“What did you expect? Walking skeletons in striped pajamas and yellow stars?” says the Nazi Commandant to his Red Cross visitors in dramatist Juan Mayorga’s haunting play “Way to Heaven” (“Himmelweg”), now playing at the Repertorio Espanol-Gramercy Arts Theater through January 27.
Well, yes, that was exactly what I expected, knowing that the play’s central theme is Theresienstadt, the notorious Nazi transit camp in Czechoslovakia.
In fact, it is the absence of Jewish “skeletons,” barbed wire, guard dogs and death — all the usual motifs of Nazi barbarity — that makes “Way to Heaven” so compelling.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Here’s an idea for a wonderful festival of new Israeli jazz: Bring together under one roof all (or most) of the local musicians who have put out albums in recent years under the New York label Tzadik Records. In the past 10 years, Tzadik — the company owned by avant-garde composer/musician John Zorn, high priest of the fascinating downtown Manhattan jazz scene — has recorded several of Israel’s most creative musicians.
The imaginary festival, which could be called Tzadikim and would hopefully take place in Tel Aviv rather than New York, would feature performances by saxophonist Daniel Zamir (who helped arouse Zorn’s enthusiasm for Israeli music more than a decade ago), singer Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, guitarist Eyal Maoz, the band Pisuk Rahav (which performed last week in Tel Aviv, and gave people a taste of its complex/wild potential), guitarist Ori Dakari, saxophonist Uri Gurvich and pianist Alon Nechushtan. Zorn himself would, of course, be a guest performer on saxophone; maybe he’d even bring with him to Israel some of the wonderful musicians who regularly play with him and who left an indelible impression when they played in Tel Aviv three years ago.
The Arty Semite contributor Christopher DeWolf profiles Hong Kong’s Rabbi Asher Oser and looks at the city’s Jewish history.
The Jewish Chronicle talks to actor Elliott Gould.
VICE Magazine talks to author Sam Lipsyte.
“Lipstikka,” an already-controversial film by Israeli director Jonathan Sagall, will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.
Anselm Kiefer’s latest exhibit carries a special message for Jews.
“Casino Jack,” the Jack Abramoff biopic starring Kevin Spacey, opens today. Read our review from the Toronto International Film Festival here.
Joshua Furst bugs out at an Icelandic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” featuring music by Nick Cave.
Jo-Ann Mort reads through two of the Arab world’s pre-eminent poets.
Gordon Haber investigates one of New York’s biggest wheeler-dealers.
Philologos tests the waters.
With stadium seating and the scent of fresh popcorn in the air, the November 21 screening of “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai” could have taken place in any shopping mall cinema in the world. But there was nothing ordinary about the film itself, which is China’s first homegrown Jewish movie, and an animated one at that.
“Other Jewish film festivals are avoiding this like the plague,” said Howard Elias, the founder of the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, which screened the movie as part of its 11th edition. “I’m showing it for the novelty. It’s not anti-Semitic — in fact, it’s pro-Semitic, in its own perverse way.”
Directed by Wang Genfa and Zhang Zhenhui, and based on a graphic novel by Wu Lin, “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai” is set during World War II. It tells the story of two children, Rena and Mishailli, who flee Europe after their father goes missing and their mother is abducted by Nazis. They find their way to Shanghai, which at the time was one of the few places in the world that would accept Jewish refugees, despite being occupied by the Nazi-allied Japanese.
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Di fishelekh in vaser” (“The Fish in Water”) by Isaac Rymer:
“Di fishelekh in vaser” (“The Fish in Water”) was one of Isaac (Tsunye) Rymer‘s most beloved songs to perform (for more on Rymer see the previous posting on “Shpilt zhe mir dem nayem sher”). The performer Michael Alpert learned it from him (Alpert was present at this recording, done at a zingeray, or singing session, at our dining room table) and then taught others the song at KlezKamp and other festivals and workshops. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and Shtreiml have recorded Rymer‘s version.
The song itself is a typical Yiddish mother-daughter folksong (see Robert Rothstein “The Mother-Daughter Dialogue in the Yiddish Folk Song: Wandering Motifs in Time and Space,” New York Folklore 15 (1989), 1-2:51-65.) But the couplet “I am a girl with understanding, common sense and ideas/I sought to fall in love (or have a love affair), but cannot attain it” is unique to this song.
In a bid to shape which Jewish documentaries find an audience, the Foundation for Jewish Culture announced the recipients of the Lynn and Jules Kroll Fund for Documentary Film on December 15. The $140,000 grant (split between five recipients) enables filmmakers, considered to be expanding the understanding of Jewish experience, to reach a wider audience.
This year’s winners included Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s “The Law in These Parts,” a chronicle of Israel’s 43-year-long military legal system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Nancy D. Kates’s “Regarding Susan Sontag,” an examination of a revered thinker through archival images and interviews; “Joann Sfar Draws From Memory,” Sam Ball’s portrait of the celebrated graphic novelist; “Numbered,” directed by Dana Doron and Uriel Sinai, addressing the internal and external scars of Holocaust survivors; and “The Hangman,” directed by Netalie Braun and Avigail Sperber, the story of Israel from the perspective of a marginalized Yemeni prison warden.
A group of Jewish artists digging deep into Jewish writing and turning it into theater is trying to bring something fresh and smart to the table.
Billing itself as “New York’s first Jewish theater company dedicated to Sabbath-observant artists,” 24/6 launched on December 11 with an evening of short plays called “Sabbath Variations: The Splendor of Space” at The Sixth Street Community Synagogue. The performance consisted of five short plays, followed by a discussion of the life and work of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose writings inspired the company.
Artistic Directors Jesse Freedman, Yoni Oppenheim and Avi Soroka organized the company in May. They began inviting artists to work with them, and to envision what a Jewish theatre company would look like.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces the poetry of Samuel Menashe. This piece originally appeared on December 5, 2003, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Every death before mine
Absorbed, builds the bone
Of a skeleton, my own,
Flesh shall not confine
Long enough to suit me —
I wish I had the time
Of a redwood tree
— Samuel Menashe
Born in New York in 1925, Samuel Menashe enlisted in the Army in 1943 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In 1950, he received a doctorat d’universite from the Sorbonne, though he has always lived as a poet — never as part of the academic-poet world. In a time of 24-hour news and trash celebrities, no living poet could be said to be famous, but within the literary world, Menashe is becoming famous for his obscurity. Every recent introduction to his work reflects on this painful fact, including a profile in The New York Times that appeared a few months ago.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The curtain rises on a teen in a wheelchair, an escort beside him. Evyatar Banai’s song “Yesh Li sikui” (“I have a Chance” ) plays in the background. The teen says: “I’m standing here today, but not everyone is standing with me; there are some who are different.”
Very soon the audience watching the performance of “Na Lashevet” (“Please be Seated”) understands that the intention is not to arouse pity, but also not to make them feel comfortable.
An actor on a wheelchair suddenly bursts onto the stage and shouts: “Hello, hello! What is all this nonsense? Clear the stage! You,” he indicates the musician, “stop playing your whining songs. Lights, put on more lights! If any of you expected a performance with violins, moments of poetry and feeling - sorry, you’ll be disappointed. There won’t be any dribbling children with a melancholy look. So swallow your saliva. Those of you who can, relax in your chairs, whether they’re mechanized or not. We’re starting!”
From the celebrated to the marginalized, from the heat of a summer antiwar protest to the searing cold of a Windy City winter, Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has been capturing unique, often strikingly ironic images for more than six decades. Thirty two of them, including pictures of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin and Marlon Brando, are currently in display in an exhibit titled “That Was Then” at Chicago’s Thomas Masters Gallery through December 23.
There’s a picture of writer Nelson Algren — who Shay photographed over a 10-year period — waiting for a bus on a rainy Chicago street in 1949. (A Shay photo of Algren graces the jacket of his 1956 novel “A Walk on the Wild Side,” and Shay’s famous shot of Algren’s lover, Simone de Beauvoir, fresh out of a bath, is the subject of a book to be published in Paris next year.)
Crossposted from Haaretz
The singer Karen Malka appears to be on friendly terms with mother nature. Her new album “Eshet Hayearot” (“Lady of the Forest”) is, as its name implies, replete with references to rivers, flowers, earth, grass — and always with a feeling of cosmic harmony. But the weather conspired against Malka on Sunday, as the biggest storm of the year raged on the very day of her debut performance.
It’s not fair. Had Malka been a veteran performer, never mind; but this is her first album. She has worked for years to reach this point in her career. And then, suddenly, the heavens opened up and quite a few people who had planned to watch her show stayed home instead, leaving the venue very sparsely populated.
Gitai’s 2009 film Carmel featured French actress Jeanne Moreau (star of a recent Gitai staging of a play inspired by Josephus’s “Jewish War”) reading authentic letters written by Efratia Gitai, the filmmaker’s late mother, about life in early Israel. On October 29, Jeanne Moreau read more of these letters onstage at Paris’s Théâtre de l’Odéon. Two weeks before, Les éditions Gallimard published “Efratia Gitai: Correspondence 1929-1994” edited by Gitai’s wife Rivka, illustrated by family photos which are rich in drama and narrative power, resembling film stills. Efratia writes:
If life is just a stage and a play, it’s good to perform as well as possible, alongside talented actors!
Small wonder Gitai became a filmmaker.
The Babylonian Talmud counsels that at times of bitterest cold, it is best to say, “Such is the way of the world,” and then “observe eight days of festivity.” One such ideal post-winter solstice festivity for Manhattanites is a January 11 Carnegie Hall recital by America’s sweetheart of song, soprano Renée Fleming, in a program of German Jewish composers of art songs, including Arnold Schoenberg, Alexander Zemlinsky, and the ever-schmaltzy Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Another German Jewish contemporary of these masters, Kurt Weill, is honored on January 25-26 with Collegiate Chorale concert performances of the 1938 musical “Knickerbocker Holiday” at Alice Tully Hall. Starring Victor Garber, a beloved Canadian performer of Russian Jewish ancestry, as Governor Peter Stuyvesant, “Knickerbocker Holiday” is noteworthy — even apart from the immortal melody “September Song” — for its disconnection between Weill, who saw the work, set in colonial New Amsterdam, as anti-fascist allegory, and playwright/lyricist Maxwell Anderson, who intended it as a screed against then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Heidi Latsky, head of Heidi Latsky Dance and creator of The Gimp Project is about to end her one-year artist-in-residency at the JCC in Manhattan. After months of rehearsals, workshops with everyone from preschoolers to seniors, and tidbit performances in the lobby and other spaces in the JCC building, Latsky‘s final offering is “IF: A Work in Two Parts.”
The first piece features Ms. Latsky, Jeffery Freeze and Suleiman Rifai, a professional dancer who is also blind. The movements are slow and deliberate. At first, the three move separately, standing at different levels, before Ms. Latsky finds her way to a wall where she meets Mr. Rifai. The wall becomes an inseparable part of the performance as the dancers interact with it and each other. The piece, however, is an internal exploration and not a fully formed work. When Ms. Latsky finally breaks out into solo movement, which was later revealed as a complete improvisation, it is a welcome relief from the stillness and tension.
Crossposted from Haaretz
After a long cinematic silence, Assi Dayan is back, directing a black comedy about a psychiatrist who rents out his apartment to patients who want to commit suicide. On the set, one of the most important Israeli filmmakers, the hero of whose new film is a very intelligent individual, describes a story of missed opportunity.
Dr. Pomerantz hangs up the telephone. He has called the police to the Tel Aviv street where he lives. Someone has jumped from his apartment, on the 12th floor, and his corpse is lying on the sidewalk. The balcony of the apartment is seen behind him. The doorbell rings. Pomerantz, his shock of hair disheveled and wearing a faded, buttoned shirt that does not manage to conceal a sloping potbelly, hastens to the front door and opens it wide.
Sotheby’s New York sale of important Judaica, an annual event featuring ceremonial metalwork, manuscripts and printed books, takes place this year on December 15. Leading the auction are a pair of Italian-made silver Torah finials belonging to Sha’ar HaShamayim, the Great Synagogue of Gibraltar. Other items such as 15th-century Torah scroll from Poland are also for auction.
Thought to be made in Turin, the finials date from 1780 to 1820, around the time of the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1782), when Spain attempted to re-conquer the peninsula from England. During the siege, many members of the congregation took refuge in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy. Similar finials, also of Torinesi make, can be found today in the Comunità Ebraica in Florence, Italy, and in New York’s Jewish Museum.
I’ve always had a deep appreciation for bluegrass. A form of Southern mountain music in overdrive, bluegrass coalesced in the late 1940s when Kentucky mandolinist and singer Bill Monroe, who had previously played old-time country and Appalachian music in a duo with his brother Charlie, formed a band called the Blue Grass Boys. The band really took off and defined its sound — and the sound of bluegrass as a genre — when Monroe recruited guitarist and singer Lester Flatt and innovative banjo player Earl Scruggs.
My problem with bluegrass is that a large part of its repertoire is built around gospel songs that tend to preach a kind of fundamentalist Christianity. Traditional white gospel music tends to be about having one’s soul saved through Jesus. It can get pretty tedious for a nice Jewish boy like me to listen to a lot of those kinds of songs. (Traditional African-American gospel music, on the other hand, tends to be more about Bible stories, and good stories are intrinsically interesting.)
There are a number of great Jewish bluegrass musicians — including the likes of Andy Statman, Barry Mitterhoff, Mark Rubin, Bob Yellin and Eric Weissberg — and there is a fabulous band called the Klezmer Mountain Boys, led by clarinetist Margot Leverett, which blends klezmer and bluegrass. But I’ve never really heard any Jewish counterparts to bluegrass gospel songs — until now, that is.
Crossposted from Haaretz
In October 1981 Italian composer Luigi Nono was commissioned to write a piece for the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music. Those were stormy days for Poland. It was the year Wojciech Jaruzelski rose to power, imposed martial law and became a dictator; to protest his actions, the Solidarity movement was formed by Lech Walesa in the shipyards of Gdansk.
Everyone knew where Nono’s heart lay. An advocate for human rights, an anti-fascist and one of the biggest humanists of his generation — who had become one of Europe’s greatest composers of the post-World War II era by the time he died in 1990 — he composed a piece called “Quando Stanno Morendo” (When They Are Dying ) for four female voices, cello and live electronic music, a work that was entirely a protest against the oppression taking place in Poland.
Is Adam Sandler’s next movie going to be about parking cars?
Russian Jewish oligarch Roman Abramovich needs an entire island to house his art collection.
Read an exerpt of Alfred Kazin’s journals, to be published this spring by Yale University Press.
Michael Chabon has been elected director of The MacDowell Colony.
How enigmatic Israeli music icon Ofra Haza became a breakout hit on British pirate radio.