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.
Isaac Zablocki is the director of film programs at The JCC in Manhattan.
“Five Hours From Paris” is an Israeli film, inspired by classic French New Wave cinema, that tells the story of a taxi driver with a fear of flying and a Russian immigrant who is planning to move to Toronto. When “Five Hours From Paris” screened on November 2 at The JCC in Manhattan, the sold out audiance asked director Leonid Prudovsky, “why does this film not have an American distributor?” Prudovsky explained that the reason might be because the film is not political. But in a war-stricken region, it is refreshing to have an occasional glimpse of daily life and true humanity. I took the opportunity to talk to Prudovsky about his love of French movies, the reaction to “Five Hours From Paris” in Israel, and the film’s inadvertent politicization in the wake of last June’s flotilla incident. “Five Hours From Paris” next screens on December 9 at the Washington Jewish Film Festival.
Watch an interview with Leonid Prudovsky:
Once upon a time William G. Scheele, who was the equipment/stage manager for The Band and Bob Dylan from 1969 to 1976 and a photographer whose work is on exhibit at the 14th Street Y’s Forward-sponsored December event, Bob Dylan and The Band: What Kind of Love Is this?, snapped a red-tinted picture of Dylan and The Band jamming with, of all people, Cher. Cher! It was an extremely arresting photograph — were they playing a wedding gig in Hell? — and, as the founder of the improvisational-writing website QuickMuse and the editor of JBooks, I thought it would make for a great session of improvisation. So I sent it to novelist Rick Moody, and asked him to improvise a written response.
Excepting the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” remake, or Disney’s blockbusting, multidimensional sequel to “Tron,” is there any film more anticipated this awards season than Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan”? Let’s rephrase that, for the sake of brevity. Is there any non-Jeff Bridges film more anticipated this awards’ season than “Black Swan”? Probably not.
Ever since the first trailer was released this summer, in advance of premieres in Venice and Toronto, “Black Swan” has been drumming up a whole mess of hype. And with good reason. In the wake of 2008’s near-unanimously praised “The Wrestler,” Aronofsky has carved out a space for himself as a filmmaker who can handle material with a more delicate touch than the whip-bang sensationalism of other of his films, such as “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Fountain.” But “Black Swan” is far from delicate, despite dealing with waifish dancers working at a New York City ballet company. Though it has at its core the pressures sport impresses upon already-fractured psyches, any connections to “The Wrestler” end there. With “Black Swan,” Aronofsky is back to whip-bang. And then some.
In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite has partnered 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, Jewish Book Council director Carolyn Starman Hessel concludes the series.
What Jewish book has had its greatest influence on me? I believe the first step is to address the much discussed question: “what is a Jewish book?” A Jewish book is either one with overt Jewish content regardless of the author’s background, or one with no obvious Jewish content but written by a Jewish author. Being a writer is such a personal endeavor: a Jewish person sees the world through Jewish eyes and writes with a Jewish pen.
What is the Jewish book that most influenced my life? It must be the Tanach, for it is from this that Jewish life and literature emerged. In addition, all books of Jewish interest were born here. The Jewish teachings and values we hold dear and that reflect on all of our writings come from this one source.
The friendship between the great kabbalist Gershom Scholem and the political scientist Hannah Arendt famously foundered in the 1960s after a disagreement over Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” an account, of the trial of the Nazi war criminal.
Scholem reproached Arendt for a lack of “ahavath Yisrael,” to which Arendt readily concurred that she lacked “ahavath” for any national or political group per se, a stance which Scholem could not abide. Happily, the collected correspondence of Scholem and Arendt, out on October 11 from Suhrkamp Verlag (Hannah Arendt / Gershom Scholem: Der Briefwechsel, 1939-1964), offers welcome background and amplification of the lengthy relationship between these two brilliant minds.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces “Glass” by Robert Pinsky. This piece originally appeared on October 5, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Robert Pinsky, poet and translator, has done more than teach us that American poetry belongs to all Americans. In April 1997, when the Library of Congress named Mr. Pinsky the 39th poet laureate, he created the Favorite Poem Project as his special undertaking. He began by recording ordinary Americans reading their favorite poems and ended up with more than 18,000 submissions, a video project, a Web site and a book, “Americans’ Favorite Poems” (Norton, 1999), or which he’s co-editor.
He himself has published six books of poetry. “The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996” was awarded the Lenore Marshall Prize in Poetry. His translation of “The Inferno of Dante” received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. He teaches in the writing program at Boston University.
“Glass” is part of a series of poems, “First Things to Hand.” “Each poem,” he told the Forward, “starts from an ordinary object I touch.”
Sometimes we listen to CDs for their artistry, sometimes simply to relish individual voices, and few voices are as heartening and as reaffirming about human values as the rich, exquisitely cultured speaking tones of Albert Einstein, to be heard on a reprint from British Library Publishing. In original recordings from 1930 to 1947, in English mostly but also in German, Einstein addresses audiences for the benefit of Jewish war refugees with moving simplicity and grace. This is a must-hear, unforgettable item.
Other voices have other aims; Salim Halali, born into a North African Jewish family in Annaba, Algeria in 1920, expresses love of home on a CD from Buda Musique, featuring a blazing version of “My Yiddishe Momme” which makes Sophie Tucker sound positively reticent by comparison.
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, Michael Miloff writes about “The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays” by Irving Greenberg.
I grew up loving the joyous sights, smells, sounds and tastes of Jewish holidays. Although my sense of Jewish identity stayed strong, as I grew older, I grew farther from Jewish institutions and literacy until, late, in life I had children, provoking an interest in the meanings of Judaism beneath the holiday surfaces.
Around this time, my uncle passed the mantle of our extended family Seder leadership to me, thus occasioning a foray into Jewish writing about Passover. Among the many wonderful books, I found Yitz Greenberg’s “The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays” to be an invaluable source of wisdom, inspiration and critical support for my new role.
Based on first impressions alone, it would be tempting to dismiss Or Even Tov and Miri Segal’s video exhibit “Future Perfect,” on view until December 11 at Tel Aviv’s Dvir Gallery, as clever if somewhat overstated satire. Taking its cues from the realm of technological-scientific progress, one immediately discerns tropes from science fiction, specifically the specter of omnipotent control. The short film starts with a lone figure surveying a panoramic landscape before turning to address his Internet audience, tens of millions from across the world.
The benevolent overlord is Sergey B, co-founder and president of Gooble Inc. (sound familiar?); the purpose of his public address, on 28th March 2013, is to announce the launch of the revolutionary Gmind, a wearable computer activated by users’ thoughts. A small headset equipped with a minute camera and projector, it captures the wearer’s thoughts by reading EEG patterns, and projects search engine associations onto the user’s pupil. Through thought command, it can also film all that the wearer sees, to be archived and made accessible at will. Sergey B describes this innovation as the democratization of knowledge. “Within our lifetime, everyone can have tools of equal power,” he purrs soothingly.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Rivka Michaeli gives an impressive performance in the title role of “Nechama,” a film directed by Edit Sheratzki in which she plays an elderly woman who wakes up one morning knowing that it is her last day on earth. She has to deal with the people around her, who are either too busy with their own affairs or who brush her off scornfully and refuse to allow her to take leave of them and leave of herself the way she wants. In a world in which wrinkles shrink or disappear, in which signs of age are pushed off the screen in favor of taut skin, Michaeli faces the camera courageously, directly and proudly.
In “Nechama,” which will be screened this month at the Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem cinematheques, not only are the marks of time on her body not blurred, they are even emphasized. The part requires this and the actress makes it possible.
The married painters Nancy Spero and Leon Golub fascinated their contemporaries by interweaving political themes into expressive artworks. As an individual creator, Spero finally received her full due in Christopher Lyon’s “Nancy Spero: The Work,” a lavish book out in October from Prestel Publishing.
Lyon’s introduction explains the symbolic importance to Spero of texts such as “The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype,” still available from Princeton University Press, by the German Jewish psychologist Erich Neumann, a longtime Tel Aviv resident. Spero’s own archetypes began in Cleveland in 1926, where she was born into a family of Russian /German Jewish descent.
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, Ira J. Wise writes about “Shema is For Real: A Book on Prayer and Other Tangents” by Joel Grishaver.
“In case of fire, throw this book in…”
So begins a religious school text book that was as revolutionary as the internet and social media are today. Joel Grishaver developed this book as graduate student at the University of Chicago, as a counselor at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, WI, and as a the youth group advisor at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Il. I was a camper in Wisconsin and a junior youth grouper and religious school student at a neighboring congregation.
“Shema is For Real: A Book on Prayer and Other Tangents was transformative.” It said that we could have experiential learning and out of the box thinking at Sunday school. It said that Jewish learning could be fun and engaging, even if you got the next best teacher. It told us there were more interesting people than the Stickmans.
When Philip Roth’s Alexander Portnoy discusses the arcane symbolism of his girlfriend eating a banana, or talks about time spent alone in the bathroom with women’s underwear hanging on the door, or any number of other things that can’t even be implied in the html of a family website, he is revealing his innermost “perversions” to his analyst, the things he’s repressed and sublimated and kept far away from public view; Nick Kroll’s Rodney Ruxin says the same things to his group of friends on “The League” every week and they celebrate him for it, and enjoy provoking him to see what invectives he’ll throw their way.
“The League” is an FX show about a group of 30-something high school friends in the Chicago area who continue to bond over fantasy football. The characters are ethnically diverse in the way of most North Shore Chicago suburbs (Poles and Protestants) and Ruxin, as the Jewish member, marks the ironic result of six decades of suburbanization by American Jews. He’s been raised in suburban American settings, and is accepted as a normal white American by his friends, but he’s simultaneously been brought up on a Jewish American culture that emphasized outsiderdom from general American society (30 years of Roth and Woody Allen) and has been permanently affected by the meta-criticism of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Three cheers for Tel Aviv! Recently, the Lonely Planet travel guide singled out the Mediterranean entrepot as one of its top 10 cities for 2011. “Tel Aviv is the total flipside of Jerusalem, a modern Sin City on the sea,” it noted, adding that “hedonism is the one religion that unites its inhabitants.”
For those more accustomed to associating Israel with the Holy Land than with hedonism, Lonely Planet’s endorsement may set tongues wagging and eyes rolling. And yet, it’s hardly the first guidebook to steer prospective tourists towards the beach or the café and the carefree pursuit of pleasure and away from holy sites and the cultivation of responsibility.
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, Idit Klein writes about “Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics” by Rachel Adler.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a page of Humash. My third grade rabbi pointed at the center of the page and explained, “This is the main story.” He then gestured to the text below, “now here is what someone named Rashi has to say about this.” He gestured to the left, “and here, what someone named Onkelos has to say, too.” He went on to explain that sometimes, Rashi and Onkelos would disagree. Sometimes, I or one of my classmates might have an idea that neither Rashi nor Onkelos mention. Sometimes, we would argue with one another or with him, our teacher, about what the story means. That was all good and just as it should be.
“Black woods howl in the stove/Our dog turned into a lion/but today the grownups are/Frowning like a mean witch.” So go the lyrics to Karel Berman’s song “Children at Play” from his 1944 work “Poupata” (Buds), sung by Canadian bass Robert Pomakov.
Berman’s lyrics convey a naïve perspective but were composed for a bass on purpose, according to James Loeffler, research director of Pro Musica Hebraica, an organization that revives neglected Jewish music.
“If the cantor is the sound of a grown man crying, this is the sound of a grown man being reduced to a child,” said Loeffler in a November 18 lecture, “What Is Jewish Classical Music and Why Does It Matter?” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
On the Yiddish Song of the Week blog, Pete Rushefsky writes about Josh Waletzky and “Yaninke,” a song Josh learned from his father, Sholom Waletzky:
One of the leading contemporary composers of Yiddish song, Josh Waletzky (b. 1948) grew up in a family that was deeply embedded in the secular Yiddish world of Camp Boiberik and the Sholem Aleichem folkshuln.
As Itzik Gottesman writes, “Camp Boiberik was a secular Yiddish culture camp which existed from 1923 to 1979 near Rhinebeck, New York (the camp site is now owned by the Omega Institute). Camp Boiberik was part of the Sholem Aleichem Folk Institute, a non-political Yiddish cultural organization with its center in New York and Sholem Aleichem Folk shuln (schools) in a number of states in the U.S. The Director and guiding spirit for most of Camp Boiberik’s existence was Leibush Lehrer (1887-1964), a leading Yiddish pedagogue, writer, philosopher and lyricist.” The camp took its name from a mythical vacation resort described by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem.
Crossposted from Haaretz
“I have a small obsession: to get dancers to take their bodies and brains farther,” says choreographer Jacopo Godani. “An animal-like, emotional and physical approach to dancing is very important, but if the brain does not control the body, the body has a tendency to repeat its movements. Unfortunately, most dancers are programmed by their first learning experiences. But if they make room for the brain, it is capable of causing the body to do more complicated and advanced things. The body always responds to the memories stored in its muscles.”
This idea is central to the professional outlook of the Italian artist, who has worked and established himself in Germany but lives in France, and is visiting Israel right now. He was invited by the Israeli Opera and the Suzanne Dellal Center as part of their project — a joint, international repertory dance endeavor — to mount a new work with local dancers. Godani’s “Light Years” will premier tomorrow night (Tuesday) at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center Opera House; the program also includes “Super Nova” by Marco Goecke, a German choreographer, and “Through the Center” by Israeli Emanuel Gat; the performance will be staged again on Friday, December 10, at 2 p.m.
Casting has begun for an Israeli version of Sex and the City.
At ZEEK, Louis Greenspan re-discovers Jewish philosopher Salomon Maimon.
The New York Times discovers KlezKamp.
Ingrid Pitt, a British horror movie star and Holocaust survivor, has died.