The Arty Semite

This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Read more


Friday Film: 150 Years of French Class

By Allen Ellenzweig

Courtesy NYSJFF

And now, a different kind of Jewish film festival. “In the Beginning Was a School…,” a two-part documentary celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, has its American premiere March 13 at the New York Sephardic Jewish Film Festival. Traditional in its visual presentation — talking heads intercut with archival footage, animation, video montage, and old black and white clips of maps that look like out-takes from Casablanca — this television production tells a story little known on these shores, even if legendary among the francophone Sephardic diaspora. Its director, Josy Eisenberg, is a prominent figure in France, known as host — for over 40 years! — of a television program on Jewish life, history, and culture, and as the co-screenwriter of the 1970s cult film comedy, “The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.”

The Alliance, or AIU, was founded by six French Jewish eminences in 1860 on the heels of the Mortara Affair, which saw a six-year-old Jewish child in Bologna, Italy forcibly taken from his parents by the Church, on the rationale that Edgardo’s secret baptism by his nurse made him a Catholic. The Affair prompted international controversy; it also encouraged communitarian solidarity among assimilated French Jews.

Read more


Friday Film: In Search of the 36

By Shoshana Olidort

Courtesy NYJFF

In “36 Righteous Men,” Argentinian director Dan Burman, who goes in this film by his newly discovered Hebrew name, David ben Leah, joins an organized tour of Orthodox Jews visiting the gravesites of Hasidic leaders across Eastern Europe. What brings Burman, a thoroughly secular Jew, on board a bus where only strictly kosher food is served, and where many of the participants sport beards and large yarmulkes, is a quest to learn about the 36 hidden righteous men in whose merit, it is said, the world exists.

Burman is curious about this phenomenon: What does it mean to be a hidden tzaddik, or a righteous person? Can a secular person be a tzaddik? Do these men know that they are among the 36 righteous? And is their righteousness somehow compromised when the secret becomes revealed? But Burman’s curiosity about the legend of the 36 righteous men, for which the film is named, falters as he finds himself inundated with information about a culture he knows little about — the laws of kashrut and Shabbat, for example, as well as Hasidic notions of God and Godliness.

Read more


Isaac Stern Called him 'Petunia'

By Benjamin Ivry

The pianist Eugene Istomin, born in New York in 1925 to a Russian Jewish mother and Russian Orthodox father, is mostly remembered as a stellar chamber musician. Istomin, who died in 2003, anchored the celebrated Istomin-Stern-Rose trio (alongside superstar violinist Isaac Stern and cellist Leonard Rose) which is still remembered thanks to superb DVDs from EMI Classics of their performances of Brahms and Beethoven, as well as CDs on Sony Classical.

Istomin’s collaborations with cellist Pablo Casals are no less striking, on CDs from Sony Classical and Music & Arts. Yet Istomin also deserves plaudits as a soloist, as Pianist: A Biography of Eugene Istomin by James Gollin which appeared in July, 2010 from Xlibris Books to unjustly little fanfare, convincingly argues.

Read more


Dreams and Disillusion: 'Mayn Rue-Platz' by Morris Rosenfeld

By Michael Imlah

Something happens to the human psyche when an event reaches the 100 year mark, as is the case this month with the Triangle Factory Fire. It’s as if it can finally be relegated to the “dust bin of history” or tales of “long, long, ago.” But we can choose to remember, and we can read the work of poets determined to enshrine the daily life of people in verse. One poem, “Mayn Rue-Platz” by Morris Rosenfeld, captures the dismal world of the modern industrial worker, and continues to remind us of the dark conditions met by America’s new immigrants.

Rosenfeld, one of the “Sweat Shop Poets,” wrote of the disturbing nature of the garment industry, where he himself had worked for years. “Mayn Rue-Platz” contrasts natural beauty and pleasure with the realities found in American industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each step begins with the hoped for American experience but ends with the inevitable and oppressive realities of the industrialized world.

The forlorn nature of the poem suggests a single voice speaking to a dear friend or love, perhaps one yet to arrive in America or about to disembark at Ellis Island. The narrator reminisces about the splendor of their shared dreams and contrasts them with the realities the listener is bound to find. While dreaming of the simple pleasures of youth, springtime greenery, and singing birds, the reader is shocked by the simple truth, “you will not find me there.”

Read more


Out and About: Rodin Stolen from Israel Museum; Michael Chabon's 'Hobgoblins'

By Ezra Glinter

Courtesy MoMA

Read more


Q&A: Maira Kalman on the Illustrating Life

By Jillian Steinhauer

On March 11, “Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World),” the first museum exhibition devoted to New York illustrator and author Maira Kalman, opens at the Jewish Museum. The show, which debuted in Philadelphia last summer and then traveled to the West Coast, gives Kalman’s fans a rare opportunity to see the original artwork behind her blogs, books, and magazines spreads, as well as some of the quirky objects that inspire her. The Arty Semite sat down with Kalman recently to talk about her homecoming, her process, and why being funny is important.

Maira Kalman, ‘Self Portrait (with Pete),’ 2004-2006, guache on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

Jillian Steinhauer: How does it feel to have a museum exhibition?

Maira Kalman: It’s really nice, because I don’t think of it as a show but as rooms that happen to have my work in them. It’s lovely — it’s in a museum on Fifth Avenue, the windows are huge, and the trees are going from winter to summer. Yes, there are drawings sprinkled there, and yes, there are ladders and buckets and suitcases, but it’s the same in my living room, so it feels very natural.

Read more


Avigdor Arikha: An Artist 'Fervent in Adhesion' to His Subjects

By Benjamin Ivry

Self-Portrait in the Studio, 2001, oil on canvas, Collection of Gordon Gallery, Tel Aviv

In April, 2010, when the Israeli artist Avigdor Arikha (born Dlugacz in Romania) died at age 81, he was praised for his sensitive figurative art, as well as his heroic life story. In 1941, after Arikha’s family was deported to Romanian-run concentration camps, his drawings of deportation scenes, shown to International Red Cross representatives, won freedom for himself and his sister. By 1944 they had reached Palestine, where he lived on Kibbutz Ma’ale HaHamisha in the Judean Hills, before relocating definitively in 1954 to Paris.

There he met, among other arts colleagues, Samuel Beckett, and in 2005, Arikha’s widow Anne Atik published an affectionate account of their friendship, “How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett” from Counterpoint Press. Further understanding of Arikha’s artistic milieu and goals appeared on January 18, when Les Éditions Hermann published “Painting and Looking: Writings on Art, 1965-2009” (Peinture et regard. Écrits sur l’art, 1965-2009) an augmented version of a 1991 Arikha book from the same publisher.

Read more


For the Love of Books

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Ido Agassi

Just several feet away from where people are immersed in the digital worlds of their laptops, iPhones, and Kindles, Ido Agassi’s hand-designed, individually printed and bound books calmly look on from a display case in the lobby of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, California. Those who take time to observe Agassi’s “Books as Works of Art,” on view until March 31, are reminded that text need not be a flickering image on a screen, and that words can possess beauty beyond their meaning.

The blending of sculpture, graphic design and bookbinding has been part of the 34-year-old Israeli artist’s personal landscape since 1994, when his father, Uzi Agassi, founded Even Hoshen, the family’s letterpress and intaglio publishing house in Ra’anana. An autodidact, the younger Agassi is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to handcrafting books, boxes and slipcases. Over the years, he has studied bookbinding, restoration, box making, letterpress printing, typesetting, typography, calligraphy, gold finishing, printing and carpentry.

Read more


House Call

By Yuval Saar

Crossposted from Haaretz.com

The previous owner was a mosaic artist and did the bathrooms in mosaic tiles. Yossi Turisky, a director and producer of sound and light installations, kept them in his otherwise different home in Neve Yarak. The best moments in his productions, he says were “when a professional came up with a better idea than mine.”

Yuval Tebol

That’s what happened with the house. He could see things were “nicer than I would have done.”

Turisky, 60, has been doing sound and light installations for 30 years, mostly at visitors’ centers, from Rosh Hanikra to Timna Park. He studied film at Tel Aviv University and toward the end of his studies joined the team building Beit Hatfusot and so was exposed to the world of presentations.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Will Eisner's Hometown Spirit

By Michael Kaminer

Courtesy of Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art

“Cookalein” is Yiddish for “a modest bungalow, usually in the Catskills” where mothers would cook for their vacationing families. It’s also the title of one of the more modest but moving works in “Will Eisner’s New York: From the Spirit to the Modern Graphic Novel,” which opened last week at Soho’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, running through June 30.

The exhibit showcases the work “of the comics and graphic novel master that was inspired by, and which spotlighted, his hometown, the city he always held closest to his heart: New York,” according to its website. Progressing from the iconic early “Spirit” cartoons to his prodigious later output of graphic novels — most with Jewish themes — the show offers a rare opportunity to see Eisner’s original work up close. While much of his graphic-novel portrayals are “affectionate, and softer-edged in terms of social commentary,” co-curator Danny Fingeroth told the Forward, “some works are as savage as any Philip Roth or Saul Bellow on the less pleasant sides of the Jewish-American experience.”

Read more


The Voice of Ladino

By Mordechai Shinefield

Courtesy Yasmin Levy

Ladino, the language of the Judeo-Spanish Diaspora, has unfairly languished behind Yiddish in the Jewish language popularity sweepstakes. With the release of her 2009 U.K. album “Sentir” in the United States and an accompanying tour, including upcoming shows in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Israeli singer Yasmin Levy joins a bevy of artists trying to change that. Alongside artists like Sarah Aroeste, Judith Cohen and Flory Jagoda, Levy tries to channel a rich, transnational, historical genre for modern audiences. Like those artists, she has succeeded in evoking something distant and foreign. She has failed in similar ways too, producing another Ladino project trapped as a token of the past without bringing anything exciting and new to the table.

“Sentir,” Levy’s fifth album combining Ladino music with Andalucian Flamenco, is a far better exhibition of Levy’s voice that it is of the Judeo-Spanish musical history it weaves through over 12 tracks. Even when the songs blend into each other, melodies failing to distinguish themselves, Levy’s voice is commanding. On the opening track, “Mi Korason,” her voice quivers, slipping elusively behind and under and through the lyrics. On “Londje De Mi” she shows off her vocal mastery, flashily trilling or halting breathily, unfortunately illuminating how lackluster her musicians are by comparison.

Listen to ‘Mi Korason’:

Read more


Opening Museums on Sundays

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

In my household, Sundays are usually given over to two rituals: reading The New York Times and taking in a museum exhibition. I suspect your household is no different.

Charley Lhasa

But, as I explained recently to a group of George Washington alumni who had come together on a rainy Sunday morning to visit the brand new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia as part of an alumni series called “GW Culture Buffs,” the mere thought of doing exactly what we were doing had once generated more than its fair share of controversy.

We take our Sundays-at-the-museum for granted; earlier generations of culture buffs did not. Many museum officials and their elite patrons were initially rather resistant to the idea of opening the doors of, say, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on a Sunday, fearful lest it attract the wrong kind of people — those with “vandal hands” or broken English. A Sunday at the Met, they warned, was a “perilous experiment.”

Read more


A Universe of Printers

By Smadar Sheffi

Crossposted from Haaretz

Oz Malul
From Malul’s exhibit ‘You Shall Not Put an Obstacle Before a Blind Man.’

Sculptor Oz Malul has created a universe out of computer printers at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv. Dismantled, defective or broken printers of various ages move in a kind of repetitive, mechanical dance, in time to the sounds they create. They are also attached to other objects or pieces of machinery - for example, a radiator laying on its side, a dilapidated record player, a can of spray paint.

Malul, who graduated from Columbia University in New York in 2008, has been a notable exception on the Israeli art scene for some years now. His kinetic sculptures are made from ready-made materials, which in his hands become futile machines that range from touching to threatening, from amusing to frightening.

Read more at Haaretz.com


Monday Music: John Zorn Goes Beyond Collage With 'Interzone'

By Jake Marmer

Courtesy John Zorn

In 2006, when the MacArthur Foundation bestowed its “Genius” award on John Zorn, the panel of judges only underscored what many fans already knew. Zorn’s extensive output as a composer of avant-garde music, a first-rate saxophone player, and a leader of a group of downtown New York musicians, has been vastly important and influential.

His latest album, “Interzone,” recently released on his own Tzadik Records label, is a reminder that the maestro still remains on the outer edges of experimental music. Zorn is not only proficient in a multiplicity of styles and approaches, but has also attained a whole new level of fluidity of movement within them.

Read more


The Long and Indie Road

By Lea Penn

Crossposted from Haaretz

“Would you like to see what I have in my bag?” asks Noga Shalev at the start of our meeting in a bustling Tel Aviv bar before pulling a flute out and starting to play.

Daniel Tchetchik

Perhaps because of the noise, no one in the bar notices, but even if they did notice, she certainly would not have gotten excited.

“Sometimes I sit on the bus and my hands automatically go into the bag and without realizing, I start playing,” she says. “It’s very meditative to play the flute; it’s simple, addictive and soothing.”

Read more at Haaretz.com


Out and About: Saul Bellow's Politics; iTalmud, Reviewed

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images

Read more


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Shelley Kaiser
  • A.J. Goldmann talks to Israeli filmmaker Jonathan Sagall, about his new film “Lipstikka,” which recently premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival.

  • Jan Ellen Spiegel looks at a new exhibit of Jewish-themed art by Norman Gorbaty, who is just being discovered at the age of 78.

  • Benjamin Ivry revisits the legacy of hotel architect Morris Lapidus, whose over-the-top designs were often the subject of critical scorn.

  • Philologos digs up 10 Yiddish words for “potato.”

Read more


Friday Film: Bringing War Criminals to Justice in Sierra Leone

By Margaret Eby

Salone Films LLC
Mongolian peacekeepers protect the Special Court.

In 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began a bloody insurgency against the government of Sierra Leone. The resulting conflict lasted 11 years and caused more than a third of the population to flee; thousands more were killed by guerillas or had limbs forcefully amputated by machete. In the wake of the crisis, the U.N. and the re-instated Sierra Leonean government took an unprecedented measure, creating a “Special Court” to seek justice against war criminals in a tribunal that combined international and state law. As a third year law student at Harvard, Rebecca Richman Cohen went to the Special Court on a fellowship to work for the defense. When she returned to the country several years later, she brought a film crew.

The documentary that resulted from Cohen’s three year stay is “War Don Don,” screening next week at the Ambulante Film Festival in Mexico, following a short run in New York last fall. Her film traces the trial of RUF leader Issa Sesay, a man directly responsible for many of the war’s worst atrocities, who also protected many civilians from the clashing forces. Wayne Jordash, Issay’s lead defense lawyer, admits at one point that in other circumstances, he would have been friends with Issay. For Cohen, this is part of the central point: War criminals, if not for the war, might not be criminals.

Read more


Reimagining the Talmud

By Aaron Roller

Earlier this week, Aaron Roller, an editor of Mima’amakim, wrote about the Jewish Austin Powers and the Jewish poetry conspiracy. 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:


Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli

I knew something exciting was afoot when an e-mail from the poet Jake Marmer popped up in my inbox with the subject header, “Won’t you be my Tosafot?” Jake Marmer is a longtime editor with Mima’amakim who performs improvisatory jazz poetry with the hippest downtown avant gardists. The Tosfos were a group of Talmudic commentators centered mostly in medieval Provence whose work of dense and brilliant legal exposition is compiled in the margins of the Talmud. As many a teacher of Talmud might ask, “So, nu, what’s the connection?”

Read more


Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.