Stephen Hazan Arnoff reviews two new books on Bob Dylan.
Joshua Furst goes to see the current revival of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.”
Philologos tries out Cockney rhyming slang.
Benjamin Ivry watches the films of documentarian and social critic Frederick Wiseman.
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, Ari Weiss writes about “Nine Talmudic Readings” by Emmanuel Levinas.
I went book shopping during my first week of college in 1999. I had already bought the necessary books for my classes; my goal during this outing was to find new books and new ideas. Wandering through the aisles of the book store, I surprisingly came across a Talmud book in the philosophy section: “Nine Talmudic Readings” by Emmanuel Levinas. In 14 years of day school and yeshiva education, I had not heard of this Talmudical philosopher (or, perhaps a philosopher of Talmud). In the 10 years since, these nine postmodern readings of the Talmud have been central in thinking about the world, justice and Judaism.
It may seem odd to describe a collection of letters home from war-torn Europe as cheerfully high-spirited, but Mollie Weinstein Schaffer, born in Detroit in 1916, belongs to a zesty, can-do generation. Enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Schaffer faithfully wrote home to her family from 1943 through 1945, in letters now edited by her daughter Cyndee Schaffer as “Mollie’s War: The Letters of a World War II WAC in Europe,” out from McFarland & Company Publishers.
From basic training in Florida to service in wartime England, France, and Germany, Schaffer had somber duties to perform as a medical stenographer; among her assignments was to evaluate whether Nazi medical experiments had genuine research value (it was decided they did not). Yet attention is also paid to lighter matters such as makeup, perfume, and dating fellow Jewish soldiers whom Schaffer jauntily terms “M.O.T.’s” (Members of the Tribe).
Her attitude is so ebullient that in 1944, Danny Raskin, a young columnist for the Detroit Jewish News, pleads with Schaffer to file dispatches to inform hometown readers. Schaffer is too busy to comply, but Raskin might belatedly review “Mollie’s War” for the Detroit Jewish News, to which he still contributes.
Earlier this week, Ruth Franklin wrote about sharing a stage with Yann Martel and discussed whether anything new can be said about the Holocaust. She is the author of “A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.” 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:
One of the demoralizing things about writing a book about Holocaust literature is how much of it there is out there. Over the past few years, when I’ve told people about my book, they invariably respond with: “Oh, have you read _____? It’s the most devastating testimonial/most essential work of history/most beautifully written novel I’ve ever read about the Holocaust.” And then I have to admit that no, not only have I not read _____, I’ve never even heard of it, and shamefacedly add yet another item to my list.
In some cases, I’ve been able to rectify these deficits. After Stanley Kauffmann alerted me to Piotr Rawicz’s amazing “Blood From the Sky,” a surrealist novel about a young man who goes into hiding in Ukraine, I devoted a chapter of my book to it — the first sustained criticism of this novel to appear in English. I’m hoping it will inspire readers to become more familiar with Rawicz’s work, which is brilliant, experimental, and in some places searingly funny. In my favorite scene, the main character undergoes a “citizenship test” in prison to prove that he is Ukrainian. After a hot debate on the minutiae of politics, literature, and cultural pride, he emerges the winner. “That’s no Jew,” his interlocutor declares. “Take my word for it. He couldn’t be. He’s trash, of course…. But he isn’t a Jew.”
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, Jonathan Woocher writes about “I and Thou” by Martin Buber.
Modern thinkers who are Jewish have tended to fall into two groups: those who have had a considerable influence on Jewish life and thought, but little resonance in the wider intellectual world, and those who have had broad impact on modern society and culture, but contributed little to Jewish life. Among the few who have transcended this dichotomy is Martin Buber, the great German-born religious philosopher, Zionist activist, Bible translator and interpreter, and popularizer of Hasidism, who spent the final three decades of his life in Palestine/Israel.
Although I had been aware of Buber from my teen years, it was not until graduate school that I encountered him and his writing in earnest, guided by Professor Maurice Friedman, one of America’s leading Buber scholars and author of a multi-volume biography (which I had the privilege of working on). Buber’s seminal work is, of course, “I and Thou,” the phrase for which he has become famous, first published in 1923. The total corpus of Buber’s work is, however, enormous and wide ranging, much of it scholarly, some of it polemical, nearly all of it devoted in one way or another to articulating a religious humanist philosophy centering around the concept of dialogue as the key to living a life of meaning and purpose.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Israeli documentary “Precious Life” was shortlisted for the Best Documentary Film category in the 83rd Academy Awards, alongside 15 feature documentaries.
Director Shlomi Eldar’s moving film documents a saga involving a breathtaking race to save the life of a desperately ill Palestinian baby.
The baby’s militant mother, an Israeli doctor and Eldar, the Channel 10 Gaza correspondent, star in the documentary, which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July and has since been screened in documentary film festivals around the world.
Was Bernard Zakheim the Jewish Diego Rivera? A new exhibit, “Zakheim: The Art of Prophetic Justice,” at San Francisco’s Jazz Heritage Center and the adjacent Lush Life Gallery until December 30, celebrates the life and painting of Bernard Zakheim (1896-1985). Through panels that recount the artist’s achievements and a display of his paintings, the San Francisco show, curated by Fred Rosenbaum and Rosanna Sun, gives Zakheim the recognition and honor withheld during his lifetime for his achievements as a visionary, politically engaged Jewish muralist and sculptor.
Born into a Hasidic Warsaw family, Zakheim studied art in Poland and resisted the German occupation there before immigrating to America. After arriving in San Francisco in 1921, he co-founded a leftwing Yiddish folkschule and supported his family as a furniture designer in the city’s vibrant Fillmore district (where the current exhibit is located). The painter also founded the Artists’ and Writers’ Union with bohemian poet Kenneth Rexroth, a San Francisco friend portrayed in Zakheim’s once controversial “Coit Tower” mural.
On Monday, Ruth Franklin wrote about sharing a stage with Yann Martel. She is the author of “A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.” 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:
I’m occasionally asked whether I really think that at this late date, 60 years on, anything new can be said about the Holocaust. But people have been asking this question virtually since the end of the war.
When François Mauriac famously encountered the young Elie Wiesel in Paris in the early 1950s, he was amazed, as he would write in the introduction to “Night,” that Wiesel’s book, “coming as it does after so many others and describing an abomination such as we might have thought no longer had any secrets for us, is different, distinct, and unique nevertheless.” Reviewing Piotr Rawicz’s surrealist Holocaust novel “Blood From the Sky” in 1964, Theodore Solotaroff wrote that “by now there has been a glut of books and articles, reminiscences and diaries, documentary histories and objective analyses that tell us everything we need to know about life in the ghettoes and prisons and death camps.” And yet those who write about the Holocaust continued to surprise then, as they still do now.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The Israeli hit sitcom “Ramzor” (“Traffic Light”) won Monday night the International Emmy award for best comedy at the award ceremony in New York. This follows the hit show’s earlier coup of having rights for an American version bought by the Fox television network.
“Ramzor” was submitted as a candidate by Keshet, the franchisee that airs it on Channel 2 television. It was selected as a contender by a panel of 700 judges from 50 countries.
The show was chosen out of 39 nominees running for ore than 10 different categories, as presented by the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in the U.S.
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, Nigel Savage writes about “On Being a Jewish Feminist” by Susannah Heschel.
I read Susannah Heschel’s “On Being a Jewish Feminist” in the mid-1980s, when I was an English junior-year abroad student at Georgetown, in Washington D.C. I don’t know how or why I happened to see it, or buy it, or read it. Perhaps the title alone was startling for an English Jew who had grown up in a small and very old-fashioned Orthodox shul and cheder. I had stopped being observant at the age of 15, when I realized that the literal “bereishit bara elohim” that was being taught to me simply made no sense.
When we talk about the Enlightenment, or the Haskalah, in Europe, we have a general historical sense that all Jews were in ghettos and then the walls came down. One day pogroms, the next Einstein, Freud and Kafka. The period of time was indeed extraordinary, as Michael Goldfarb elucidates in his book “Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews From the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance,” recently released in paperback from Simon & Schuster. The shift, however, was more gradual and more geographically specific than we might imagine, and the results were more nuanced and even more spectacular than could have been expected. I caught up with Goldfarb at a recent book talk at the JCC in Manhattan and, unfairly, asked him to summarize his 432-page book in a couple of minutes.
Ruth Franklin is the author of “A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction.” 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:
Ah, fall — the season of hot apple cider, leaves crunching underfoot, and… Jewish book fairs. As I write this, bleary and jet-lagged, I’ve just returned from San Francisco’s terrific Jewish Bookfest, where I did an event with Yann Martel. As much of the world’s reading population knows, Martel is the author of “Life of Pi,” a saga about a boy stranded on a raft with a Bengal tiger, which won the Booker a few years ago and promptly became a runaway international hit. I, on the other hand, just published my first book, a collection of essays about Holocaust literature focused on the tension between imagination and memory in works by writers such as Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Jerzy Kosinski, and a number of others. Heavy stuff, and not always what people want to be entertained with on a Sunday afternoon.
“There isn’t an after party because I know pretty much everyone here,” composer David Amram announced at the end of his 80th birthday celebration at Symphony Space on November 11. “I figured that with 500 of you, plus your dates, plus the 60-piece orchestra, the rest of the performers and our families, we’d need Madison Square Garden. And it was booked.” He was exaggerating, but not much: The hall was packed with fans and well-wishers, and the concert program listed more musicians than could comfortably fit backstage at any one time — they were told to arrive in shifts.
The sprawling evening of music was a fitting tribute to Amram, a musical polymath who, during the course of an almost unimaginably prolific career, has collaborated with artists as diverse as Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Joseph Papp, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Elia Kazan and Tito Puente. He is the author of countless jazz, symphonic, and chamber music pieces; the Holocaust opera “The Final Ingredient”; the film scores for “Splendor in the Grass,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” and “Pull My Daisy”; and dozens of works that incorporate musical elements from the world’s great folkloric traditions.
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, Jonathan D. Sarna writes about “Great Jews Since Bible Times” by Elma Ehrlich Levinger.
My first Jewish history book recounted the entire story of “great Jews since bible times” in 160 pages.
One of many children’s books written by the writer and educator Elma Ehrlich Levinger, “Great Jews Since Bible Times,” published in 1926, introduced me to a wide range of fascinating characters, 35 in all, from Akiba to Zangwill, and from the Talmud to the 20th century — complete with illustrations. Individual chapters recounted the story of “Hillel, the poor student,” who, when he had no money to pay the door-keeper of his Jewish school, eavesdropped on lessons from the roof, and almost froze to death in a snowstorm; Abraham Ibn Ezra, “The Happy Traveler,” who traversed the world of his day, composing poetry; the philosophers Philo and Spinoza; even the false messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.
The L.A. Times explores Jordan’s premiere destination for banned books.
The Wire creator David Simon talks about his father Bernard Simon, a “professional Jew” and the public relations director of B’nai B’rith for more than 20 years.
New York’s Kehila Kedosha Janina is the last Greek synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
Philip Glass is writing a new opera based on Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.”
Jordana Horn checks out the Other Israel Film Festival.
Benjamin Ivry appreciates Russian Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg.
Sherwin Kaufman remembers arriving at Ellis Island almost 90 years ago.
Yelena Akhtiorskaya takes a poetry lesson from Andrei Codrescu.
Jacob Silverman reviews “Dolly City” by Orly Castel-Bloom.
It takes a midnight downpour to force a mutiny and forge a temporary unit from the misfits on Israel Defence Force Training Base 4, nearly three-quarters of the way through Georgian-Israeli director Dover Kosashvili’s new film.
“Where did they find such a group of losers?” mutters the troop commander, as they stubbornly shuffle together like a heard of defiant cows.
The answer is from North African immigrants, Holocaust survivors, idealistic kibbutzniks, rich Jerusalemites and the sons of their maids. But first and foremost, from a list of applicants medically unfit for regular service.
Set in 1956, “Infiltration” is Kosashvili’s fourth picture, an adaptation of Yehoshua Kenaz’s 1986 novel of the same name. Debuting earlier this year at the Jerusalem Film Festival and picking up six nominations at the Israeli Film Academy Awards, “Infiltration” recently screened at the BFI Film Festival in London and opened in wide release in Israeli theaters.
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, Dave Weinberg writes about “The House of Rothschild” by Niall Ferguson.
Five years ago, I spent a weekend perusing through my recently passed father’s library, an immense collection of historical treasures. With every passing year, I am constantly reminded and impressed by the detail at which he could recall dates, theories and placement of each book within our wall-to-wall, categorized library which my father grew over his entire life.
Among the dozens of books I chose that day was “The House of Rothschild” by Niall Ferguson, a two volume biography covering the now three century long historical entirety of the financially prophetic dynasty. Not exactly a quick or light read — yet the underlying themes and stories paint a truly remarkable story of Jewish leadership.
Human rights lawyers who spend their lives defending unpopular clients like Vietnam War draft resisters and free speech advocates can expect mostly indirect posthumous tributes. Such is the lesson of a friendly new volume, “Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford” by Leslie Brody, an English professor at the University of Redlands, out in October from Counterpoint Press.
“Irrepressible” is in part a dual biography of Mitford and her second husband, the radical lawyer Robert Treuhaft, for decades the bane of right-wingers and bigots across the land and abroad. Mitford and Treuhaft, who were married from 1943 until her death in 1996, formed a true partnership, and her famous exposé of the funeral industry, 1963’s “The American Way of Death,” still available in an updated edition from Vintage Books, was co-written by Treuhaft.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week Jake Marmer writes about “Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture.”
Last year’s excellent anthology “Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture,” a comprehensive collection of writings from leading Jewish poets and critics such as Charles Bernstein, Jerome Rothenberg, Marjorie Perloff, and many others, has not received the acclaim it surely deserves.
The book has sparked intriguing conversations and collaborations, however, the latest of which took place on November 11 at New York’s Poets House. Four of the anthology’s contributors — Hank Lazer, Maria Damon, Stephen Paul Miller and Alicia Ostriker — gathered to read and discuss their contributions to the volume and the subject of Jewish cultural and poetic identity in general.