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In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Dan Friedman writes about the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Growing up as a progressive Jew in the North of England, I couldn’t decide whether God was an earnest Divinity of social justice or a Zeus-like Old Testament Man-With-a-Beard. Whichever it was, neither had any hold on me as an angst-y, angry adolescent fan of The Smiths, The Cure and The Wedding Present.
Toward the end of high school, though, I read the poems and “Dark Sonnets” of Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Their intense joy and anguish made theology a real living idea for me. It was eye-opening that the sheer beauty of “The Windhover” with its stunningly evocative: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple- dawn-drawn Falcon,” could co-exist with the despair of “No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief, / More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.”
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week Jake Marmer introduces “The Household Gods” by Richard Chess.
The story of Abraham smashing the idols and questioning his father about their potency is probably the most famous midrash out there. This week’s shul-goers, listening to Parshat Veyetzei, may overlook the tale’s lesser known cousin — Rachel’s encounter with her own parent’s deities. Fortunately, poet and University of North Carolina at Asheville professor Richard Chess saves the day with his midrashic poem “The Household Gods.”
Rather than merely writing off the idols as meaningless fetishes of superstition, Chess gives them life, albeit a peculiar and questionable life. Though empty, it is charged with accidental sparks of human theatrics. It is as if life’s cosmic irony, too big and incomprehensible for the everyday, finds its balance by leaning on the idols’ mute responses. These are surely a hoax but, Chess seems to imply, Rachel and Jacob both know about hoaxes all too well. In the classic tradition of midrash, Chess walks the line between mysticism and deception, reverence and parody.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Elise Bernhardt writes about “A Tale of Love and Darkness” by Amos Oz.
While as a young person I was devoted to “All-of-a-Kind Family” and then all of Elie Wiesel’s oeuvre, I can’t think of a book besides Amos Oz’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness” that has affected me more as an adult. My recollection of the “All-of-a-Kind” is how it painted a kind of idyllic Jewish family environment, one that I really wanted to live in — so cozy, warm, you could almost smell the good cooking coming from their little kitchen, all good deeds and so forth. For me Wiesel provided the absolute counterpoint, all evil and fear and desperation and I was always left wondering “what would I have done.”
“A Tale of Love and Darkness” was an entirely different experience. I think I’d visited Jerusalem three or four times in recent years (not including some odd visits in the ’70s) prior to my reading it. My sense of Jerusalem was the Old City, the Cinemateque, a bit of the German Colony and my friend Beth’s neighborhood in Arnona. All of a sudden I was living in a primitive town, surrounded by old Arab houses or newfangled villages or odd combinations of the two. Resources were scarce, everyone knew everyone, and wild animals were close by.
While Hanukkah preparations and aftermath can overshadow every other human activity in December, ‘tis also the season for classical concerts, especially although by no means exclusively, in the New York area. These can include much Yiddishkayt, despite the seeming omnipresence of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Mahler-lovers will not want to miss the much-loved British conductor Sir Colin Davis leading the New York Philharmonic in performances on December 2, 4, and 7 of Mahler’s orchestral songs, “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Although born in 1927, Sir Colin still conducts with a balletic grace which vivifies everything he interprets.
The journey to paradise is not without its optical illusions. What is enchanting can be hollow, what seems trite may be the doorway to magnificence, and what does not appear worth understanding could contain all of the answers. When engaged in an active dialogue with the world, what was an arid wasteland can become a beautiful oasis.
Such are the intellectual, cultural, and philosophical issues addressed in the eclectic works at the LABALMA PaRDeS Exhibition at New York’s 14th Street Y, which features a range of artistic media including photography, painting, video, and drawing. The exhibit is a collaboration between LABA, a Jewish house of cultural study in New York City whose central mission is to re-examine ancient texts through modern interpretation, and the Alma Home for Hebrew Culture in Tel Aviv. This past year the topic for study was pardes, or paradise, and served as the joint theme for artists in both New York City and Israel.
“For me, this was not about a film. This was about our using our gifts as cantors to create dialogue,” said Cantor Nathan Lam of “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” which will be shown in a one-night event in over 75 theaters nationwide on November 11. The feature-length documentary chronicles the journey in June 2009 of 75 members of the Cantors Assembly and 25 congregational singers to Poland, the birthplace of cantorial music.
Jews lived in Poland for over 1000 years, and over that time Jewish and Polish cultures were intertwined. The cantors decided to return to the land from which their music first sprouted, not only to discover their own roots and witness the places where their family trees were brutally cut off during the Holocaust, but also to reach out to the Polish people by replanting seeds of Jewish culture with the hope that they might grow reconciliation and renewed relationships.
On Monday, Lavie Tidhar wrote about Jewish vampires and Hebrew punks. His new novel, “An Occupation of Angels,” is now available. 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 can be terribly frustrating, writing a book no one wants to buy.
At the same time, it can be a good indication you’re doing something right.
I wrote a book called “Osama.” It will be out next year — but only in a limited-edition format, from a specialist press in the UK called PS Publishing. It’s a prestigious publisher — they also publish Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King, and they seem to like my stuff. But 20 other publishers have so far rejected “Osama” for publication.
My favourite rejection said, “What a great book! However, at my previous employer we got bomb threats in the post, and I don’t want that to repeat here, so…” “However” is the one word you don’t want to hear when you send out a book.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Monica Rozenfeld writes about “”Letters to a Buddhist Jew” by Akiva Tatz and David Gottlieb.
Of all the Jewish books I have read, one that made a big difference in my life is “Letters to a Buddhist Jew.” Its simplistic format of one Buddhist Jew writing to a rabbi he’s never met, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, asks the fundamental question about Judaism: Where is God?
Like many Jews, I find it difficult to pour over ancient texts. We find it difficult to grasp the concept of spirituality in a synagogue. Author David Gottlieb, who first wrote to Rabbi Tatz because his wife was disgruntled with his love for Buddhism, asks all the questions I wanted to ask, but maybe was too scared or too unknowing to do so. Where is God in Judaism? How do we find him? Why isn’t Judaism more accessible? More open? More spiritual?
Crossposted from Haaretz
Eleven sculptures classified as “degenerate art” by Hitler’s Nazis more than 70 years ago went on display at Berlin’s New Museum yesterday after being unearthed at a building site in the city center. Among the surprise finds, which date from the early 20th century, are bronzes by Otto Baum, Marg Moll, Edwin Scharff, Gustav Heinrich Wolff, Naum Slutzky and Karl Knappe; remnants of ceramics by Otto Freundlich and Emy Roeder; and three unidentified sculptures.
They are just some of the 15,000 works the Nazis confiscated from museums and private collections because they were considered “degenerate” — a term Hitler’s regime used to classify most modern art. Some of this art was sold abroad, but much of it was destroyed. Two of the works discovered — Marg Moll’s sculpture entitled “Female Dancer” and Otto Freundlich’s terra-cotta “Head” were featured in the 1941 Nazi propaganda film “Venus on Trial,” in which they served as an example of the kind of “degenerate art” Jewish art dealers sold.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Right on the heels of last week’s post about the relationship of Jews and capitalism comes this cold dose of historical reality: Henry Ford’s claim that the Jews controlled the Federal Reserve Board.
I had known, of course, that the automobile tycoon was no friend of the Jews, but I was unaware that his antipathy ran so deep. But now, thanks to the research of my student Jonathan Robinson, a GW political science major with a keen eye for historical detail, I’m all the wiser.
Over the course of the early 1920s, Ford had spilled a lot of ink railing against the Jews for their embrace of modernity. From his perspective, they had polluted the morals of the nation’s young by introducing them to the movies and to jazz.
When the anti-immigration laws of the early 1920s effectively sealed the gates of the United States to would-be immigrants, the Jews of Eastern Europe who had arrived en masse between 1880 and 1920 could no longer hope to see their loved ones join them in America. Instead, those who could afford to traveled abroad, visiting the cities and towns they had left behind. Often, they brought with them amateur film cameras, which were increasingly popular in the 1920s, to capture the world of their childhoods.
These films are the subject of “16mm Postcards: Home Movies of American Jewish Visitors to 1930s Poland,” a new exhibition at the Yeshiva University Museum in collaboration with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which will have its opening on Tuesday November 9 at New York’s Center for Jewish History.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Aaron Bisman writes about “The White Boy Shuffle” by Paul Beatty.
At 20, on a visit with my Bubbe to the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis, I happened upon a book in the gift shop: “The White Boy Shuffle” by Paul Beatty. I can’t say what attracted me to it, but I picked it up, and have read and re-read it many times since.
“The White Boy Shuffle” is about the discovery of identity within family, historical, geographic, and racial contexts. It is also about the unintended power that comes with leadership and the risks and repercussions that come with it. Sarcastic, poetic, at times bitter and often hilarious, this farce didn’t affect my Jewish journey so much as call it into perspective.
On October 30, the one-man theatrical adaptation of Benny Barbash’s novel “My First Sony” premiered in Seattle with two performances, the first in Hebrew, and the second in English. Performed by Roy Horovitz, the play revolves around Yotam, a precocious 11-year-old who copes with his crumbling family life by recording every painful event on his Sony tape recorder.
Yotam and his family live in Tel Aviv, but the bittersweet misery that they experience is universal. Yotam’s father, Assaf, is a failed playwright and the sort of man who seduces his friends’ wives and cheats even on his mistresses. He treats Yotam with intense affection — he gives him the eponymous tape recorder — as well as utter disgust. He even destroys his son’s first Sony because Yotam is fat.
This year, Gossip Girl introduced at least four new Jewish characters: Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Isaac Mizrahi and Rachel Zoe. There is also the unseen character, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose trans fat ban and restaurant calorie count are presumably what keeps the cast of the show lithe enough to fit into their increasingly ridiculous outfits.
The fact that this sounds suspiciously like the New York we live in — if not the New York we ever get to see — is the biggest problem facing Gossip Girl right now. Since 2007, the show has chronicled the romantic vicissitudes of a group of Upper East Side teenagers and the eponymous gossip website that fuels their jealousies. The characters started out in high school, but they’ve since matriculated to NYU and Columbia, where they regularly threaten to engage in dangerous liaisons with the faculty. While summarizing Gossip Girl’s dizzying number of plots is impossible, the average storyline looks something like this: Couple A is threatened by Intrigue A but survives to reach Intrigue B. They dissolve and separately form couples B and C. Eventually Intrigue C results in the re-constellation of Couple A.
Lavie Tidhar’s most recent book, “An Occupation of Angels,” is now available. 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:
I’ve got a feeling that, years from now, with many novels, novellas, and collections out (I’ll have three novels out just next year, if it’s an indication), when oil becomes scarce and there’ll be a Chinese colony on the moon, I’ll still be that “HebrewPunk” guy.
I should probably explain…
A few years ago, I became irritated enough with fantasy fiction to do something about it. When I get asked about it, I normally say it was the vampires what did it. It used to drive me insane that the underlying assumption of — well, pretty much all — vampire novels and movies, was that Christianity worked.
After all, we all know what vampires are afraid of. Crosses and holy water, right?
Which is strange, and a little uncomfortable, if you happen to be Jewish.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Lisa Silverman writes about “All-of-a-Kind Family” by Sydney Taylor.
It was 1967 and I was ten years old when I read this sentence in a book:
“It was heavenly enough to be able to borrow books from the public library, and that was where the children always went on Friday afternoons.”
Was it possible for a children’s writer to have seen into my world? It indeed was “heavenly” to enter that musty red brick building every Friday afternoon, my 10 allotted books in tow, and my heart racing to see what surprises the shelves would offer me.
The day I took home “All-of-a-Kind-Family,” I had almost finished it by the time my mother pulled into our long, suburban driveway. It had been over a year since I had read “Little House on the Prairie,” and I had certainly been charmed by the delightful pioneer family I encountered there, but that family’s history did not resonate with me. Not so with my new book.
Gaucho’s “Pearl,” released last month on Porto Franco Records and launched at the Jewish Music Festival of Berkeley, Calif., is the perfect accompaniment to a lazy autumn afternoon. Channeling the sounds of 1930s Paris, the San Francisco-based sextet plays the kind of gentle, sometimes-jubilant, sometimes-melancholy swing that doesn’t make you want to get up and dance so much as lie around and reminisce about bygone nights spent carousing. Like the best Gypsy jazz, this music is coyly nostalgic; it masquerades as carefree but leaves you with a mysterious ache.
For their fourth album, Gaucho have teamed up with the New York-based jazz vocalist Tamar Korn, and this collaboration makes for some of the music’s most exciting moments. Korn’s voice is high and girlish, with an uncanny tremor that makes it sound like it’s been lifted directly off of an old record. On the album’s first track, “Sing On,” a mischievous piece written by bandleader Dave Ricketts, Korn trades solo lines with cornetist Leon Oakley. The effect is humorous because Korn is such a good mimic, belting out brassy squawks of her own. (Later, in drummer Pete Devine’s tune “Little Sweetie,” her scat syllables take the form of distinctly feline yowls.) Following saxophone and cornet solos in the group’s jaunty rendition of the jazz standard “Avalon,” Korn sings the melody freely, with big swoops and operatic flourishes, as the drums and bass (Ari Munkres) maintain a brisk, chugging groove underneath.
Listen to ‘Sing On’:
Can Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim create a classical music revival?
Greil Marcus talks about 40 years of writing about Bob Dylan.
An exhibit of Palestinian art opens in Jaffa.
Christopher Glazek rips into Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.”
Leigh Kamping-Carder tells the story of the Mexican Suitcase, a collection of photographs from the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour that got lost in Mexico for almost 70 years.
Ilan Stavans wonders why we can’t escape from Harry Houdini.
Shoshana Olidort reviews Avi Steinberg’s “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.”
Marla Brown Fogelman reviews “The Jews of San Nicandro,” a book about a remote Italian town whose 80-odd inhabitants all converted to Judaism after World War II.
Philologos is on the make.
Is there anything more reprehensible than white-collar crime? Certainly, there are any number of moral offenses that may trump the impulses of rich white men to make themselves even richer. But even the most egregious of these can be rationalized (rightly or wrongly) through psychological profiling and the ascription of some mental disorder or social disease. But piggybacking on the investments of the working people to defraud them and pay yourself a salary in the hundreds of millions of dollars? Rationalize that. Unless the DSM-IV has a listing for “jackass,” these guys are crooks, plain and simple.
As the self-appointed “Sheriff of Wall Street,” Eliot Spitzer did fine work rounding up these overpaid criminals and muscling them into the national spotlight. As New York’s Attorney General, Spitzer exceeded the call of duty, setting his sights not just on local scam and flam artists, but on all kinds of corporate and securities hucksters. He was the brash, two-fisted brawler who knew that the only way to clean up white-collar America was to bust the right skulls. He was a thorn in the side of rich white men hoping to hold themselves above the law and moral responsibility. To others, he was kind of a hero.
Then he had to go and have sex with a couple of prostitutes.
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