer Christopher King, all of them bring you into the very presence of these carriers of the Yiddish ethos. At home in the Boston ghetto, I had grown up with a few of these, but they didn’t sound as if the performers were actually in the room with me. They do now.”
Hentoff’s praise has not fallen on deaf ears. Following the publication of his review, “Cantors, Klezmorim and Crooners” shot up into Amazon’s top 10 music bestsellers, reaching No. 4 on Monday morning, sandwiched between James Taylor and Carole King at No. 3 and Sheryl Crow at No. 5. As of this writing, it has slid down slightly, hanging on at No. 8.
Randy Cohen didn’t set out to lampoon Mel Gibson. But the concept behind his one man play “The Punishing Blow,” which opens August 13 starring Seth Duerr, might lead one to believe that he did. It’s the story of a bile-filled college professor, prone to incendiary Jew-baiting remarks who, arrested for drunk driving, is forced to take anger management classes and give a lecture on a figure from a list of The 100 Most Influential Jews of All Time.
A number of years ago, Cohen ran across the story of Daniel Mendoza, the legendary 18th century boxer. This is the story he wanted to write.
Mendoza was an English Heavyweight Champion. He transformed the game, inventing what was at the time called scientific boxing, which, Cohen explained to me, means, “He figured out how a little man could beat a big man.” The dodge and the weave. The intellectual game. He captured the imagination of the public and became one of the most famous men of his era — the Muhammad Ali of the 18th century. After his career ended, he went on to have a secondary career touring the country in musical variety acts, drawing people in with his celebrity and demonstrating scientific boxing.
Crucially, Mendoza was also a Jew, and at that time, though England had a flourishing Jewish community, they were despised, cursed at, sometimes beaten in the street. Mendoza’s celebrity helped begin to change that. “He was such a riveting figure,” Cohen said, “that he humanized Jews in some ways. It was an extraordinary story and I was eager to write it.”
Almost every institution of learning can boast legendary teachers, and “Reflections of a Wondering Jew,” recently reprinted by Transaction Publishers, shows that City College professor Morris Raphael Cohen, who died in 1947, is one such legend.
Cohen’s 1950 posthumously compiled collection of articles displays the philosophy professor and legal theorist at his most informal and charming. Born in 1880 in Minsk, Belarus, Cohen earned a Harvard PhD in philosophy, but as a Jew, he could only find a job teaching mathematics in 1906. Not until 1912 was Cohen appointed to CCNY’s philosophy department, in what his daughter Leonora Cohen Rosenfield later called “for a Jew, a precedent-shattering event.”
Cohen stayed at City College until 1938, producing key texts such as “A Preface to Logic,” reprinted in the 1970s by Dover Publications and “An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method,” available from Hackett Publishing.
In “Reflections of a Wondering Jew” Cohen slates Freud’s 1939 “Moses and Monotheism” as a “work which has so little solid foundation,” adding in professorial fashion: “The facts of history refuse to fit into any simple preconceived hypothesis no matter how plausible or intriguing.”
The first few bars of DeScribe’s new video, “Harmony,” are an Auto-Tuned proclamation of love, respect and unity. Standing behind a microphone, surrounded by Jewish and African American teenagers, the bearded 28-year-old rapper advocates love and understanding between the two communities and the world at large.
On August 2 DeScribe, also known as Shneur Hasofer, launched the video with a press conference at the Brooklyn Borough President’s office. “The press conference was very emotional, I had a tear in my eye. I’m happy that all the leaders were around and they didn’t give up hope. A lot of people have been burnt out by trying to push racial harmony, and they put a lot of energy into this. It was exactly what I had hoped for,” he said.
It’s tempting to compare Hasofer with another prominent Hasidic artist, Matisyahu, and Hasofer takes the comparison as a compliment. “[Matisyahu] was a very big inspiration to me personally. He charged as a Hasidic Jew into the mainstream music scene and has an incredible talent and gift. I knew that everyone was going to compare me to him,” he said. But Hasofer also points out that the two singers have very different styles. “He has a strong reggae sound while mine is hip-hop,” he said, adding that there is always room for two Jewish artists in the mainstream.
For some critics, Tony Judt will always be remembered, and reviled, for the 2003 essay he published in the New York Review of Books titled “Israel: The Alternative,” in which he called for a one-state solution. “The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’ — a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism,” he wrote.
Judt later seemed to back off from that position, most recently in a New York Times op-ed in which he wrote that “Israel is a state like any other, long-established and internationally recognized…Israel is not going away, nor should it.”
While Judt may have sometimes been off the mark in his prescriptions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the British historian, who passed away in New York on August 6 at the age of 62, was more than just another pundit siphoning a spotlight from the glare of Middle Eastern politics.
Judt was scholar whose area of specialty was virtually all of European history. His 2005 magnum opus “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945,” is perhaps the most authoritative as well as the most compelling account of its subject. Just as captivating, however, is a series of personal essays Judt wrote for the NYRB in the months preceding his death. In it, he detailed his intellectual journey to and from Zionism, as well as his struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2008.
Susan Shapiro offers an excerpt from her new novel, “Overexposed.”
Philologos takes a nibble of Italy’s “pizza ebraica dolce.”
Benjamin Ivry casts his gaze on Sweden’s Ernst Josephson, the “Jewish Edvard Munch.”
Tom Freudenheim appreciates a self-published book that’s not only a good read, but also offers a look at the seamy underside of pilfered Judaica.
Jenna Weissman Joselit dusts off the controversy over John Singer Sargent’s recently restored murals at the Boston Public Library.
And make sure to mark down the Forward’s upcoming evening of “Jewish Art for the New Millennium: 3 Alicias 3” at the Sixth Street Synagogue on August 24, featuring violinist Alicia Svigals, poet Alicia Ostriker and singer-songwriter Alicia Jo Rabins.
Carlton Evans likes to shift paradigms. Whether it’s the way Jews daven together or the way people make and watch films, he’s known for bucking convention.
An early organizer of San Francisco’s Mission Minyan, a lay-led, non-denominational, highly participatory, egalitarian, queer-friendly and halachically oriented community, Evans has more recently focused his energies on co-founding and directing the Disposable Film Festival.
Evans views the grassroots character of the Disposable Film Festival and the centrality of its social and ecological awareness as a natural progression from his efforts with the Mission Minyan, where these values are also front and center. In this regard, Evans is especially enthusiastic about the bike-in screenings organized by the festival, which will be taking place in cities across the country throughout August. In addition to valet bike parking, audiences at the bike-ins enjoy snacks from local sustainable food vendors. “There is no rule that says that you have to drive to the movies and eat unhealthy, mass-produced popcorn and candy while watching them,” Evans said.
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