Crossposted from Haaretz
A festival being held for the first time is an idea. A festival being held for the second time is already a fact on the ground. Haifolk, Haifa’s indie music festival, had its second run this weekend and can, therefore, safely be declared an established festival on the Israeli indie music scene.
Established yet small. Tel Aviv need not fear for its status as the unquestioned Indie City and Jerusalem will continue to don the hat of extreme deputy to the left. But if in recent years Be’er Sheva had laid claim to the title of “Indie’s Third City,” Haifolk might well be positioning sleepy Haifa as its new rival.
Today, in honor of National Poetry Month, The Arty Semite is featuring “Samurai Song” by Robert Pinsky. In the spirit of Passover, one can read “Samurai Song” as a kind of inverse “Dayenu.” It is often asked of the latter text, that if God had not given us the Sabbath, the Torah, or brought us to the Land of Israel (among the other things), would it really have been enough? The answer usually given is that while lesser benevolences may not have been enough in the larger scheme, we would still have had sufficient reason for thanksgiving and praise. Pinsky’s poem, in contrast, works the other way around. Rather than counting our blessings in ascending order, the poem strips them away one by one, while saying each time, in effect, dayenu.
Robert Pinsky is a three-term United States Poet Laureate, a professor at Boston University and the author of 19 books, including translations of Czesław Miłosz and Dante Alighieri. “Samurai Song” comes from his latest collection, “Selected Poems,” published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Courtesy of Artists Public Domain
As a child, Tariq Tapa learned to read while traversing Manhattan’s First Avenue to and from school. His mother designed logos for a living (Sky-Line Taxi and Limousine in the Bronx still uses the one she created for the company 25 years ago), and as they walked she would pay particular attention to the signs lining their route, asking her son to sound out the letters he saw. It’s fitting that a couple decades later Tapa, who turned 30 in March and is now a director and screenwriter based in northern California, sees his job partly as a call to animate marks on a page. “The characters you see on a piece of paper, the letters — those can’t be the same as the characters you see before you on the screen, the people,” he said. “I always want to try to turn the abstractions into flesh and blood.”
On January 2, 1815, the 27-year-old Lord Byron married the odious Annabella Milbanke, daughter and heiress of Lord and Lady Wentworth. Their daughter, Ada, was born on December 10. On January 15, 1816, Lady Byron took Ada and returned to her parents. The “first popular media scandal” erupted, and rumors spread that Byron beat and sodomized his wife during her pregnancy, was homosexual and a drunk, and committed incest with his half-sister. On April 21 Byron agreed to a separation, and on April 23 he left London to take a ship to the Continent. He sailed on April 25, and never returned to England and never saw his daughter again.
Isaac Nathan was 23-years-old in 1815, the son of a Jewish cantor in Cambridge. (They never met while Byron was at the university.) Nathan acted on his idea to collect and publish the “ancient” melodies of the synagogues in order to capitalize on the nationalist spirit in Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. He also had the idea to ask the most popular poet in England to write words to accompany the melodies. After an amazing series of contacts, Byron consented. (The first poem was “She walks in beauty.”) Equally amazing, Byron and Nathan became friends, and Nathan was with Byron during his last days in London. Nathan sent the following letter after he left Byron:
Crossposted from Haaretz
I experienced my own great architectural revolution in 1955, when my family moved from a rural area in the heart of the Sharon to an apartment block in a Histadrut labor federation cooperative housing project, on the outskirts of Givatayim. The moment we unpacked our bags on the gravel — which later became a blossoming garden — an entirely different world opened up to me.
This revolution encompassed all aspects of my life. My relationship with other people and with the environment changed beyond recognition, as did my perspective on the world, which looked entirely different from the third floor. Everything was new, primeval, traumatic and yet promising.
Stanley Moss’s much anticipated collection “God Breaketh Not All Men’s Hearts Alike: New and & Later Collected Poems” will be out in just a few months, and we’ll be sure to discuss its publication in the Forward. In the meantime, we’re bringing to you a time-appropriate sampling from the forthcoming collection. This poem exhibits Moss’s tendency to gravitate towards an expansive, cosmopolitan spirituality, which is not limited to the three religions mentioned in the poem. Rather, it can also be found in nature and in the whole pantheon of sensuous literary and historical free associations, which in this work, as in many others, Moss treats with a connoisseur’s palate and the fervor of a true initiate.
Read more about Moss’s views on writing in the special Poetry Month pre-Passover interview, along with those of six other poets, here.
Ronny Wasserstrom, left, as Mr. M, accomanied by his pigeon, center, played by Theresa Linnihan, and his shadow, right, played with finger puppets by Michelle Beshaw. Photo by Lee Wexler.
In its evocation of “Terezin humor” — the grim recognition that if we didn’t laugh, we’d hang ourselves — “Mr. M,” by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, is both the same as, and unlike, every other Holocaust play you’ve ever seen. The play, which runs at the Theatre for the New City through May 1 and at the JCC in Manhattan from May 5 to 8, draws on familiar themes, but does so in an altogether original way. It is performed in the “zivacek” style of Czech theatre, in which the cast, some of whom work with puppets, nonetheless remain visible throughout. In practice, the technique gives the story a beautifully layered feel, in which each object holds the potential to be several things at once.
Is someone asking a question in the Yud Gallery at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco? Has the CJM just opened a new sound installation in its Yud Gallery called “Are we there yet?” Has it been designed — based on Jews’ inquisitive impulse — by regular collaborators Ken Goldberg (artist and professor of robotics at U.C. Berkeley) and Gil Gershoni (commercial designer)? Did they talk to the Forward’s Dan Friedman by telephone? Did the chief rabbi eat matzo at Seder?
Dan Friedman: Are the Jews really the only people who ask questions?
Ken Goldberg: Who else asks questions? What are you trying to say? What do you mean?!
What is a good question?
Gil Gershoni and K.G.: Paper or plastic? Where are you? Don’t you think that even these everyday questions are philosophical? If you ask these — or a lot of political questions — in a new setting, don’t they resonate in a new way?
How did the exhibition come about?
G.G. and K.G.: We were given an opportunity to use this space — with high walls and dramatic angles — for an exhibit to engage the wider community, and weren’t we right to think that the use of sound and questions tie it into Daniel Libeskind’s enigmatic design that avoids any graven images?
In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, Gideon Spiegel, the Tel Aviv-based Israeli artist also known as Goodash, entered an abandoned Egyptian house and leafed through family photo albums that had been left there. That experience of connecting to photos of a family amid the ruins of what was once their home led to his creation of “Memories,” a series of digital collages, or “photodrawings,” which Spiegel says “use imagery that connects to ideas surrounding ancestry, collective memories, and abandoned spaces.” A selection of these works is on view at the Koch Gallery of the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Calif., until mid-June.
By blending his photographs of Christian, Muslim and Jewish buildings in Israel and the Palestinian Territories that have been abandoned since 1950 with antique photographic portraits, and then adding hand-drawn elements, Spiegel aims to evoke a bygone era, “reoccupying [the buildings] with images of former inhabitants.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
The master wishes to eat a pear, but a series of strange setbacks prevents him from biting into the succulent fruit — until the happy ending. This is the frame story of an old German folk song. Over the course of it, we encounter the following: a dog, a stick, water, fire, a calf, a butcher — all familiar from the piyyut (liturgical poem) “Had Gadya” (“One Kid”) sung at the end of the Passover seder.
The song “Das Birnli will nit fallen” (“Little Pear Doesn’t Want to Fall”) appears in the collection of tales put together by the brothers Grimm (Jacob, 1785-1863 and Wilhelm, 1786-1859), the renowned German folk and fairy-tale collectors. Their first volume of tales (“Die Kinder und Hausmarchen der Brueder Grimm”), released in 1812 in the city of Kassel, includes the song about the pear.
Today’s poem in honor of National Poetry Month is “Jewish Spring” by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, which appears in his recent collection, “Uncle Feygele.” While the subject is a seemingly appropriate choice for Passover — also known as “Chag Ha’Aviv,” or the “Holiday of Spring” — the poem questions not only the contemporary state of nature appreciation, but the fate of the nature poem itself in a society increasingly distant from the natural world.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is an English and Yiddish poet. His previous collections include “What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn” (Parlor Press, 2008) and “The Insatiable Psalm” (Wind River Press, 2005). In addition to the Forward, his work has been published in The Adirondack Review and Prairie Schooner, among other places.
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.