The Arty Semite

The Wife Left Behind

By Ezra Glinter

Sketch of Jacob Gorelik by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

On the Yiddish Song of the Week Blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Tunkl brent a fayer” (“A Fire Burns Dimly”), a song about an agune, a woman who was abandoned by her husband but cannot remarry:

[Jacob (Yankev) Gorelik] sang “Tunkl brent a fayer” (“A Fire Burns Dimly”) in his apartment in the “Chelsea hayzer” (Penn South), on 7th Avenue and 25th Street in Manhattan, circa 1985. This song about an agune, a women who was abandoned by her husband, is part of a genre of agune songs in Yiddish. Chaim Grade’s Yiddish novel “The Agunah” (translated in English with that title) depicts the complexity of dealing with the agune, and the rabbinic disagreements over when to declare the woman free to remarry.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish Song of the Week, Yiddish, Sidor Belarsky, Music, Penn South, Jacob Gorelik, Itzik Gottesman, Chaim Grade, Agunah, Agune

Out and About: True Grit's Oscar Chances; Bullet-Stopping Books

By Ezra Glinter

  • Jewcy talks to novelist Myla Goldberg.

  • At Tablet, Leil Leibovitz eulogizes Israeli comic actor Yosef Shiloach.

Getty Images

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Witz, True Grit, Out and About, Oscars, Myla Goldberg, Leil Leibovitz, Khan Sharonim, Joshua Cohen, Joseph Brodsky, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Adam Kirsch, Yosef Shiloach

Israel's Funniest Home Videos

By Gili Izikovich

Crossposted from Haaretz

Tal Rosenthal sits lazily in front of a TV, indifferent to the scolding of the actress playing his mother and completely ignoring the woman portraying his grandmother. But the contents of the skit — for a new show produced by Rosenthal and his writing partner Noam Sharon — are actually far less interesting than the story behind it all. The “mother” Rosenthal is slighting, it turns out, is Sharon’s dental hygienist; his “grandmother” is his real mother; and the set is his home.

Daniel Tchetchik

And this setup isn’t so rare for Rosenthal and Sharon. Their series “Meter Shivim” (one meter, 70 centimeters ) — which premiers tomorrow on Bip’s Channel 2 — is one big improvisational show, a sort of developed amateur hour. They managed to enlist friends, family members, people they’ve happened to meet and even celebrities who agreed to participate in the show before even one frame was aired. The two partners taught themselves how to use home editing software and honed their talents on other programs, in order to produce certain effects and improve those shots filmed without lighting and under minimal conditions. And they conducted all of these tasks on their personal computers.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Television, Tal Rosenthal, Noam Sharon, Meter Shivim, Israel, Haaretz, Gili Izikovich, Comedy

Author Imre Kertész Enriches Western Culture

By Benjamin Ivry

Parkinson’s disease has not deterred the octogenarian Hungarian Jewish Nobel Prize winner Imre Kertész from literary productivity. Adding to justly-praised books such as “Fatelessness,” “Kaddish for an Unborn Child,” and “Detective Story,” still available from Vintage Books, in October Kertész’s French publisher Les éditions Actes Sud released a new translation of “A Galley Slave’s Diary” (Gályanapló in the original Hungarian, first published in 1992).

Capturing the novelist’s meditations from 1961 to 1991, “A Galley Slave’s Diary” fascinatingly gauges the writer’s emotional and spiritual concerns, as he produces works which earned him 2002’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Born into a Hungarian Jewish family in 1929, he was deported to Auschwitz at age fourteen, and later returned to East Europe. In 1991 Kertész notes that what saved him from imitating Western European authors who were Holocaust survivors and later suicides, such as Paul Celan, Jean Améry, and Primo Levi, is that by living under Eastern bloc tyranny, Kertész essentially “continued [his] prisoner’s life,” with no postwar hopes to disappoint.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Simone Weil, Primo Levi, Paul Celan, Jean Améry, Imre Kertész, Arnold Toynbee, Emil Cioran, Antal Szerb

Being the 'Kvetch' Guy

By Michael Wex

On Monday, Michael Wex wrote about the birth of his idea for his new novel “The Frumkiss Family Business.” 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’s nothing to complain about, really. Ever since word got out that I’m supposed to know something about Yiddish, I’ve been receiving scores of e-mails every week. Most are very nice; someone has read something that I’ve written and wants to let me know that they’ve enjoyed it. Some of the correspondents even enclose their own stories about specific Yiddish words or phrases, reminiscences of things that their parents or grandparents used to say.

These are good. Now that snail mail from anybody but billing departments and lawyers is pretty much a thing of the past, e-mails of this type help to give authors the feeling that they haven’t been working in vain.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish, The Frumkiss Family Business, Michael Wex, My Jewish Learning, Jewish Book Council, Books, Author Blog Series

Notes From the Tour Bus

By Karen Loew


How can young people’s first experiences of Israel be at once profound and revelatory, yet predictable and banal? This conundrum was well in place before 2000, when Taglit-Birthright Israel began offering free 10-day trips to Israel to qualifying diasporists aged 18 to 26. But the Birthright machine mass-produces the phenomenon — and now showcases it in the new book, “What We Brought Back: Jewish Life After Birthright” (Toby Press).

Over 30 selections, Birthright’s alumni (numbering some 200,000, they spawned the organization Birthright Israel NEXT, which co-sponsored the book’s production) reveal the high and low points of their sojourns abroad, and examine their religio-Zionist identities before and after. Men and women, straight and gay: Most came home reinvigorated as Jews. The book isn’t just propaganda for Birthright, however.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: What We Brought Back, Western Wall, Toby Press, Taglit, Nextbook, Masada, Karen Loew, Galil, Birthright Israel NEXT, Books, Birthright

Classical Rediscoveries for the New Year

By Benjamin Ivry

World War II delayed the just appreciation of many wonderful Jewish composers, such as Mieczyslaw Weinberg, a Russian composer who died in 1996. Trio Voce, a gifted piano trio, has nimbly recorded Weinberg’s multifaceted Trio, Op. 24 on Con Brio Recordings, bringing out the composer’s attachment to the works of J. S. Bach.

Viktor Ullmann, a Silesia-born composer of Jewish origin, was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, and is now sufficiently recorded that listeners — as with increasing numbers of excellent composers whose lives and music were blotted out by the Holocaust — may admire him for his talent, not merely out of dutiful sympathy. A 1997 performance, newly released on CD from Hänssler Classic, of Ullmann’s work for narrator and piano, “The Lay of the Love and Death of the Flagbearer Christoph Rilke” teams the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau — a mighty actor as well as singer — with the spiky, uncompromising pianism of Hartmut Höll. Ullmann’s work sets a text by Rainer Maria Rilke about his 17th century ancestor who died in battle, thereby expressing the dangers of war as an oft-fatal initiation rite, as indeed it turned out to be for Ullmann.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yizhak Schotten, Trio Voce, Viktor Ullmann, Srul Irving Glick, Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Mendelssohn, Lionel Tertis, Leon Kirchner, J.S. Bach, Jacob Gilboa, Ieva Jokubaviciute, Hartmut Höll, Fritz Kreisler, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Cho-Liang Lin

Slideshow: The Pen That Satirized the Sword

By Joel Schechter

Louvre Studio
Arthur Szyk in Paris.

To see the splendid new exhibit of caricatures and miniature drawings by Polish-born Jewish illustrator Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), on view until March 27 at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, you first have to walk through several galleries of religious paintings devoted to Christian saints, Madonnas with child, and Christ on the cross. Szyk’s pictures also introduce religious themes, but his portraits of martyrs and Jewish heroes are often less reverential than those in the museum’s adjoining rooms.

Szyk has no respect for the tyrants who oppress Jews. In a drawing titled “Valhalla” he satirically portrays Hitler and Mussolini as beer hall waiters serving rowdy Nazi soldiers, one of whom tramples a prostrate Jew. “De profundis,” a more startling 1943 pen and ink response to Nazi cruelty, depicts Christ holding the Ten Commandments atop a pile of war victims, many of them Jewish. A Torah and yarmulkes on bearded heads can be seen among the fallen. Ornately lettered words above the tumbled mass of men, women and children ask: “Cain, where is Abel thy brother?”

View a slideshow of images by Arthur Szyk:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: San Francisco, Pablo Picasso, Nazis, Mussolini, Legion of Honor, League of Nations, Joel Schechter, Joan of Arc, Irvin Ungar, Holocaust, Hitler, Haggadah, Exhibits, Collier's, Canterbury Tales, Arthur Szyk, Arabian Nights, Anderson's Fairy Tales, Thomas Jefferson, Valhalla, Visual Art

Getting to the Bottom of Show Business

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Much has been written of late about the ways in which celebrated American musicals such as “Oklahoma” or “South Pacific” carry considerable Jewish freight. While most audiences come away humming rather than thinking, the American musical, many scholars suggest, is actually where American Jewish playwrights, lyricists, choreographers and designers set to rights their relationship to America.

But what of those on the other side of the footlights: the audience? I’ve always wondered what accounted for the longstanding affinity that so many American Jews, as well as their European counterparts, have had for the theater and the arts in general. Was this an accident of history? An artifact of demography? Or a deliberate strategy of modernization?

A recent article in the real estate section of The New York Times provides something of an answer.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theater, South Pacific, Oklahoma, New York Times, Neighborhood Playhouse, New York, Musicals, Lillian Wald, Louis Abrons Arts for Living Center, Lower East Side, Jenna Weissman Joselit, Henry Street Settlement, Irene Lewisohn, Hebrew Technical School for Girls, From Under the Fig Tree, Alice Lewisohn, Adolph Lewisohn

Monday Music: Gabriele Coen's Anxious 'Awakening'

By Eileen Reynolds

Courtesy Gabriele Coen

Gabriele Coen’s “Awakening” is a dark, moody collection of pieces built around complex, syncopated rhythms and long, spinning melodies in minor modes. Coen and his band mates are clearly accomplished jazz musicians, and together they produce moments of understated elegance. But don’t think of playing this album at your next cocktail party — your guests would likely take their conversations into another room. This is music that not only demands active listening, but also seems designed to engender anxiety.

The album’s title track, which clocks in at over eight minutes, alternates between high tension and relative calm without ever building to a particularly cathartic climax. It starts with a chaotic drum fill accompanied by improvised squeaks and blats from Coen’s saxophone before settling into a rhythmic groove laid down by the bass.

Listen to ‘Awakening’:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Simone Hagiag, Music, Luca Coponi, Klezmer, Jazz, Gabriele Coen, Eileen Reynolds, Carl Jung, Benny Penazzi, Tzadik Records

Birth of a Family Business

By Michael Wex

Michael Wex is the author of “Born to Kvetch,” and the new novel “The Frumkiss Family Business.” 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:

A couple of years ago, Diane Martin, an editor at Knopf Canada, told me a story about an acquaintance of hers, a Jewish man living with a gentile woman who had become so fascinated with her partner’s cultural background that she had taken the plunge and converted to Judaism a couple of weeks earlier.

While the man had no ideological objections to a decision that could do nothing but make his parents, if not happy, at least happier than they had been about his relationship, he was concerned with a far more fundamental problem. According to Diane, he took his wallet from his pocket — he was a writer and Diane was his editor — flipped the photo holder open and showed Diane a picture of a California blonde in a bikini. “She doesn’t look hot to me anymore.” Whatever this couple’s relationship had been, it owed too much to the woman’s forbidden quality, her psychic role as bacon and eggs in briefs and a bra, to survive her passage into kashrus. The man was alienated by the idea of a woman who wasn’t an alien and the couple split up not long afterwards.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish, The Frumkiss Family Business, My Jewish Learning, Michael Wex, Knopf Canada, Jewish Book Council, Diane Martin, Born to Kvetch, Author Blog Series, Books

So You Think You Can Choreograph?

By Elad Samorzik

Crossposted from Haaretz

Every young dance artist striving to establish himself as a choreographer dreams of the moment when the manager of a theater or cultural institution offers him funding and a framework to produce a full-length work. This is exactly what happened to Anat Yaffe after Emmanuel Witzthum saw a short duet she created. The artistic director of Maabada (The Lab), a performing arts center in Jerusalem, spotted an unusual talent in Yaffe and invited her to create a full-length piece as part of a new program to encourage young artists in Jerusalem.

Daniel Tchetchik

For Yaffe, however, her response to this offer was not entirely obvious.

“I deliberated for a long time,” she acknowledges. “First of all because I really like to dance in pieces created by others, to be the simple laborer who does their best within the framework of what is asked. And on the creative side, I like to work at my own pace. Suddenly there was talk of putting together a performance to fill an entire evening, with a deadline and a commitment.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Haaretz, Emmanuel Witzthum, Elad Samorzik, Dance, Anat Yaffe, Maabada, The Lab

Out and About: Palestinian National Orchestra Debuts; Allen Ginsberg's 'Kaddish' at 50

By Ezra Glinter

‘Apocalyptic Landscape,’ 1912, by Jakob Steinhardt. Courtesy of the Israel Museum.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: jakob Steinhardt, Yiddish Book Center, Red Sea Festival, Paul Buhle, Out and About, Palestinian National Orchestra, Kaddish, Israel Museum, Iran, Henry Kissinger, Harold Seletsky, Allen Ginsberg

This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuli Margolin, This Week in Forward Arts and Culture, Kodachrome

Gershom Scholem's Brother

By Jay Geller

Many years ago, while researching German supporters of Holocaust reparations, I went in search of information on the social-democratic politician Kurt Schumacher. I found what I was looking for, but right next to Schumacher’s listing in an encyclopedia was a surprise: “Scholem, Werner, * 29.12.1895 Berlin, † 17.7.1940 KZ Buchenwald; konfessionslos.”

Carl Weinrother
Police search German Communist headquarters, February 23, 1933.

It was Gershom Scholem’s brother.

In the 1920s, when Gershom was still a little-known scholar working as a librarian, his brother Werner had already achieved international fame — and infamy — as the enfant terrible of German politics. He was elected to the Reichstag twice before he turned 29. When a group of Jewish intellectuals took over the German Communist Party in 1924, Werner joined the Central Committee and became head of the party’s internal organization.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Nazis, Kurt Schumacher, Josef Stalin, Holocaust, Gershom Scholem, Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, Reichstag, SS, Trotsky, Werner Scholem, Zinoviev

Emerging Artist: Tanya Fredman's Talmudic Vision

By Rukhl Schaechter

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

Courtesy Tanya Fredman

Last month, New York’s central Jewish education agency changed its name, and is now celebrating its new identity with a fascinating exhibit of a fresh new Jewish artist and art educator.

The exhibit, hosted by the Jewish Education Project (formerly the Board of Jewish Education of New York) until May 23, is called “The Art of Seeing,” and features the work of Tanya Fredman, a 25-year-old native of St. Louis, Mo., whose oil paintings, portraits and collages depict an unusual blend of cross-cultural diversity and Talmudic study.

At the exhibit’s opening on December 9, Fredman explained that she gets deep satisfaction from directing community-wide art projects, using art as a form of expression and as a tool for uniting people of different cultures.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish, Visual Art, Yemin Orde Youth Village, The Art of Seeing, Tanya Fredman, St. Louis, Rwanda, Rukhl Schaechter, Painting, Jewish Education Project, Midreshet Harova, Forverts, Exhibits, Drisha, Brandeis University, Board of Jewish Education, Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

Green Fields Brings Folk Music to Graze in Israel

By Riva Gold

Crossposted from Haaretz

Sagi Eiland

Looking to rekindle your youth?

This New Year’s Day, Israeli folk trio Green Fields hopes to help you do just that in a special concert in Tel Aviv.

Moni Arnon and Suzi Miller from the famed 1970s group Brothers and Sisters have teamed up with guitarist Sagi Eiland to perform their favorite childhood folk music.

Under the banner Days of Innocence from the ’50s and ’60s in the U.S., the trio has traveled down the length of Israel to share with the audience American folk songs from the early McCarthy era to the days of Bob Dylan.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Israel, Haaretz, Green Fields, Folk Music, Bob Dylan, Music, Riva Gold, Tel Aviv

Forward Fives: 2010 in Performance

By Forward Staff

In this, the second annual Forward Fives selection, we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in film, music, theater, exhibitions and books. Here we present five of the most important Jewish performances of 2010. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

Hapless Hooligan in ‘Still Moving’

What happens when you put a prominent modern dance company in a room with one of the great innovators of the graphic novel? The answer in this case was “Hapless Hooligan,” a collaboration between Pilobolus Dance Theater and Art Spiegelman, creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” series. Premiering this past July at the Joyce Theater, the vaudeville-esque piece included an animated sequence based on Spiegelman’s drawings, which was projected onto a backdrop for the dancers to interact with. Though somewhat unorthodox, “Hapless Hooligan” was a creative gamble that paid off.

Read the Forward’s review of ‘Hapless Hooligan in Still Moving’ here.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theater J, Theater, Sid Silver, Shakespeare in the Park, Public Theater, Pilobolus, Performances, Nick Cave, Next Wave, Meyer Levin, Metamorphosis, Maus, Merchant of Venice, Mandy Patinkin, Kafka, Imagining Madoff, Hapless Hooligan, Gregor Samsa, Forward Fives 2010, Forward Fives, Deborah Margolin, Bernard Madoff, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dance, Compulsion, Berkeley Repertory Theater, Art Spiegelman, Anne Frank, Al Pacino, Yale Repertory Theater

Forward Fives: 2010 in Exhibitions

By Forward Staff

In this, the second annual Forward Fives selection, we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in film, music, theater, exhibitions and books. Here we present five of the most important Jewish exhibitions of 2010. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.

Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism

Like any good retrospective, the Jewish Museum’s display of 32 pieces of art from the past 50 years makes an argument for their continued relevance. Instead of focusing on a single artist, however, “Shifting the Gaze” shows how the entire question of Jewish gender identity and its artistic expression is still very much with us. Featuring works by artists such as Judy Chicago, Joan Semmel and Deborah Kass, the exhibit illustrates how feminist ideas have challenged conventions in the art world and have resulted in thought-provoking new works.

Read the Forward’s review of ‘Shifting the Gaze’ here.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Union Square, Sukkah City, South Africa, Skirball Center, Shifting the Gaze, Maira Kalman, Judy Chicago, Joshua Foer, Joan Semmel, Jewish Museum, Independence Mall, Institute of Contemporary Art, Exhibits, Forward Fives, Forward Fives 2010, Deborah Kass, David Goldblatt, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Apartheid

When Is a Chair Not a Chair?

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz

A line of nine chairs greets the visitor to the exhibition “A chair is a chair is a chair” at the Paradigma design gallery in Tel Aviv. For a moment it seems as if they were placed there as part of a children’s game of “musical chairs.”


The fact that these are not standard chairs contributes to the feeling of a game, but above all this feeling stems from the fact that it is clear that the chairs are not meant to be mass produced, but rather are experimental objects whose morphology those who designed them wish to investigate, even if this is at the expense of comfort or utility. This is also true of the other chairs on display at the exhibition — 17 in all.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Visual Art, Tel Aviv, Sculpture, Paradigma, Haaretz, Exhibits, Design, Yuval Saar

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