The Arty Semite

Jewish-American Literature as Multicultural Literature

By Erika Dreifus

Erika Dreifus‘s first book, “Quiet Americans,” will be published on January 19th. 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:


Early next month, four other writers — Andrew Furman, Kevin Haworth, Margot Singer, and Anna Solomonand I will gather in a conference room for a panel titled “Beyond Bagels & Lox: Jewish-American Fiction in the 21st Century.” (Hopefully, some semblance of a critical mass of an audience will be there as well.)

This session is just one among a dizzying array of offerings organized by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) for its annual conference. If you aren’t familiar with AWP, you may find this description from Executive Director David Fenza to be helpful:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Margot Singer, Jewish Book Council, Erika Dreifus, David Fenza, Books, Author Blog Series, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, Anna Solomon, Andrew Furman, AWP, My Jewish Learning, Quiet Americans

A Virtual Warsaw Ghetto

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz

One of the first stops made by visitors to the new Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exhibit in the Yad Mordechai Museum, in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, is the projection of a yellow star on their clothing. By moving your body, you put the virtual patch in the place where it belongs. It’s part of the concept of bringing viewers into the experience.

David Gary
The museum’s model of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Later on, in order to peek at a model of the Warsaw Ghetto one takes a virtual journey on a railway car to a death camp. After the doors shut, with a realistic-sounding noise, the trip begins. A subwoofer speaker under the car simulates the sounds of traveling by train, while images of the ghetto, and then of the extermination camps, go past the barbed-wire-covered windows.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yad Mordechai Museum, Warsaw Ghetto, Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, Holocaust, Haaretz, Exhibits, Yuval Saar

Out and About: Golden Globe Winners; Captain Beefheart's Jewish Sideman

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
  • At the Golden Globe awards last night, winners included “Boardwalk Empire” for best TV drama (discussed in the Forward here and here); Al Pacino for his turn as Jack Kevorkian in HBO’s “You Don’t Know Jack” (discussed in the Forward here); Paul Giamatti as best actor in “Barney’s Version” (here and here); Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” (here); and David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin for best director and best screenplay, respectively, for “The Social Network,” which also took home the prize for best drama.

  • Speaking of Hollywood, will “war and terrorism insurance” help lure American production companies to Israel?

  • Greet “Kehilah,” a new online magazine for Jews of color.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: You Don't Know Jack, Vivian Maier, The Social Network, Paul Giamatti, Kehilah, Natalie Portman, Jews of Color, HBO, Golden Globes, Gary Lucas, Certified Copy, David Fincher, Don Van Vliet, Captain Beefheart, Boardwalk Empire, Barney's Version, Black Swan, Abbas Kiarostami, Al Pacino, Aaron Sorkin

This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

  • Jordana Horn goes to see “Mahler on the Couch” at the New York Jewish Film Festival (read more NYJFF coverage on The Arty Semite here).

  • Benjamin Ivry investigates the literary chameleon, Romain Gary.

  • Rachel Barenblat writes a tree poem for “Birch Magazine.”

  • Raphael Mostel goes to see the story of Ruth at the New York Chinese Opera Society.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: This Week in Forward Arts and Culture, Ross Perlin, Romain Gary, Rachel Barenblat, Rashi, Mahler on the Couch, New York Chinese Opera Society, Cairo Genizah, Debbie Friedman

Will Film's Nudity Keep Hasidim Away From 'Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish'?

By Jon Kalish

Courtesy Eve Annenberg

Tongues have been clicking in the Orthodox world about the U.S. debut of Eve Annenberg’s feature film “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” (which I previously wrote about for the Forward here), but the New York Jewish Film Festival screening on January 16 at Lincoln Center sold out quickly and the Hasidic dropouts-turned actors who star in the film expect a huge black hat turnout.

On the frum woman’s web site imamother.com someone who grew up in Boro Park with former Satmar beauty Malky Weisz, who plays Juliet, posted: “I think this film is going to create a huge chilull ha shem [desecration of G-d’s name], even though I have no inkling as to what the story line is.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Walter Reade Theater, Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, New York Jewish Film Festival, Mendy Zafir, Lincoln Center, Malky Weisz, Lazer Weiss, Isaac Schonfeld, Jon Kalish, Film, Eve Annenberg, Cholent, Boro Park, Yiddish

Ludwik Hirszfeld: Great Medical Researcher in the Warsaw Ghetto

By Benjamin Ivry

Readers do not expect witnesses to historical tragedy to be supremely intelligent, producing gimlet-eyed conclusions about executioners and victims. Yet Ludwik Hirszfeld, a Polish Jewish microbiologist and serologist (expert in blood serum) who died in 1954, did just that in a book issued last August to no fanfare from University of Rochester Press.

“Ludwik Hirszfeld: The Story of One Life” was translated by Marta A. Balinska, and edited by Balinska with William Schneider. Hirszfeld’s memoir, dictated in the 1940s, is fascinating on many accounts; in the Warsaw ghetto, Hirszfeld heroically organized anti-epidemic measures and vaccination campaigns against typhus, as well as teaching clandestine medical classes. A major scientist who made discoveries about blood grouping with relation to disease, Hirszfeld recounts how the rise of European fascism affected the scientific world.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shifra Shvarts, Marta A. Balinska, Ludwik Hirszfeld, Janusz Korczak

Friday Film: Lou Reed's 'Red Sheep'

By Margaret Eby

For those accustomed to seeing Lou Reed as the snarling badass of the New York music scene, his first directorial effort, “Red Shirley,” will come as something of a shock. Far from touching on the trademark obsessions of his Velvet Underground days — sadomasochism and drugs, to be precise — the film is a loving, strenuously respectful portrait of his cousin, Shirley Novick, on the eve of her 100th birthday.

The documentary, which screens January 15 at the New York Jewish Film Festival and clocks in at a mere 28 minutes, is full of awkward angles and random shifts from color to black-and-white. It’s a clumsy effort, technically speaking, full of production flaws that are bizarre to the point of distraction, yet the story that Reed tells is charming enough that you can almost overlook the film’s defects.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Margaret Eby, Red Shirley, Shirley Novick, New York Jewish Film Festival, Lou Reed, Film, The Velvet Underground

'The Beatles of Palestine' Give First Homeland Performance

By Ruth Sherlock

Crossposted from Haaretz

For decades the music band Al-asheqeen has provided a soundtrack to life in the Palestinian territories; their songs are heard at weddings, funerals, and in daily living.

The band, which was created in Damascus by Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon, has become a symbol of national heritage and a bastion of Palestinian cultural and religious tradition. But until last month, the group had never set foot on Palestinian land.

Under the auspices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the group of 33 singers and dancers performed in ten concerts across the West Bank’s major cities and towns, including Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and Abu Dis.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Palestine, Music, Nablus, Mahmoud Abbas, Jericho, Jenin, Hebron, Haaretz, Bethlehem, Al-ashequeen, Abu Dis, Ramallah, Ruth Sherlock

'Going to the Movies'

By Rodger Kamenetz

Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “Going to the Movies” by Andrei Codrescu. This piece originally appeared on March 2, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.

Mr. Codrescu was born in 1946 in Sibiu, Romania, and in an early autobiography, “Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius,” he vividly describes the anti-Semitism of Stalinist Romania. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager, landing initially in Detroit, where he was helped by Jewish charities. Already an accomplished poet in Transylvania, he carried the surrealist tradition headlong into the New York poetry scene of the 1960s, where he was influenced by the writing of Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan.

Poet, novelist, essayist, autobiographer, editor of the online literary review “Exquisite Corpse” and National Public Radio commentator, Mr. Codrescu has forged a persona half de Tocqueville and half Henry Miller as he comments on American life with a mixture of wisdom, bemusement and wonder.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Romania, Rodger Kamenetz, Psalm 151, Poetry, Man on the Moon, Henry Miller, Going to the Movies, Frank O'Hara, Exquisite Corpse, E.L. Doctorow, Andy Kaufman, Andrei Codrescu, Alexis de Toqueville, Ted Berrigan

From IDF Lieutenant to Producing the Golden Globes

By Curt Schleier

Courtesy Orly Adelson

Orly Adelson’s employees do not salute her when they report for work in the morning.

“I would like that, but they won’t,” she said, laughing at the thought.

Adelson is president of dick clark productions, the company that produces shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Shaq Vs.,” the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards, which will be presented January 16. What prompted the question about the salute was less her current duties than a job she held years ago: lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces.

In some ways, that experience proved a burden. “It’s in every article about me,” Adelson said. “‘She was in the military,‘ [they write]. I’m proud of it. But I’ve done many things since then.” Still, she conceded that “it’s part of what shaped me.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Orly Adelson, Hollywood, IDF, Film, Golden Globes, Dick Clark Productions, Curt Schleier, Academy of Country Music Awards, Shaq Vs., So You Think You Can Dance, Television

Out and About: Pearl Buck's Jewish Novel; Robert Moses, the Musical

By Ezra Glinter

Wiki Commons
  • Get ready for the Robert Moses musical.

  • Find out what the New York Times best sellers were the week you were born (or any week, really).

  • HEEB talks to Eve Annenberg, whose film “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” (discussed in the Forward here) will screen on January 16 at the New York Jewish Film Festival.

  • New research shows that Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929), the namesake of the Bode Museum in Berlin, was — get this — an anti-Semite.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, Wilhelm von Bode, Robert Moses, Pearl Buck, Out and About, John Gross, Eve Annenberg, Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan, Armond White

Striking the Right Note

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Stellae et Luna

I’ve been meaning for quite some time now to write about the Judaica Sound Archives, an online treasure trove of American Jewry’s musicological patrimony, but I couldn’t quite find the right note to strike. In the wake of the sudden and untimely passing of Debbie Friedman, whose musical contributions to the shaping of contemporary Jewish life are virtually without parallel, the appropriate occasion presents itself.

I don’t know whether the Judaica Sound Archives, which is maintained by the Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, actually contains any of Debbie Friedman’s songs — I’m sure it will in due course — but the collection houses just about everything else that once made for American Jewry’s varied and lively acoustic culture.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Music, Tzena Tzena, Judaica Sound Archives, Jenna Weissman Joselit, From Under the Fig Tree, Hazanus, Florida Atlantic University, Debbie Friedman

Leon Kirchner, a Sometimes-Grumpy, Permanently Inspired Composer

By Benjamin Ivry

Contemporary American composers have few able defenders, and once out of sight, composers are often forgotten, so it is good to have a biographical tribute, out in November, from University of Rochester Press to Leon Kirchner, who died in 2009 at age 90.

“Leon Kirchner: Composer, Performer, & Teacher” by Robert Riggs recounts the life and work of the Brooklyn-born composer, whose father, Samuel Kirzner, was an embroiderer from Odessa. As Kirchner wrote in a lapidary 1970 essay, the elder Kirzner was:

[a] prodigy. By the age of fourteen [Kirzner] had embroidered an elaborate gown for the Czarina… There were pogroms. He came to America in a cattle boat.

Kirchner’s own works, from those for solo piano (see video below) to his scandalously overlooked and still-unrecorded 1977 opera “Lily,” based on Saul Bellow’s “Henderson the Rain King,” continue in the family tradition of stern attention to detail. Uncompromising thorniness is a hallmark of many Kirchner compositions, and indeed a source of their integrity and strength, as one would expect after his studies with Arnold Schoenberg and Ernest Bloch, two great Jewish composers who would never be confused with the Sunshine Boys.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Saul Bellow, Leon Kirchner, Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman, Franz Kafka

'Boardwalk Empire' Exec Dishes on Character's Anti-Semitism

By Gwen Orel

Courtesy HBO
Erik Weiner as agent Sebso, center, and Michael Shannon as Van Alden in HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire.’

If you drown a Jew while trying to baptize him against his will, are you anti-Semitic? That was the discussion brewing in the blogosphere after the penultimate episode of the HBO hit series “Boardwalk Empire” aired on November 28. The show, set in the 1920s in Atlantic City, follows the people who run the city and the Federal Agents trying to enforce Prohibition.

Agent Van Alden, played by Michael Shannon, grew increasingly fanatical as the episodes aired — he flagellates himself and talks to his wife about signs from God. His assistant, Agent Sebso (Erik Weiner), is Jewish — he understands the Yiddish spoken by Simon, a suspect in a bootleg robbery, when Van Alden revives him with cocaine in the third episode. Sebso is also, as Van Alden suspects, working for the other side. But it was in the eleventh episode, “Paris Green” (written by playwright/screenwriter Howard Korder), that Van Alden’s true crazy emerged, as he submerged Sebso in front of an African-American congregation.

At the “Boardwalk Empire” panel at the New York Times Arts and Lesiure Weekend on January 9 I asked showrunner Terence Winter if Van Alden was intended to be anti-Semitic.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Van Alden, Terence Winter, Steve Buscemi, Television, Sebso, Prohibition, Paz de la Huerta, Paris Green, Nicky Thompson, New York Times, Michael Shannon, Michael Kenneth Williams, Martin Scorsese, Howard Korder, Gwen Orel, HBO, Green Point, Golden Globes, Charles McGrath, Chalky White, Anti-Semitism, Brooklyn, Boardwalk Empire, Bally's, Atlantic City

Slideshow: Paintings That Hang in the Balance

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Steve Meyer

As you stand in the Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco, you can’t be sure if the figures in Joshua Meyer’s multi-layered oil paintings are emerging toward you or receding away into a complex sea of colors. That lack of certainty suits the artist just fine, as he considers his paintings to reside in “a netherworld, an in-between place of frictions, edges and reactions between different things.”

The 16 paintings by Meyer which make up this show, titled “Everything in Between” and which runs until January 29, exist in stark contrast to the clean, sharp lines of the gallery space with its white walls, blond wood floor and large, loft-like windows overlooking the tony Union Square shopping district.

Meyer explained that it is impossible to make a line when painting with a palette knife, as he has done almost exclusively for the past decade. “I found something intrinsically wrong about brushes. With a knife, you work more spot by spot, moment by moment. It’s about juxtaposition rather than smooth motion,” he said.

View a slideshow of paintings by Joshua Meyer:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yale University, Velasquez, San Francisco, Renee Ghert-Zand, Rembrandt, Painting, Joshua Meyer, Exhibits, Dolby Chadwick Gallery, Cambridge, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design

Pyramid Scheme in Be'er Sheva

By Noam Dvir

Crossposted from Haaretz

Yuval Tebol
Be’er Sheva’s pyramid building, today a decrepit shell of its former self.

Before green construction became a buzz word with architects declaiming the virtues of solar collectors and styled louvers, Israeli architects had already experienced planning for an extreme climate. In the golden age of public construction — the 1950s and 1960s — the Housing Ministry initiated experimental residential projects focused on the sun, wind and rain, or rather protection from them, mostly in desert towns or locales with dramatic topography. Planners were instructed to think outside the box and challenge the familiar and repetitive canon of housing projects.

The “Pyramid” in Be’er Sheva’s Dalet neighborhood is a fascinating example. It was built in the mid-’60s by architects Moshe Lofenfeld and Giora Gamerman, not far from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, then under construction.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Haaretz, Israel, Moshe Lofenfeld, Noam Dvir, Giora Gamerman, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be'er Sheva, Architecture

Pierre Dac, a Humorist in the French Resistance

By Benjamin Ivry

Born André Isaac to an Alsatian Jewish family (his father was a butcher), the French humorist Pierre Dac became an unlikely hero of the French Resistance. After serving in the French army in World War I and being severely wounded — his brother Marcel died on the field of battle — Dac became a performer in Paris cabarets, fleeing to London in 1941 after the Nazi invasion. There he worked for Free France’s Radio Londres, broadcasting bitingly satirical songs with anarchic schoolboy humor, deriding the Waffen SS and the German war machine.

Belying his studious appearance, oddly close to that of the British poet/librarian Philip Larkin, Dac continues to amuse French readers long after his death in 1975 at age 81. In November, a French publisher, Le Cherche Midi éditions published “With My Best Considerations,” a selection of Dac’s japes, to join other titles by Dac recently reprinted by Les éditions du Seuil; Les Presses de la Cité; and Les éditions Omnibus.

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In the Shadow of a Saint

By Anna Hartford

In her final days, in the last letter she sent home, Simone Weil reassured her parents: “You have another source of comfort.” She was referring to her niece, Sylvie Weil. Sylvie — with her myopia, pale complexion and dark, cropped hair — bears an unnerving resemblance to her aunt, and has spent her life battling the impression that she is nothing more than an incompetent forgery of the woman who preceded her. “My identity is not being,” writes Weil; “not being Simone.”

Sylvie Weil’s “At Home With André and Simone Weil” (Northwestern University Press), translated from the French by Forward contributor Benjamin Ivry, traverses Weil’s fraught relationship with her luminous heritage: Her father, André, was a celebrated mathematician whose genius won him the Wolf Prize and, more important to the young Sylvie, exempted him from having to remember useless trivia like the location of the sugar bowl; Her aunt, Simone, was the philosopher and mystic who starved herself to death at the age of 34 and has been worshipped by many as a saint and martyr ever since.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Wolf Prize, Sylvie Weil, Simone Weil, Books, Anna Hartford, André Weil

Is Buchenwald Survivor's Israel Criticism 'Abnormal'?

By Joel Schalit

Getty Images

According to the Israeli government, the 93-year-old Buchenwald survivor is a liar. Decried by French embassy spokesperson Yaron Gamburg for spreading falsehoods about the Jewish state, Stéphane Hessel’s criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians apparently does not correspond with reality. “It is a literary fad which will have no affect on the real world, a pseudo-intellectual phenomenon whose facts have not been verified,” an incensed Gamburg told The Jerusalem Post.

Hessel’s criticism? Statements such as “Jews themselves perpetrating war crimes is intolerable,” in the retired socialist diplomat’s new book, Indignez-Vous! (“Be Indignant,” or “Get Angry”), currently topping France’s best seller list, with over 500,000 copies sold (some sources claim 600,000) since its publication in October of last year. A 30-page pamphlet-equivalent (some sources say it is 12 pages and others that it is 19 and 32), produced by a tiny independent publishing house run by a former Le Monde staffer, Hessel’s book is a rightwing Israeli’s worst nightmare come true.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yaron Gamburg, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Stéphane Hessel, Politics, Mark Knobel, Legion d'Honneur, Le Monde, Joel Schalit, Jerusalem Post, JCal, France, Inidgnez-Vous, Israel, Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France, Buchenwald, Books, Bernard-Henri Levy

Monday Music: God, the Devil, and a Couple of Sheriffs

By Keith Meatto

Courtesy Jeremy Fogel

On the new record by the Israeli quintet Fogel and the Sheriffs, Jesus packs a gun, the Pope is a woman, and the Second Coming occurs in the bedroom. One song calls the Holocaust a “soiree”; another orders a Muslim woman to “put on a burka, baby” to hide her body, from her head to her clitoris. Long before the album’s final song declares, “I was crucified inside my mama’s womb,” the point is clear: nothing is too sacred to satire.

Produced by avant-garde guru John Zorn and released on his Tzadik label, “Exorcism” blends the blues with touches of jazz, punk and klezmer. Despite the superficial shock, these songs are meant as social commentary, not hate speech or blasphemy. The liner notes include a prominent image of a Star of David, quote the prophet Jeremiah, and praise “the High Holy One, Blessed be He, who brought us to life, maintained us alive and led us to this moment! AMEN!” It seems the band has no problem with faith, only with organized religion.

Listen to ‘Bless Me’:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tom Waits, Star of David, Tal Kirshbom, Music, Serge Gainsbourg, Lou Reed, Keith Meatto, Lady Gaga, Jeremiah, Jeremy Fogel, John Zorn, Fogel and the Sheriffs, Exorcism, Erez Frank, Tzadik Records



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