The Arty Semite

Monday Music: A Simple Jew With a Touch of Gaga

By Binyomin Ginzberg

Last month, the hugely popular Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer, known simply as “Lipa,” released his latest album, “24/6,” a collection of cover songs currently popular at Hasidic weddings.

The release comes almost exactly three years after the singer’s then-largest concert was banned by many prominent rabbis in the Haredi world, and it is only the latest step in what has become an exceedingly successful career.

In early 2008, the then-rising Hasidic entertainer advertised a huge concert at Madison Square Garden dubbed “The Big Event.” Just two and a half weeks before the March 9 show, a ban was published in religious newspapers signed by many respected ultra-Orthodox rabbis. The ban resulted in the cancellation of the concert, as well as of an April show in London. The New York Times quoted Schmeltzer saying that he had no choice but to obey the decree. “I have a career, I have a wife and kids to support, I have a mortgage to pay, I have to get out of the fire.”

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A Tenor for the People

By Noam Ben-Zeev

Crossposted from Haaretz

Tali Mayer

Without any fanfare or festivities, modestly and almost anonymously, Christoph Pregardien — one of the greatest lyric tenors of our time — landed in Israel a few days ago. It is hard to imagine a more impressive career than his: The greatest conductors conduct him, and he is hosted by the top stages and festivals around the world, as well as orchestras and recording companies. The German tenor has already recorded over 120 discs, which have won innumerable prizes.

Pregardien’s tremendous range begins with Monteverdi and Schutz at the dawn of Baroque, through Purcell, Bach and Handel, all the classical and romantic composers, up to Britten and contemporary German composers. He arrived in Israel to sing Schubert’s “Winterreise” (“Winter Journey” ) cycle (at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center this past Saturday, and tonight at the Jerusalem YMCA, at 8:30 PM), with which he continuously fills concert halls all over the world. Just last week he sang it in Germany and Belgium, and the upcoming months are already filled with performance dates too.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Talking Jewish in Livorno; Anselm Kiefer's Apocalyptic Vision

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
‘The seven heavenly palaces’ by Anselm Kiefer at the Hangar Bicocca Contemporary Art Museum.

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This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Sarah Silverman in ‘Peep World.’
  • Curt Schleier goes to see “Peep World,” where Jews finally attain the dysfunctional status of WASPs.

  • Philologos noses around with exasperation.

  • Michelle Sieff adjudicates Deborah Lipstadt’s arguments with Hannah Arendt in “The Eichmann Trial.”

  • Katherine Clarke looks into Southeastern Europe’s first Holocaust Museum in Skopje, Macedonia.

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Catherine Clément: a French Author of Memory and Understanding

By Benjamin Ivry

Wiki Commons

On January 21, French author Catherine Clément, whose Jewish mother Rivka was portrayed onscreen by Jeanne Moreau in Amos Gitai’s 2008 film One Day You’ll Understand, published an open letter in the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. Clement announced her resignation from France’s High Commission for National Commemorations (Le Haut comité des Célébrations nationales) after Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterand scheduled celebrations of the ferociously anti-Semitic author Louis-Ferdinand Céline for the upcoming 50th anniversary of his death in 1961.

Noted Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld had expressed objections the previous day, which led to Clément’s resignation in “solidarity” with Klarsfeld’s view that since Céline had, during the German occupation of France, published several lengthy books — still banned for republication in France today — urging that Jews be killed, he was not someone to celebrate. In her open letter, Clément explains: “The name of Céline having revolted me for over fifty years” she could not approve of honoring anyone so marked by the “virulence of his racism.” Then Clément offered a quote from her mother Rivka: “So long as only 20 percent of French people are anti-Semites, that’s okay;” in Clément’s view, today France’s younger generation rarely hate Jews, but among septuagenarians like herself (Clément was born in 1939) “latent anti-Semitism creeps up until it reaches the unconscious.”

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Turkish Coffee for the Crown Prince

By Reyna Simnegar

Earlier this week, Reyna Simnegar, the author of “Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love,” wrote about Miss Venezela Material and Sephardim Strike Back! 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:


Wiki Commons
Reza Cyrus Pahlavi, the last crown prince of the former Imperial State of Iran.

It was a regular morning at my home, dishes to wash, laundry to fold, when I got a phone call from my husband. “Reyna, I am coming this afternoon with Reza Pahlavi.” Thinking it was a work colleague, I casually asked him, “At what time? Do you guys want to have dinner here?” That’s when he finally explained to me this “Reza Pahlavi” was not any “Pahlavi,” he was His Imperial Highness Crowned Prince Reza Pahlavi of Iran!

The Prince was visiting Boston and somehow my husband (if you know him, you know this is right up his alley) had convinced His Imperial Highness to come have dessert and tea at our house! My legs were shaking. “The crowned prince — here? In this messy house? I am going to kill Sammy!” I immediately recruited a cleaning lady and set off for a hunt to buy Persian desserts. As I was pulling off the driveway, I noticed the secret service searching the vicinity of my house making sure it was a safe place for the prince.

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Friday Film: Stalking Grace

By Tahneer Oksman

Karl Bissinger

In a 2007 obituary for Grace Paley published in the New York Times, Margalit Fox wrote that “Ms. Paley was among the earliest American writers to explore the lives of women — mostly Jewish, mostly New Yorkers — in all their dailiness.” Lilly Rivlin’s recent documentary, “Grace Paley: Collected Shorts,” screening March 27 at the Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival, brings together a chorus of voices from friends, family and colleagues to Paley herself, to convey a powerful portrait of an artist, poet, teacher and political figure whose depictions of the everyday lives of women had, and continue to have, a deep and powerful impact.

Paley was born in 1922 to Russian parents who were “kid socialists,” as she calls them in one of many interviews interspersed throughout the film. She explains that her parents “were part of a generation of Russians who hoped they could be Russian.” Of course, in Russia at the time, they were seen primarily as Jews, a legacy that Paley examines throughout her oeuvre. Her stories, poems, and essays continually explore questions of identity, and through her writing we witness an author attempting to account for diversity even as she celebrates the mundane but meaningful rituals and experiences that people share: spats between loved ones, the humor of everyday life, the solace and beauty that can be found in art and literature and language.

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Psychiatry, Poetry and the Bible

By Susie Davidson

Interpreters of Genesis 22:1-19, which details Abraham’s near sacrifice of his only son on Mount Moriah, usually focus on the awesome loyalty and faith of our forefather. But Isaac’s role also invites analysis.

Psychiatrist and poet Freddy Frankel sees Isaac as a compassionate, perhaps older man who deems his father’s dilemma quite possibly unsound, yet empathetically calls him “my pious executioner.”

“In my conception, Isaac even suspected that his father perhaps heard voices in his head,” Frankel explained from his home in Newton, Mass.

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Poetics of Fasting

By Jake Marmer

Each Thursday The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week Jake Marmer introduces “Aggadic Guidelines to Ta’anit Esther.”

Wiki Commons
‘Esther and Mordecai’ by Aert de Gelder, 1685.

It is perhaps not surprising that most Jewish holiday poetry out there is either about the High Holidays or Passover. The extensive liturgy and introspection in the case of the former and the mythic storytelling cannon of the latter lend themselves to metaphors and color our language with their musicality. Yet, as Kafka has shown, there’s nothing quite like the poetry of the lesser known occasion, the undesired calendar date. On that note, I would like to introduce a piece of my own, which addresses Ta’anit Esther — the fast of Esther that preceedes Purim.

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Out and About: Midrash and the Megillah; Einstein's Archives Unleashed

By Ezra Glinter

Poet Itzik Manger

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Power Company to the People

By Noam Dvir

Crossposted from Haaretz

Legendary city engineer Yitzhak Ben Sira planned Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu area to be a neighborhood of public housing with an industrial area at its northern edge.

Israel Architecture Archive

Beginning at the end of the 1940s, high-quality housing projects were constructed alongside public buildings, including arts and recreation centers. Some of them, like the Yad Eliahu Nokia sports arena (planned by the Milstein-Singer engineering office), and the Golden Age Home (Arieh and Eldar Sharon), are icons of Israeli modernist architecture.

But the industrial area has some architectural gems of its own. There is, for example, the Cinerama Theater, which is now slated for demolition, and the Israel Electric Corporation’s technical center, inaugurated in 1966, and which the company uses to this day.

Read more at Haaretz.com


April Classical Concerts Turn Cruelest into Coolest Month

By Benjamin Ivry

Jonathan Nimerfroh

A notoriously anti-Semitic poet claimed that April is the cruelest month; all the more reason for Manhattanites to sweeten it with delightful classical concerts redolent with Yiddishkeit. On March 29, the Israeli-American violinist Yuval Waldman will perform “Music Forgotten and Remembered” at Merkin Concert Hall, including such rarities as Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s 1952 “Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes,” and works by two Czech Jewish composers: Gideon Klein, who was murdered at Auschwitz, and “Colloque Sentimentale” (A Chat about Feelings) by Jaromir Weinberger.

On April 4 at Weill Recital Hall, “A Fine Romance: Songs by Jerome Kern is presented by The New York Festival of Song, featuring Joseph Kaiser and Kelli O’Hara in Kern’s suave melodies. For more fiery temperament, on April 5 at Merkin Hall violinist Elena Urioste will perform “Carmen: fantasie brillante” by the Hungarian Jewish composer Jenö Hubay with pianist Michael Brown. And, on the same day, a series of concert performances (continuing through April 9) of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company begin at Avery Fisher Hall starring Neil Patrick Harris.

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Shifra Lerer, 95, Yiddish Star of Stage and Screen

By Itzik Gottesman

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here

On March 12 the Yiddish theater lost one of its most beloved stars. Shifra Lerer, an Argentine-born actress who toured the world and who later appeared in films by Woody Allen and Sidney Lumet, died in Manhattan at the age of 95.

Joan Roth

I met Shifra during my first — and last — foray as a Yiddish actor for the Yiddish National Theatre in 1980. Lerer was among the founders of the troupe, which was created to ensure the future of Yiddish theater in America. The experience was a shock for me. I was literally stupefied by the sight of 80-year-old actors screaming curses at 70-year-olds backstage. Their talents were great, but so were their egos and eccentricities. Shifra, by contrast, was an island of calm and rectitude, earning everyone’s respect.

Lerer was born in Argentina, on a Jewish colony in the Pampas, on August 30, 1915. As a child she showed a precocious talent for the theater, and was discovered at age 5 by the famous Yiddish actor Boris Thomashefsky. She soon began acting with other renowned theater figures such as Zigmund Turkov, Samuel Goldenberg and Jacob Ben-Ami, with whom she performed in dramas such as Peretz Hirschbein’s “Green Fields” and H. Leivik’s “The Poet Who Became Blind.”

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Miss Venezuela Material

By Reyna Simnegar

On Monday, Reyna Simnegar, the author of “Persian Food from the Non-persian Bride: And Other Sephardic Kosher Recipes You Will Love,” wrote about Sephardim Strike Back! 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:


It had been nine years since I had not seen my beautiful cousin Isha. She lives a busy life in Florida working in the restaurant industry and going to school. It was my turn to feed her, and I decided to invite her for Shabbat dinner. After all, is there a better time than Shabbat to impress anyone with delectable dishes?

Isha is half Venezuelan and half American. She is the perfect combination of Latin American charm and American beauty. As we were reminiscing about the past (over a slice of my favorite dessert, Persian Roulade), it was impossible not to talk about how much we suffered starving together in the name of our modeling careers. You see, both Isha and I were part of a Venezuelan modeling agency that recruited girls for the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant.

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Living Letters From the Past

By Len Abram

Before the telephone and the Internet, those separated from each other by great distances depended on letters to communicate. Although gifted writers have brought the form to the level of high art, for many people, the letter served more essential purposes. With it, they shared ideas, expressed feelings, collaborated on plans, and communicated information both trivial and vital.

In “36 Letters: One Family’s Story,” Author Joan Sohn describes finding one such bag of letters from her grandparents, their families and their friends. When she had them translated, mostly from Yiddish, Sohn discovered the people behind her childhood memories and old photographs. The book is based on 36 of these letters, many dating from 1904 to 1906, and centers around the courtship and immigration of her grandparents, Yente and Chaim, or as she knew them, Yetta and Hyman Korman.

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Rappaport Prize Awarded to Artists Asaf Ben Zvi and Michael Halak

By Daniel Rauchwerger

Crossposted from Haaretz

Self portrait by Michael Halak.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art announced the selection of painters Asaf Ben Zvi and Michael Halak as the winners of the 2011 Rappaport Prize. This is the sixth prize awarded since its establishment in 2006 in honor of Ruth and Baruch Rappaport. The prize is awarded annually to two painters, an established painter (Ben Zvi) and a young painter (Halak). Beyond the monetary sum given to the painters, the prize funds two solo exhibitions at the museum as well as the production of the catalogs accompanying the exhibitions.

The official announcement of the prize, scheduled for next Tuesday at the museum, will coincide with the opening of the exhibition by artist Sharon Poliakine and painter Oren Eliav, last year’s recipients of the prize. The exhibitions of works by Ben Zvi and Halak will open at the museum in March 2012.

Read more at Haaretz.com


How the Violin Became the 'Jewish National Instrument'

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Courtesy of University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections Department

Just the other night, amidst the glorious surroundings of the Music Room of The Phillips Collection, whose walls are bedecked with one masterpiece after another, over 100 people gathered together under the aegis of George Washington University’s Program in Judaic Studies to hear Professor James Loeffler of the University of Virginia incisively discuss how it came to pass that the violin became known as the “Jewish national instrument.”

I suspect this was the very first time that the Music Room rang with explicit talk of the storied relationship between the Jews and classical music. But it’s hardly the first time that the nation’s capitol engaged in such a discussion. Many years before, Israel Zangwill’s potboiler of a play, “The Melting Pot,” debuted in D.C. Applauded enthusiastically by Teddy Roosevelt, the country’s president at the time, the four-act drama centered on music.

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From Broadcast to 'G-dcast'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy of Sarah Lefton

Where would you go to learn Torah, not only from famous rabbis like Lawrence Kushner, but also feminist rapper Hesta Prynn and legal pundit Dahlia Lithwick? It wouldn’t be to any synagogue, JCC or school. In fact, you wouldn’t even have to leave your home. G-dcast, created by Jewish educational entrepreneur Sarah Lefton and writer Matthue Roth, brings commentary on the weekly Torah portion by Jewish artists, writers and public personalities directly to your computer via animated short films streamed on the Internet.

G-dcast, supported by funders including ROI, Natan, Righteous Persons Foundation, UpStart and the Joshua Venture Fellowship, has recently released a DVD of all 55 of its Torah portion videos (“the offline version of the online hit”), accompanied by a book of creative lessons written by educator Emily Shapiro Katz. In addition, an iPad and iPod G-dcast app is in development.

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Found in Translation

By Maya Sela

Crossposted from Haaretz

Moshe Sakal lived for six years in France, where he learned to speak fluent French with a Parisian accent, but when he talked to his Egyptian-born, French-speaking grandmother back home in Israel - she would give him a haughty look.

Daniel Tchetchik

“She spoke like Dalida,” he said, referring to the popular multilingual Egyptian singer. “For her, an Egyptian accent was the real thing, authentic and beautiful, while my Parisian accent was a sort of jargon, a contemptible dialect. Not only did she look down on it, she also corrected me, and at some stage stopped understanding: I would be speaking the fluent French of someone who lived for years in Paris and she would just look at me, roll her eyes and say, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying.’”

In his new book “Yolanda” (published by Keter in Hebrew), which is autobiographical in a sort of misleading way, Sakal depicts the protagonist’s Egyptian-born grandmother, who immigrated to Israel in 1948, but preserves Cairo within her; a Zionist, she speaks basic Hebrew, reads only in French, and never leaves Israel’s borders.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Jack Gottlieb, Composer for the Synagogue and the World

By Gina Genova

Composer Jack Gottlieb, who passed away February 23 at the age of 80, was often asked to speak and write about Leonard Bernstein, the maestro whom he served in his youth as an assistant at the New York Philharmonic. But Gottlieb was one of the finest musicians around in his own right, and in a complete and studied way that is rare among modern prodigies. Jack was a consummate scholar, author, thinker, and composer of artistic, high-level sacred music for the synagogue; he also wrote songs, chamber music, orchestral, choral, and theater pieces, and he could entertain an audience from the piano like no one I have ever seen.

Though Gottlieb’s works were performed and lauded throughout the United States, he felt that he struggled as a composer, always in the shadow of his mentor. In the end, however, his prolific body of work stands on its own, and will no doubt be kept alive by the conductors and musicians who will continue to perform it.

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