Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “The Change” by Alicia Ostriker. This piece originally appeared on August 3, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Ms. Ostriker has published nine books of poetry, full of biblical and Jewish themes with a feminist approach. Her most recent book, “The Little Space: Poems Selected and New” (Pittsburgh, 1998), was a National Book Award finalist in 1998. “The Nakedness of the Fathers: Visions and Revisions” (Rutgers, 1994), her study of Midrash, may also be read as an autobiography.
In this suite of five poems, Ms. Ostriker touches deeply on the experience of role reversal. The simple story line is familiar: A daughter removes her aging mother from her home, sells her house and places her in a nursing home. We see the mother stripped of her familiar surroundings and of her dignities — but we see the speaker, the poet, also reverting. Ms. Ostriker’s carnal, unflinching view brings us back to the pity of the body and reminds us of our vulnerabilities and our tenderness.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Leonid Jacobson bears the distinct honor of being both the only Jewish choreographer active in the Soviet Union during the Communist era and a man who won praise from Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova after they defected to the West. The search for Jacobson has brought dance historian and researcher Janice Ross to Israel.
“When I was a dance critic, I kept hearing about a Jewish choreographer whose works were amazing, but no one had ever seen them outside of Russia,” says Ross. “There was an attempt to erase him. His work was either prohibited or censored or repressed for years during his lifetime.”
In the 1980s Ross learned that in San Francisco, not far from where she lived, there was a ballet teacher called Irina Jacobson who taught technique in an unusual way. Ross found out she was the widow of the choreographer, who died in 1975.
Ken Krimstein is the author of “Kvetch As Kvetch Can: Jewish Cartoons.” In his previous posts he wrote about making it as a Jewish cartoonist and kvetching and wining. 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:
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
The recent announcement of the impending nuptials of David Lauren, son of the celebrated fashion designer Ralph Lauren, and Lauren Bush, George W’s niece — and, I hasten to add, a former Princeton student of mine — has set tongues wagging. Following on the heels of a slew of highly placed mixed marriages, this one appears to seal the deal: Intermarriage has become de rigueur.
At the turn of the last century, mixed marriages, especially those that crossed social as well as religious lines, also fanned the fires of the nation’s gossip sheets. One of the most infamous, even downright scandalous, of the lot took place between Rose Pastor, a recently arrived East European Jewish immigrant, and James Graham Phelps Stokes, a true-blue American, if ever there was one.
Ken Krimstein is the author of “Kvetch As Kvetch Can: Jewish Cartoons.” In his last post he wrote about making it as a Jewish cartoonist. 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:
He won a slew of awards, had his books translated into multiple languages, and captured the soul of Jewish Montreal in novels like “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” and “Barney’s Version” — both adapted into big-budget Hollywood productions. But Mordecai Richler doesn’t merit the renaming of a street or other public place in the Plateau neighborhood of his youth, the borough’s administration has decreed.
The proposal is “misguided” and reminiscent of a “Soviet mindset…to be renaming streets after figures,” Mile End councilor Alex Norris told Montreal weekly The Suburban. The paper reported that “Norris didn’t approve of The Suburban’s suggestion to name the area in front of [legendary deli counter] Wilensky’s as ‘Carré Richler,’ because it is an open intersection and it’s ‘not a public square.’”
Crossposted from Haaretz
The company charged with reinstating the heirs of Holocaust victims who had assets in Israel will provide a large chunk of its funding this year to the Cameri Theater.
The Company for Location and Restitution said that it will distribute a total of NIS 5 million this year for Holocaust commemoration and education activities. Of this sum, the Cameri will receive NIS 1.4 million to enable tens of thousands of soldiers and students to see the play “Ghetto.”
The company, which was founded in 2007, is obligated by law to allocate funds from unclaimed assets to help Holocaust survivors in need as well as to fund Holocaust memorial and education projects.
Ken Krimstein is the author of “Kvetch As Kvetch Can: Jewish Cartoons.” 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:
As with Henry Hathaway’s 1969 film, Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of “True Grit” (which is really another, truer, adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel) follows a young girl in pursuit of her father’s killer. Played here by new recruit Hailee Steinfeld, the impossibly precocious Mattie Ross hires a surly, drunken, tough-as-nails federal marshal (Jeff Bridges) to help her track the horse thief (Josh Brolin) what gunned down her pappy. It’s a cut-and-dry revenge story, where good guys win and bad guys lose. It’s less a self-aware ode to the studio Western than an inheritor of its most simple and enduring charms. And it’s seductive. Deceptively so.
From January 13 to 16 at different venues in the Garden State, The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will perform alongside works by Mendelssohn and Smetana, “Dover Beach” a 1941 setting for baritone and orchestra by Edward Toner Cone, a composer and much-loved music professor at Princeton.
Cone, who died in 2004 at age 87 after open-heart surgery, was a nephew of the famed art collectors Etta and Claribel Cone, whose generosity has enriched such institutions as the Baltimore Museum of Art. Etta and Claribel were themselves the subject of 2008’s delightful “The Cone Sisters of Baltimore: Collecting at Full Tilt” from Northwestern University Press, and will be further honored with an exhibit, “Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore” from May 6 to September 25, 2011 at The Jewish Museum.
What do fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien, Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito, Brazilian soccer star Pelé and financier George Soros have in common? They all share an interest in Esperanto, an invented language whose goal is to unite humankind.
“Nekredebla,” you might be thinking (that’s Esperanto for “incredible”). But not so quick — other well known figures have also supported the language, including Leo Tolstoy, the grand old man of European letters.
On December 15 some 70 Esperanto enthusiasts descended on a building near the United Nations for the Universal Esperanto Association’s Zamenhof Symposium 2010. The meeting drew people from a wide range of ages, religions and backgrounds. Human rights lawyer Ugoji Eze, born of a Jewish mother and Nigerian father and a member of Young Israel of West Hempstead, was not an atypical participant.
Crossposted from Haaretz
For the first time ever, fans of the popular Israeli musician David Broza can participate in the creative process behind his work. For about the price of a shawarma sandwich, participants can log onto Kickstarter.com to get a sneak-peek into his first self-written Hebrew album.
Upon giving donations, participants are also invited to contribute their opinions to album artwork, the order in which the songs will be listed, and other aspects of the creative process.
“The internet allows us to create an interactive, enduring experience of music from its creation,” Broza writes on Kickstarter.
“For many years, I wrote music, played, sang and recorded to the beautiful words of many well-known poets from around the world,” Broza writes.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
I don’t know about you, but these days, when my mailbox bulges with solicitations from just about every non-profit organization known to man, I can’t help but wonder whether there might be another way to go about it.
The history of fundraising, after all, is the history of innovation. Think pink — pink ribbons, that is; or pledge cards with their turn-down flaps, each flap designating a specific dollar amount. And how about the Christmas and Easter seal, silent auctions, Las Vegas night?
The repertoire of fundraising devices is a capacious and imaginative one. Heading the list, at least for me, is Flower Day, a little known JNF initiative of the interwar years. Most of us associate JNF with the little blue tin collection box and the purchase and planting of trees, but flowers were also pressed into service.
“What did you expect? Walking skeletons in striped pajamas and yellow stars?” says the Nazi Commandant to his Red Cross visitors in dramatist Juan Mayorga’s haunting play “Way to Heaven” (“Himmelweg”), now playing at the Repertorio Espanol-Gramercy Arts Theater through January 27.
Well, yes, that was exactly what I expected, knowing that the play’s central theme is Theresienstadt, the notorious Nazi transit camp in Czechoslovakia.
In fact, it is the absence of Jewish “skeletons,” barbed wire, guard dogs and death — all the usual motifs of Nazi barbarity — that makes “Way to Heaven” so compelling.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Here’s an idea for a wonderful festival of new Israeli jazz: Bring together under one roof all (or most) of the local musicians who have put out albums in recent years under the New York label Tzadik Records. In the past 10 years, Tzadik — the company owned by avant-garde composer/musician John Zorn, high priest of the fascinating downtown Manhattan jazz scene — has recorded several of Israel’s most creative musicians.
The imaginary festival, which could be called Tzadikim and would hopefully take place in Tel Aviv rather than New York, would feature performances by saxophonist Daniel Zamir (who helped arouse Zorn’s enthusiasm for Israeli music more than a decade ago), singer Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, guitarist Eyal Maoz, the band Pisuk Rahav (which performed last week in Tel Aviv, and gave people a taste of its complex/wild potential), guitarist Ori Dakari, saxophonist Uri Gurvich and pianist Alon Nechushtan. Zorn himself would, of course, be a guest performer on saxophone; maybe he’d even bring with him to Israel some of the wonderful musicians who regularly play with him and who left an indelible impression when they played in Tel Aviv three years ago.
The Arty Semite contributor Christopher DeWolf profiles Hong Kong’s Rabbi Asher Oser and looks at the city’s Jewish history.
The Jewish Chronicle talks to actor Elliott Gould.
VICE Magazine talks to author Sam Lipsyte.
“Lipstikka,” an already-controversial film by Israeli director Jonathan Sagall, will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.
Anselm Kiefer’s latest exhibit carries a special message for Jews.
“Casino Jack,” the Jack Abramoff biopic starring Kevin Spacey, opens today. Read our review from the Toronto International Film Festival here.
Joshua Furst bugs out at an Icelandic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” featuring music by Nick Cave.
Jo-Ann Mort reads through two of the Arab world’s pre-eminent poets.
Gordon Haber investigates one of New York’s biggest wheeler-dealers.
Philologos tests the waters.
With stadium seating and the scent of fresh popcorn in the air, the November 21 screening of “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai” could have taken place in any shopping mall cinema in the world. But there was nothing ordinary about the film itself, which is China’s first homegrown Jewish movie, and an animated one at that.
“Other Jewish film festivals are avoiding this like the plague,” said Howard Elias, the founder of the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, which screened the movie as part of its 11th edition. “I’m showing it for the novelty. It’s not anti-Semitic — in fact, it’s pro-Semitic, in its own perverse way.”
Directed by Wang Genfa and Zhang Zhenhui, and based on a graphic novel by Wu Lin, “A Jewish Girl in Shanghai” is set during World War II. It tells the story of two children, Rena and Mishailli, who flee Europe after their father goes missing and their mother is abducted by Nazis. They find their way to Shanghai, which at the time was one of the few places in the world that would accept Jewish refugees, despite being occupied by the Nazi-allied Japanese.
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Forverts associate editor Itzik Gottesman writes about “Di fishelekh in vaser” (“The Fish in Water”) by Isaac Rymer:
“Di fishelekh in vaser” (“The Fish in Water”) was one of Isaac (Tsunye) Rymer‘s most beloved songs to perform (for more on Rymer see the previous posting on “Shpilt zhe mir dem nayem sher”). The performer Michael Alpert learned it from him (Alpert was present at this recording, done at a zingeray, or singing session, at our dining room table) and then taught others the song at KlezKamp and other festivals and workshops. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band and Shtreiml have recorded Rymer‘s version.
The song itself is a typical Yiddish mother-daughter folksong (see Robert Rothstein “The Mother-Daughter Dialogue in the Yiddish Folk Song: Wandering Motifs in Time and Space,” New York Folklore 15 (1989), 1-2:51-65.) But the couplet “I am a girl with understanding, common sense and ideas/I sought to fall in love (or have a love affair), but cannot attain it” is unique to this song.
In a bid to shape which Jewish documentaries find an audience, the Foundation for Jewish Culture announced the recipients of the Lynn and Jules Kroll Fund for Documentary Film on December 15. The $140,000 grant (split between five recipients) enables filmmakers, considered to be expanding the understanding of Jewish experience, to reach a wider audience.
This year’s winners included Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s “The Law in These Parts,” a chronicle of Israel’s 43-year-long military legal system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Nancy D. Kates’s “Regarding Susan Sontag,” an examination of a revered thinker through archival images and interviews; “Joann Sfar Draws From Memory,” Sam Ball’s portrait of the celebrated graphic novelist; “Numbered,” directed by Dana Doron and Uriel Sinai, addressing the internal and external scars of Holocaust survivors; and “The Hangman,” directed by Netalie Braun and Avigail Sperber, the story of Israel from the perspective of a marginalized Yemeni prison warden.