Earlier this week, Avi Steinberg wrote about Kafka in Tel Aviv and shared a horribly embarrassing memo. His first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” was just released. 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:
Winter Fridays in Jewish day school were the moments that made you proud to be of Israelite stock. I speak, of course, of early dismissal. Shabbes starts early, really early, and so the school day ends up being just a class or two in the morning — and one of those classes is Hebrew, which totally doesn’t count. For the uninitiated, Hebrew class in Jewish schools, at least where I went, is taught by some churlish Israeli mom who reeks of cigarette smoke and has neither the qualification nor the slightest inclination to teach the language. Typically, she would use Friday’s early dismissal as an excuse to whip out the accordion and have a sing-a-long.
I mention this by way of introduction. While I cannot offer you an accordion sing-a-long, I will, in honor of the great Jewish tradition of early Friday dismissal, be relatively brief.
Last August, during President Obama’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard, a protest erupted over a T-shirt being sold at the SunStations shop in Oak Bluffs that portrayed Obama as Moe, Vice President Joe Biden as Larry, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Curly. The caption read: “The REAL Stooges.”
The storeowner said no malice was intended, and pointed to other shirts in the shop that praise the President. For us, however, there was no need to explain, as we see the comparison as complimentary. After all, the Three Stooges, who are being honored on December 13 at the Three Stooges Film Festival in Albany, as well as in a forthcoming Three Stooges Movie, were pioneering geniuses of comedy.
“Weimar Cinema, 1919–1933: Daydreams and Nightmares,” running at MoMA until March 7, 2011, is billed as the largest-ever retrospective of German cinema from between the Wars to be shown in the United States. The era’s defining cinematic style, expressionism, is well-represented in dozens of offerings, giving a healthy dose of the atmospheric, disturbing and downright spooky in classics like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “M,” “Nosferatu,” “Vampyr” and “Waxworks.”
But alongside these seminal works, the 75-film retrospective — created with assistance from the F.W. Murnau Foundation in Wiesbaden and the German Kinematek in Berlin — also highlights lesser-known and in some cases downright impossible-to-find fare, such as the surviving early comedies to which Billy Wilder lent his talents as screenwriter (see the 1930 ménage à trois musical “A Blonde’s Dream”).
On December 13, the museum will screen the impossible-to-find silent version of “Fräulein Else,” adapted from the revolutionary novella by Arthur Schnizler and directed by Paul Czinner. Schnitzler’s slim volume, written in a breathless interior monologue, tells of a young woman who consents to appear naked before the benefactor who is willing to save her father from financial ruin.
Crossposted from Haaretz
For a moment it seemed that the Bezalel Art Academy had decided to back down: shelving a plan to build a new campus in the center of Jerusalem, developed by an international team of architects which won a design competition five years ago.
For a moment it seemed possible to believe that the academy understood that returning to the city center and merging with the so-called urban fabric did not necessarily automatically mean that they needed to construct a new building, and certainly not to hide behind a project such as the one that won the bid.
But now it has emerged they are still open to such an endeavor. After they managed to sell their quarters on Mount Scopus, the academy is returning to the large project, which has since undergone changes, including reducing its height at the request of the city planning committee.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces his poem “Allen Ginsberg Forgives Ezra Pound on Behalf of the Jews.” This piece originally appeared on December 7, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Celebrating one year of editing Psalm 151 for the Forward, I hope readers will forgive me if I add a poem of my own to the mix. “Allen Ginsberg Forgives Ezra Pound on Behalf of the Jews” is a verse essay, a form that allows the exploration of ideas and associations as well as the use of documentary material. The stepping off point for the poem is a 1992 interview I did with Allen Ginsberg while writing “The Jew in the Lotus,” when Ginsberg made very clear his deep Jewish roots, but also his strong criticism of conventional Jewish American views. (For instance, Ginsberg affirmed that he agreed that “Zionism is racism.”)
I’ve always considered Ginsberg one of my poetic fathers, but at the same time, one incident in particular bothered me greatly: that he went to Venice and accepted Ezra Pound’s apology for his anti-Semitism. I always thought that took chutzpah. Especially because the Pound people later waved it like a flag to show that their master really didn’t hate Jews. The truth is that he did, and so did many of his followers and associates.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Those who, for one reason or another, stand outside the frame of Yuletide cheer often find their voices muted come Christmas. The singing of “Silent Night” leaves us, well, silent.
Not so for the protagonist of “The Loudest Voice,” one of the most celebrated of Grace Paley’s many singular contributions to American arts and letters.
In this short story, the young Shirley Abramowitz is recruited to play the voice of Jesus in her public school’s annual Christmas pageant. “They told me you had a particularly loud, clear voice and read with lots of expression. Could that be true?” inquires Mr. Hilton, who is in search of a “child with a strong voice, lots of stamina.” Flattered, Shirley agrees eagerly to become Jesus, if only for an afternoon. (“It was a long story, it was a sad story…. Sorrowful and loud, I declaimed about love and God and Man.”)
Crossposted from Haaretz
When he bought the house in Neve Tzedek four years ago, Boaz Monos knew Marie Antoinette’s palace would be the inspiration for its interior design.
“I was very attracted to her image and she very quickly became a personal passion for me,” he says. “I read everything about her and visited every place she went. I even read her biography. It was important to me to know every little thing about her.”
And it’s hard to remain indifferent to the results: a masterpiece of period restoration and a meticulous approach to detail that will impress even the most cynical visitors — that is, those who see it as total kitsch. It’s also hard to believe the house is located on Amzaleg Street, one of the first streets in Tel Aviv, and not in a classic European capital.
A longer version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
The son of a Jewish shoe store owner, Gustav Landauer became famous and was killed as a Jewish-German anarchist, having abandoned religion in his youth. Born in 1870, in Karlsruhe, Germany, Landauer’s interests were political and literary, not religious. By the early 20th century, however, he was reading about pantheistic, neoplatonic and Kabbalah-inspired varieties of Christian mysticism. Shortly after, he became friends with Martin Buber and his interest in mysticism brought him to Hasidic and Kabbalistic ideas.
A new translation of Landauer’s “Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader” by Gabriel Kuhn (interviewed here) brings his highly influential texts to an English-speaking audience and shows how he exerted a profound influence over both Jewish and non-Jewish thinkers alike.
If you doubt that the life of a molecular biologist and geneticist can make for delightful reading, then you have not yet seen “Sydney Brenner: a Biography” by Dr. Errol C. Friedberg from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
Friedberg, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, explains how Brenner, honored with the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was born in 1927 into a South African Jewish family of Latvian/Lithuanian origin. Brenner’s small hometown, Germiston, once had a thriving Jewish community, now dispersed. As Brenner recalled his school days:
I suppose that my sense of humor came from the gestalt of being a member of a Jewish family. I’ve always thought that whereas most people’s lives consist of drama on one hand and comedy on the other, for Jews life consists primarily of melodrama and farce. Everything is exaggerated!
On Monday, Avi Steinberg wrote about Kafka in Tel Aviv. His first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” was just released. 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 certainly has been a monumental few weeks in the history of humiliation. With the help of Wikileaks, we’re learning so many new things about our friends and neighbors. Who knew CNN’s Anderson Cooper dyed his hair white? Actually, to be honest, I had suspicions. All the signs were there. But still, there’s something startling about hearing him admit, and so bluntly, that he also uses a mirror to practice that signature move of his, the purposeful sidelong squint — and all of this preening just so he can look more like “serious newsman.” Anderson, you’re boyishly handsome. Just own it, babe.
But I don’t judge. I’ve got my own Wikileak grief. I present the following Wikileaked document, which involves, well, me. It catches me saying some things that I’m frankly not too proud of. Since it’s going to be circulating out there anyway, especially among Hasidic bloggers, I figure you might as well hear it from me first. It’s a memo from me to my book’s publicist. Oy, so embarrassing. Here it goes…
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “If I Were to Have the Emperor’s Treasures,” as sung by Ita Taub:
This recording of Ita Taub was done in our dining room in our Bronx home in the 1980s after a meal, as you can hear from the clanging of dishes. For biographical information on Taub see the earlier post on “Oy vey mame.”
“Ven ikh volt gehot dem keysers oytsres” (If I were to have the Emperor’s Treasures) was written by Mikhl Gordon (1823 – 1890). According to Chana and Joseph Mlotek in their Yiddish-language work “Perl fun der yidisher poezye,” 1974 (now available in English), this song is was originally called “Shlof mayn kind” and included in his first collection printed in 1868.
On October 2, BearManor Media issued a Kindle Edition of 2009’s “Acting Foolish,” an unjustly overlooked memoir by actor Lewis J. Stadlen. Born in Brooklyn in 1947, Stadlen famously appeared on TV’s “The Sopranos” as Dr. Ira Fried, a wittily dour specialist in erectile dysfunction.
Yet Stadlen is basically a stage animal, as student of two Jewish theatrical teaching legends, Sanford Meisner and Stella Adler. Stadlen was attracted to Adler, who in her 60s “looked like the queen mother of a country whose major export was sex,” as opposed to Meisner’s “cruelty.”
Scion of a liberal Jewish family, Stadlen recalls: “That reactionary rag, the Daily News, was allowed in our home only once when [Senator Joseph] McCarthy died of liver cancer, so the family could rejoice at the block letter headline SENATOR JOE, DEAD AT 57!”
This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist featured two authors who write about groups not often represented in British literature. Howard Jacobson, author of “The Finkler Question,” has made a career crafting a literary image of the English Jew, while Andrea Levy, shortlisted for “The Long Song,” has documented the black British experience in her five novels, most recently focusing on colonial slaves in nineteenth-century Jamaica. While Jacobson ultimately took the prize, “The Long Song” thrust its author back into the spotlight — in October, Levy was a guest at the Vancouver International Writers Festival and Toronto’s International Festival of Authors.
Both Jews and blacks fall outside of the traditional stiff upper-lip of the English novel; in a way, Levy’s novels about black Britons echo many of the issues of identity shared by Jews in both Britain and North America. And, coincidentally or not, Judaism is one of the missing pieces of Levy’s own identity puzzle.
Crossposted from Haaretz
On Friday morning, the ninth-grade students in the jazz program at the Thelma Yellin High School for Arts were learning about the history of jazz with their beloved teacher, Amit Golan. That same day there was a test. The questions were about Duke Ellington, Art Tatum and other early jazz giants, whom Golan had taught his students to love. Because the test finished early, and there remained another hour of the double lesson, Golan suggested to his class that they go down to the yard and play basketball. He, too, joined the game.
“We went downstairs, started playing and after a few minutes I saw that Amit was getting tired and breathing heavily,” said one of the students, Eyal Tzur. A few minutes later Golan collapsed. A Magen David Adom crew summoned to the school was unable to revive him. He died of a heart attack, at the age of 46.
Not many pop-rock artists are inspired by Franz Rosenzweig’s “Star of Redemption” or “Totality and Infinity” by Emmanuel Levinas, but then again, Ruth Gerson is not your usual singer-songwriter.
“Most often, I start writing a song because of something I am reading,” Gerson said. Given her academic background (she studied Jewish existentialism at Princeton), she likes to read ethically focused material, which “spurs the kinds of questions to write about,” she explained. “People ask if I am talking to a guy in my songs. I tell them, ‘No, I’m talking to God.’”
Gerson, who has seven albums to her credit, has opened for artists such as Dave Matthews, Suzanne Vega, Steven Wright and Roger McGuinn, and has appeared at The Newport Folk Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and South by Southwest, among other festivals. She has also made appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Craig Ferguson Show.
Avi Steinberg’s first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” 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 was on a roll with my manuscript, a prison library memoir, of all things, and then Kafka rolled into my life. Or rather, I rolled into his. At about the time I was finishing up my final edits for “Running the Books” — my fledgling first book — my life fell into the abyss described by the good Dr. Kafka:
“What are you building?” asks the man.
“I want to dig a subterranean passage,” the second man shouts back. And continues, “Some progress must be made. My station up there is way too high. We are digging the Pit of Babel.”
Directly under every proud edifice, under every act of creative ambition, is a pit that will — that must! — take the mission in precisely the opposite direction. My pit was, appropriately, located in Tel Aviv.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
In this season of good will and holiday cheer, Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize-winning author of “The Finkler Question” and a guest last term of George Washington’s English Department, has made mincemeat of Hanukkah. Taking to The New York Times to make his case, he suggests that this Jewish holiday has outlived its usefulness — if, in fact, it had any in the first place.
Hanukkah, argues the British novelist in a cascading procession of paragraphs, simply fails to engage the contemporary imagination. Nothing about it — the food, the ritual, the music — can hold a candle to Christmas. “The cruel truth is that Hanukkah is a seasonal festival of light in search of a pretext,” he writes, sidestepping history in favor of sociology. The best Jacobson can say of the holiday is that its name is “lovely.” Really now.
A new book fails to exonerate Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.
What accounts for the enduring fame of Walter Benjamin?
And why isn’t Moses Mendelssohn similarly remembered?
John Semley goes behind the scenes of “Barney’s Version.”
I profile musician, filmmaker, photographer and folk revivalist John Cohen.
Glenn C. Altschuler reviews a new book about Harry Gold, a “disciplined, smart, lonely, pathetic and oddly appealing” Soviet spy.
Benjamin Ivry takes a fresh look at the polarizing French philosopher Jacques Derrida.
Philologos elucidates the possible Biblical allusions in the Stuxnet computer virus.
It is safe to wager that New York City has seen it all when an art rave fashion show spirals into an impromptu hora on an open, desolate warehouse block. These men’s dancing feet may have been inspired by a sudden spiritual impulse to be closer to God. But the sudden shakedown also could have been a reaction to the recent display of Jewish girls strutting down a catwalk wearing little more than their grandfather’s tallis.
On December 1, in a 20,000-square-foot loft in Brooklyn, Hanukkah was promoted from the festival of lights to the festival of art, music, and fashion. The event kicked off the sixth annual Sephardic Music Festival, which has been throwing light on Sephardic culture for the last six years through diverse artistic events in venues around the city. With a sumptuous arsenal of musical and artistic talent, the Sephardic Music Festival strives to revitalize a spiritually thrilling aspect of Jewish history.