The Return of Richard Foreman, Rabbi of New York's Downtown Theater Scene
The Hank Greenberg Story That '42' Forgot
Vladimir Nabokov and the Jews
The History of Mel Brooks, Part I
How Do You Say 'Fuhgeddaboudit' in Yiddish?
How a 1976 Exhibit Changed the Way We Think About Jewish History
Vladimir Nabokov's Son Says Famous Father 'Was Close to Jewish Culture'
14-Year-Old Author Tells Story of Holocaust in Graphic Novel
Jews of Bukhara Helped Me To Understand Personal History
The Secret Jewish History of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby'
Vera Gran's Biographer Reconsiders the Stigma of Wartime Collaboration
Ancient Tchotchkes Deepen Our Understanding of Jewish Pilgrims
What 'Girls' Could Learn From the 'Good Wife's' Wife
Man Thinks, God Laughs, a Reader Writes and a Columnist Contemplates
Francesco Lotoro's Mission To Save the Music of European Jews
David Roskies and Naomi Diamant Guide Readers Through Holocaust Literature
A Son's Journey Deep Into the Heart of Saul Bellow
Vasily Grossman's Armenian Sketchbook Finally Debuts in English
Remembering Hungarian Cello Master János Starker
Photographer Clemens Kalischer Survived Holocaust But Struggles To Adapt
The Tsarnaev Brothers Are Many Things. But Cowards? Not So Much.
Diary of Girl's Time in Concentration Camps Invites Comparisons to Anne Frank
Robert Alter Is Truly a Translator of Biblical Proportions
Jennifer Gilmore's New Novel Confronts the Mother of All Struggles
Stuart Nadler's Story of Interracial Love Explores Tensions in Jewish Families
Nothing Beat the Spa for Wealthy 19th Century Jews
Is Rise of Jewish Fundamentalism Endangering Israeli Democracy?
How Adam Kadmon Made the Leap From Kabbalah to Italian Television
Why Susan Steinberg May Be the Best Jewish Writer You've Never Read
Haifa Museum Brings Outsider Artists Inside the World of Israeli Art
Retelling Jewish American Story Through History of Cinema
Janice Steinberg Preaches Gospel of Second Chances
The Secret Jewish History of David Bowie
How Three Jewish Boys From Wilmette Became the 'Brothers Emanuel'
Yiddish Words That Punch Above Their Weight
Why Jews Are Among World's Happiest People
Harvey Fierstein Gets 'Kinky' and Discusses His Jewish Roots
Playing Jewish Geography From California to the New York Islands
Documentary Sheds Light on Andre Gregory, Star of 'My Dinner With Andre'
A.B. Yehoshua Looks Back at His Country and Art
Understanding Pope Francis's Surprising Affinity For Jewish Art
For D.A. Mishani's Hero, Police Work Is a Dull Gig
Why Jews Didn't Always Seem To Have a Word for Sarcasm
Was Hank Greenberg Braver Than Sandy Koufax?
Over at the An-sky Jewish Folkore Research Project, Forverts managing editor Itzik Gottesman, along with a few other contributors, has been poking through the nooks and crannies of Yiddish music and poetry on the Yiddish Song of the Week blog.
As quickly becomes clear from reading the blog, these aren’t your regular Yiddish standards. Rather, the featured melodies are generally lesser-known pieces, usually in the form of rare field recordings.
This week, Gottesman writes about “Afn beys-oylem,” (“On the Cemetery”) as sung by his grandmother, Lifshe Schaechter-Widman. The song is a version of Mikhl Gordon‘s “Di shtifmuter” (“The Stepmother”), but is an unusual example of his work. As Gottesman writes:
Mikhl Gordon, (Vilna, 1823 – Kiev, 1890) had a wonderful sense of humor (he was author of “Di bord‟ [a Maskilic song that tells of a wife who awakens to find her husband shaved his beard]). However, here he composed a moving, even shocking, portrait of the life of an orphan. Women folksingers had no problem singing this kind of song since it truly reflected the difficult times and hopelessly depressing family situations. Singing it today from a stage is another matter…
I consider this song the epitome of LSW‘s slow, mournful vocal style brimming with ornamentation. You can also hear the reach and power of her voice, which seems to float, if you will.
So a bit of a downer, maybe, but a beautiful, moving experience.
Listen to the song and read Gottesman’s whole analysis here.
Is Jewish culture now so well-loved and understood in Berlin that such a festival is no longer needed? On the contrary, the London-born Berlin festival director Nicola Galliner told Haaretz that the “existence of such a festival is extremely important, because there is strong xenophobia and anti-Semitism in this country.”
The situation in Berlin should be a wake-up call to the 100 or so other Jewish film festivals scattered around the world. It is necessary to add “or so” since incredibly enough, these organizations work independently, without any central organization offering advice, support, encouragement, protection, or even enumeration. With world arts budgets in their current state, the time for such fragmented self-sufficiency may be over, since when one such cultural beacon is lost, all are slightly diminished.
Eclecticism is a virtue too often touted by musicians and critics. Reviews and press releases formulaically repeat the cliché that “artist x blends elements of genre y with style z.” While this may be relevant to the archivists amongst us, such statements really say very little about the quality or authenticity of the music in question.
Which is why it was so refreshing to hear the West African rock collective Tinariwen perform at Brooklyn’s Bell House last Sunday, coming off of a show on Saturday at Central Park’s Summerstage and following an opening performance by the neo-cantorial band The Sway Machinery (with whom they joined forces earlier this year in Mali).
Apparently uninterested in showing off a catalog of musical forms, Tinariwen filled their set with unpretentious one-chord trances. Not surprisingly, their motto, proudly displayed on their merchandise, reads “Simplicity is Freedom.”
Abraham Elenkrig was a trumpeter, a barber, and the bandleader of Abe Elenkrig’s Yidishe Orchestra, one of the very first outfits to record klezmer music in America. Though considered something of a secret treasure by klezmer connoisseurs, Elenkrig has never really gotten his due.
Last week, however, the Library of Congress made Elenkrig’s 1913 rendition of “Fon der Choope” (“From the Wedding”) the first klezmer recording to be included in the National Recording Registry. Other selections include pieces by Little Richard, the Bill Evans Trio, Willie Nelson and Tupac Shakur.
“There are many fine klezmer artists but we settled on the Elenkrig title, first of all because it’s good, but also because it’s so early and it captures a transitional moment in Jewish music in the United States,” said Matthew Barton, Curator of Recorded Sound at the Library of Congress.
Born in 1937, the French neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik has long been a media darling for his insights into such varied subjects as workplace violence, the wonders of nature, and scientific/technological progress in general. Although Cyrulnik’s public advice is sometimes leavened with lighthearted whimsy, his utterly serious understanding of the importance of psychological resilience, or surviving life’s traumas, has been his most essential contribution.
“I Remember…” (“Je me souviens…”), echoing the title of a renowned work by French Jewish author Georges Perec, details how Cyrulnik’s Polish Jewish parents were deported to Auschwitz. Placed in a series of foster homes where he concealed his Judaism, Cyrulnik was finally caught in a 1944 roundup of Jews in Bordeaux, but managed to escape by hiding in the toilets of a synagogue where the prisoners were held before being shipped off to their deaths.
The Canadian Jewish novelist and gadfly Mordecai Richler, who died in 2001, was renowned internationally for books such as “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,” “The Street,” “Solomon Gursky Was Here,” and an anthology, “Writers On World War II,” all available from Penguin Canada.
Yet Richler’s fiercely outspoken personality seems to fascinate posterity as much as his writings do, as Michael Posner’s 2005 book “The Last Honest Man: Mordecai Richler, An Oral Biography” from McClelland & Stewart testifies. Now a more formal, thoroughly researched biography from McGill-Queen’s University Press, “Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain” by Reinhold Kramer has appeared, explaining how Richler managed to irritate his compatriots, Jews and antisemites both, so much that he even received hate mail at a Montreal hospital while he was dying of cancer.
“Mordecai Richler: Leaving St. Urbain” explains that the writer rebelled against his “fierce, hot-tempered” Orthodox Jewish paternal grandfather, while his maternal grandfather, the legendary scholar Rabbi Yehudah Yudel Rosenberg inspired love and respect. Torn between these two emotional extremes, Richler abandoned Orthodoxy, but was active in the local Habonim movement.
Saul of Tarsus, a first century Pharisee, supposedly came to believe in Jesus while traveling to Damascus. Changing his name to Paul, he expressed “unparalleled animosity and hostility to Judaism,” according to the 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia, which scorns him, like many other sources, as an apostate. Yet today, Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer of Pennsylvania’s Reconstructionist Rabbinical College opines that instead of rejecting Paul as a traitor, we can learn more by seeing him as a “serious Jew of his time.”
Fuchs-Kreimer and many others are cited in a study from Cambridge University Press, “The Apostle Paul in the Jewish Imagination: A Study in Modern Jewish-Christian Relations” by Daniel Langton of Manchester University, UK. Langton observes that since pre-modern Jews did not read the New Testament, they “largely ignored” Paul. Tracing how obliviousness turned to loathing, Langton cites Micha Berdichevsky, the Ukrainian-born Hebrew and Yiddish scholar, who argued that Saul and Paul were in reality two entirely different men who had been confused by earlier writers, and thus no conversion had actually taken place.
Few scholars today would agree with Berdichevsky, although Pamela Eisenbaum, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Christian Origins at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology and author of 2009’s “Paul Was Not a Christian” from HarperCollins, argues that Paul would have seen himself as a lifelong Jew. Eisenbaum adds that our discomfort with Paul may derive from his habit of speaking “out of both sides of his mouth; he has good as well as bad things to say about women and Jews.”
Jewish Fiction. net is a new, online journal of Jewish fiction currently accepting submissions of original work and translation for its premiere issue. The Arty Semite recently chatted with Nora Gold, the journal’s Toronto-based founder and editor, about why we need a new Jewish literary journal, what Jewish Fiction. net hopes to achieve, and what Jewish fiction is, anyway.
Lauren F. Friedman: Why did you decide to start this journal?
Nora Gold: The changes occurring in the publishing industry — especially with the transition into the digital realm — make it harder for many really good writers to get published. I wanted to make people’s work accessible to an interested audience while fostering new Jewish writing and writers.
Why is there a need for such a journal right now?
Almost 70 years after committing suicide in Brazil in 1942, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig still divides readers.
Laurence Mintz, in a preface to the reprint of Zweig’s “Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky: Master Builders of the Spirit” from Transaction Publishers, points to how Zweig’s suicide, in safety and comfort, seemed a cop-out to many émigré Jews. In a 1943 article, Hannah Arendt scorned Zweig’s position as an “ivory tower esthete” who saw Nazism mainly as an “affront to his personal dignity and privileged way of life.”
Others, however, worship Zweig, like Jean-Jacques Lafaye, whose “Stefan Zweig: a Jewish Aristocrat at Europe’s Center” has just been reissued from Les Éditions Hermann. For Lafaye, Zweig “genuinely possessed an elite spirit, a conscience for humanity.” French Jewish doctor and novelist Laurent Seksik agrees, offering an ardent fictional account from Flammarion, “The Last Days of Stefan Zweig.”
This August in Atlanta, when the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convenes, one of the attendees will be one of America’s most accomplished, if under-celebrated, Jewish musicians. For many years, the pianist Zita Carno (originally Carnovsky) has delighted music lovers with heartfelt and elegant performances of demanding modern music, first in New York, then in California, and most recently in Florida.
Carno’s dazzling skill as an accompanist has made her an in-demand performer on recordings of contemporary music, many from the small label Crystal Records. These include an album with trumpeter Thomas Stevens of the playful and pensive “Three Ideas for trumpet & piano” by Meyer Kupferman, a composer much influenced by Yiddish songs and Romanian Jewish folklore. The same CD boasts Leonard Bernstein’s jazzily joyous “Rondo for Lifey” from his 1948 “Brass Music” suite, in which Carno’s eupeptic personality especially shines.
Both Carno and Bernstein are jazz-influenced, but Carno’s grasp of free jazz is arguably more advanced than Bernstein’s, as proven by her performance alongside the great composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams on a Smithsonian Folkways CD. Carno, who soloed with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, also wrote cogent liner notes for John Coltrane, and contributed early analyses of Coltrane and Art Blakey to Nat Hentoff’s Jazz Review.
If you find yourself at an avant-garde jazz concert and poet Steve Dalachinsky is not in the audience, you probably have the wrong address. An unparalleled jazz aficionado, Dalachinsky has soaked in enough of the music to attempt the impossible: to create the same indescribable, musical feeling through words.
But with distinct influences of Dada and Surrealism, a Beatnik sensibility, and a dry sense of humor, Dalachinsky really does not like to be branded as a jazz poet. Or branded in any way for that matter, because, as with real, experimental jazz, descriptions grow stale the minute they are formulated, left far behind the racing, morphing voice. As Nietzsche said, things are dead once you’re able to say them.
In Dalachinsky’s poetry, however, thought flows like a saxophone melody: alive and unhindered, suggestive rather than descriptive, fragmented, and held together with a musical sort of logic.
Veteran sax and flute player Lew Tabackin, a product of South Philadelphia, is one of the “Jazz Jews” discussed in Mike Gerber’s new book of that name. Tabackin performs in a quartet with his wife, the noted pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi, and will appear from June 29 to July 3 at Birdland.
Though Tabackin did not come from a musical family, his parents paid for music lessons and his mother took him to Philadelphia’s grandiose, now-demolished Earle Theatre, a cinema where live bands like Benny Goodman’s would perform. As a youngster studying the flute and later saxophone, Tabackin, who turned 70 on March 26, was particularly thrilled by the sax playing of Al Cohn, a jazzman who enjoyed a cult following in Philadelphia at the time.
After serving in the army and playing with such great musicians as Elvin Jones and Roland Hanna, Tabackin was playing with Clark Terry’s ensemble in 1967 when a substitute appeared for the regular pianist, Don Friedman. She was Toshiko Akiyoshi, a fetching young Japanese woman who was by then already a masterful performer. Tabackin and Akiyoshi married in 1969 and relocated to the West Coast in the 1970s when, as a side effect of the Black Liberation movement, white jazz musicians were generally shunned.
Ethan Pack talks to Amir Benayoun, an Israeli musician who embodies the country’s deepest fears.
Benjamin Ivry examines the French Lithuanian novelist, journalist and bon vivant, Joseph Kessel.
Allison Gaudet Yarrow takes a look at the Jewish Book Council’s two minute author tryouts.
Jeremiah Lockwood teams up with Alexander Benaim of The Harlem Shakes for the latest installment of The Nigun Project.
Asked to name a Jewish child prodigy composer, most people would think of Felix Mendelssohn or perhaps even Felix’s sister Fanny. Yet a fascinating study from Scarecrow Press, “Child Composers and Their Works: A Historical Survey” by Manchester University musicologist Barry Cooper, argues that we should also think of the Swiss Jewish composer Ernest Bloch who by his late teens had composed dozens of surviving works.
Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté, an eminent Canadian composer of Russian Jewish origin, was another early starter, as was Morton Gould and a host of 19th century Romantics like Ignaz Moscheles and Henri Herz.The German Jewish composer Erwin Schulhoff wrote “Mélodie,” a chamber work for violin and piano, when he was only nine.
In our day, Jay Greenberg, a Juilliard prodigy, has written symphonic works which have been widely acclaimed and were recorded in 2006 by Sony Masterworks. The Jewish elements in the suave compositions of Greenberg, whose 19th birthday this December will place him outside prodigy age limits, have been well noted.
The doughty old UK counter-culture artist and agitator Gustav Metzger is more active than ever. Last year’s exhibit, “Gustav Metzger: Decades 1959–2009,” at London’s Serpentine Gallery recently traveled to west-central France, where it was seen from March 10 to June 15 at Rochechouart’s Musée départemental d’art contemporain. Its next scheduled stop is in northern Italy, at Trent’s Fondazione Galleria Civica.
An insightful catalog from Koenig Books in Cologne explains how Metzger was born in Nuremberg in 1926 to Polish-Jewish parents. In 1939, Metzger and his brother Mendel were brought to England by a Kindertransport rescue mission, but their parents were murdered in Buchenwald. In the exhibit catalog, Metzger tells an interviewer that his intellectual development “began as a child in Nuremberg, reading the Bible. You can’t have a greater introduction to intellect and history, and that’s what I had from the age of three. And I was fully prepared to take it in, and I was happy to learn whatever I could as a young, budding Jew.”
As a young resident of Leeds, Metzger embraced art as activism, a way of trying the prevent wartime tragedy from recurring. Obsessed with humanity’s self-destruction, he first created “Auto Destructive Art” in 1959, a process which used acid to dissolve nylon. In a 2008 Tate Modern installation, Metzger piled newspapers into barracks, visually evoking wartime photos of Buchenwald.
After the website and DVD “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” it can be a relief to find Jewish elders who are not trying to be adorable or cutesy. The publisher S. Fischer Verlag in Frankfurt, Germany has reprinted 1989’s “Jüdische Portraits” (“Jewish Portraits”), 80 interviews and accompanying photographs by Herlinde Koelbl, to go along with an exhibit on view at the Stadtmuseum Graz, Austria, until November 14.
Twenty one years ago, Koelbl conducted in-depth discussions with dozens of German-speaking Jewish overachievers. Her book’s reprint underlines its value as a time capsule, since most of the interviewees, then in their 80s, are now gone. Their advanced age makes this as much a text on enjoying a long and happy life despite travails, as it is about Judaism per se, although Koelbl has pointed questions for everyone about belief, the Shoah, and other Jewish topics.
The Hungarian Jewish soprano Gitta Alpár, noted for her peppy prewar performances, explains that people cannot “live with bitterness and hatred in our hearts,” in response to pressing questions about post-Auschwitz attitudes. The sociologist Norbert Elias agrees, adding that “being anti-German would be no less foolish than being antisemitic.” Martin Buber’s son Rafael has a nuanced reply to the question of belief after Auschwitz: “I believe in God, in a higher power, but not in his omnipotence.”
When Evry Schatzman died two months ago at age 89, France paid tribute to its “Father of Astrophysics,” one of the pioneering specialists in white dwarf stars, the solar corona, novae, and the interstellar medium.
In 1986’s “Uranus’s Offspring” from Les éditions du Seuil, Schatzman also discussed extraterrestrial life. Yet Schatzman had powerful earthly experiences as well, as narrated in the diary of his father Benjamin Schatzman (1877-1942), who was murdered at Auschwitz.
Even a century ago, however, Canada offered protection to Jews’ “households and rights,” to quote the French version of the Canadian national anthem. A reminder of such days recently appeared from Les éditions du Septentrion, a small Québec City press: “Montreal’s First Yiddish School, 1911-1914.”
Those eager to hear the Latin jazz maestro Larry Harlow, whose Yiddishkeit was explored in the Forward last year, at his much-anticipated August 14 Lincoln Center concert, can stave off their impatience for “El Judio Maravilloso” with an exuberant new compendium from Five Leaves Publications, “Jazz Jews.”
In the book, British journalist and indefatigable researcher Mike Gerber discusses superstars like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lee Konitz and Stan Getz, as well as many under-celebrated talents.
“Jazz Jews” scotches rumors of Goodman’s “exploiting” African American musicians and arrangers, for example, pointing out that Goodman did much to integrate jazz. Gerber also gets ultra-specific in this roomy tome, pointing to a particular 1928 Goodman recording of “That’s A-Plenty” as being influenced by the klezmer aesthetic of Naftule Brandwein.
For many years, the influential philosopher Jacques Maritain has been seen as a rare philosemite among the French Catholics of his day (Maritain died at age 90 in 1973). Robert Royal’s 1993 study, “Jacques Maritain and the Jews” (University of Notre Dame Press) is an account of Maritain’s friendship with the painter Marc Chagall and other Jews, not least of whom was Maritain’s own Jewish-born wife Raïssa, who converted to Catholicism in 1906, as did the Protestant-born Maritain himself.
Now a nuanced new book by Richard Francis Crane, a Professor of History at Greensboro College, “Passion of Israel: Jacques Maritain, Catholic Conscience, and the Holocaust” (University of Scranton Press) looks likely to revise estimations of Maritain’s love for the Jews.
Crane plausibly describes Maritain’s “ambivalent philosemitism based on Jewish stereotypes both positive and negative.” In 1921’s “On the Jewish Question,” Maritain declared that people “should expect from the Jews something other than a real attachment to the common good of western, and Christian, civilization.” He later noted the “evident necessity of a struggle for public safety against secret Jewish-Masonic societies and against cosmopolitan finance.”
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