On Monday, Aaron Roller, an editor of Mima’amakim, wrote about 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:
Of all the poets whose work I’ve come across while reviewing submissions for Mima’amakim, Samuel Thrope is probably the most mysterious. I don’t know Samuel, though I hope our paths will cross some day soon. For the past two years, Mima’amakim has published poems by Thrope that encompass the unpredictable sweep of the Jewish past, while playing some serious postmodern tricks.
Last year, Thrope submitted a short, translated excerpt from the “Dabestan-e Mazaheb” or “School of Religious Doctrines,” a 17th-century book that documents and compares Asian religions. The portion of the Dabestan that pertains to Judaism was taken from the anonymous author’s encounter with a Jewish convert to Islam named Sarmad. Sarmad, himself a poet, traveled to India, whereupon he fell in love with a Hindu boy and renounced everything, becoming a wandering ascetic.
Image by Ivan Dribas. Courtesy of Minsker Kapelye.
There is a story in my family about my paternal great-grandfather Yosl (Yeysef), who served as a clarinetist in the Russian Army military band. During World War I, he was captured as a prisoner of war and was held in Germany until a year after the war ended. When he returned to his hometown of Mogilev in late 1919 with his clarinet in hand, all he saw was devastation and famine, and he was forced to trade his instrument for bread to feed his family.
I started to play the clarinet at the age of 13 as a second instrument after first learning the piano. As a child, I dreamed of becoming a symphony orchestra conductor, and it seemed important to master an orchestral instrument. But as soon as I became interested in Jewish music I knew I had discovered a powerful tool to express myself as a Jewish musician. For my zeyde’s clarinet, I like to think that it was a kind of reincarnation.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Before you read any further: If you weren’t at Gogol Bordello’s first two performances this week and you don’t have tickets for tonight — get them now. This is the sort of event for which the words “don’t miss” were invented.
The question with regard to Gogol Bordello, as opposed to most bands, is not whether its show was good, but rather just how good it was. Or more precisely, just how amazing it was. This is because less than “amazing” is apparently not an option for Eugene Hutz and his explosive multinational gang.
The band’s previous appearance in Israel, about a year ago, was tremendous. It was nearly a religious experience, in the aesthetic sense of the term: A celebration of liberation and humanism. The performance on Monday, which (for me, at least) lacked the element of surprise, in the nature of things did not replicate that experience. The first time is always the best. But even the second time was excellent.
An electrifying dance performance by Israel’s Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC) brought the audience to its feet on February 26 at Kanbar Hall at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco.
The San Francisco performance — the last of an international tour — was of a work titled “Ekodoom,” choreographed by Rami Ba’er, who also designed the sets, lighting and costumes.
Ba’er refers to ”Ekodoom” as an introspection on both a shared ecology and our potential doom. While it’s tempting to look for a narrative or to discover the choreographer’s intent, Ba’er said that “I don’t like to interpret the piece in words with a narrative or story. I want the spectator to connect to himself through the piece — through his own associations, memories, feelings, and thoughts.”
We Jews like to pride ourselves on the many things we’ve invented: the ballpoint pen, blue jeans, and the atomic bomb, to name a few. (How about the theory of relativity — does that count?) We’ve also had a strong hand in shaping the world of modern entertainment, helping to build Hollywood, create the modern sitcom, and, not least important, invent that beloved American lowbrow figure, the comic book superhero. Whether you consider it a feat or a flaw, Jews dreamed up Superman, the Fantastic Four, Spider Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men — in other words, nearly every big-name character that came to life during the Golden (late 1930s–1940s) and Silver (late 1950s–1970) Ages of comics.
Captain Marvel — the “World’s Mightiest Mortal,” as his creators billed him — is an exception, wildly popular in his day but not called into existence by Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, or any other of the Jewish comics greats. Instead it was a magazine publisher named Roscoe Fawcett who, two years after Siegel and Shuster’s Superman first appeared in DC Comics in 1938, allegedly told his company’s art director he wanted a comparable character whose alternate identity would be a young boy rather than a grown man. Thus Captain Marvel was born, and proceeded to outsell Superman throughout the following decade, sometimes by as many as 14 millions copies a month. He met a premature demise, however, at the hands of DC, who sued Fawcett Comics for copyright infringement. After three trials, a financially beleaguered Fawcett settled in 1952, agreeing never to publish Captain Marvel again.
The most striking thing about the opening of Jewish Book Week — London’s biggest book fair — was the relative lack of books. At the opening, on Saturday night, to a packed audience, Simon Sebag-Montefiore led off the presenters with an account of his much feted “Jerusalem, a Biography,” but the smorgasbord of Judaic books that had previously greeted the attendees like a literary bagel spread was notably, and deliberately, thin.
The theme of this year’s event is “bookends,” by which the organizers mean to conjure both an idea of formative books as well as those solid citizens of the bookshelf that provide balance to a row of books. An unfortunate echo of the theme, though, is the “end of books.” And, though the reason for the limited showing of hard copies in the foyer is the increasing ease and thrift of buying books online (Amazon is cheaper after you’ve found a book at JBW), the decreasing number of hard copies is a trend that will continue as Europe follows America, and move increasingly towards eBooks.
The English-speaking Haredi Jewish community produces an awful lot of original Jewish music, though critics might consider it a lot of awful original Jewish music. With rare exceptions, the lyrics of popular songs in English — as opposed to settings of liturgical texts or Yiddish lyrics — come in just a few flavors, ranging from preachy to maudlin to just plain bad. Good lyrics are few and far between, the repertoire consisting of less-than-subtle presentations of the importance of Torah, Shabbos, and especially Moshiach and Geula (the Messiah and Redemption).
The recent passing of one of the few compelling frum English-language singer-songwriters is an opportunity to reflect on the story and songs of a man many consider the most influential English-language song lyricist of contemporary Orthodox Judaism.
In 1978 singer-songwriter Moshe Yess (born Morris Arthur in 1945) bought a one-way ticket from Hollywood, Calif., to Jerusalem and enrolled in Yeshiva Dvar Yerushalayim to learn more about Judaism. He quickly teamed up with another ba’al teshuva (returnee to observance), Rabbi Shalom Levine, to form the Megama Duo (“Megama” can be translated as aim, direction, or purpose), a project using American folk-rock sounds to express Jewish values. Megama’s most enduring hit is “My Zaidy,” a song off their debut, self-titled record.
Aaron Roller is an editor of Mima’amakim, a journal of Jewish religious poetry and art. Their new issue was just released. 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:
The very notion of creating one magazine to house “Jewish poetry” doesn’t seem to make any sense. Jews wrote poetry in medieval Spain. Other Jews wrote Yiddish poetry as the Enlightenment made its way to Eastern Europe. There were poets among the early Zionists, just as there were among early Jewish immigrants living in New York’s Lower East Side.
What justifies grouping these seemingly disparate poets together? They wrote in different languages, in different forms about different topics. They range from the the greatest defenders of faith to those who struggled with belief to those who gave up on G-d completely.
So what is Jewish poetry?
Jewish and African-American cultures have met on musical ground on many occasions — just think of Cab Calloway’s forays into Yiddish, Nina Simone’s covers of Hebrew folksongs, or most recently, the collaboration of Fred Wesley, David Krakauer and Socalled as Abraham Inc.
David Chevan’s Afro-Semitic Experience, however, is different. The project unapologetically focuses on religious — or rather, sacred — music, as attested to by their recent live double album, “Further Definitions of the Days of Awe.”
This year, along with the album release, the band celebrated its 13th year of existence. In honor of the occasion, a “bar mitzvah” concert was held at New York’s Sixth Street Synagogue in January. The album is also coming out in three different iterations, capturing three different live performances in Greenfield, New Haven, and New York (this review is of the Greenfield concert).
Crossposted from Haaretz
The Israeli dancer and choreographer Yuval Pick was appointed director last week of France’s Centre Choregraphique National de Rillieux-la-Pape. Pick, 40, will replace choreographer Maguy Marin, who has held the position since 1998, in August.
CCN Rillieux-la-Pape, in the Rhone-Alpes region, is one of 19 such centers established around France in the 1980s in order to promote dance in outlying areas. Each is headed by a leading dance figure who produces their own works, and is responsible for a range of activities, including hosting guest choreographers and dance companies, promoting dance and organizing lessons and workshops.
Actress Natalie Portman and writers David Seidler and Aaron Sorkin were among the winners at last night’s Academy Awards. Also, the Israeli documentary “Strangers No More” took home the prize for best short documentary.
“Zenga Zenga,” An Israel video lampooning Muammar Gaddafi, has gone viral.
A new biography argues for the continuing relevance of Amedeo Modigliani.
The National Post talks to Forward contributor Michael Kaminer about “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women.”
Benjamin Ivry remembers French politician and media figure Françoise Giroud.
Jake Marmer reviews “Coming To Life,” a poetry collection by Joy Ladin.
Philologos goes to learn in yeshiva.
Cheryl Kaplan goes to see “The Sota Project,” a 22-minute film installation about adultery, betrayal and doubt.
World music is a disingenuous marker for a genre. Besides presuming that popular forms of western (that is, American) music like pop, rock, rap, soul and country-western are something other than of the world, the term “world music” tends to flatten the rich idiosyncrasies and particularities of music coming from all corners of the globe. It makes filing CDs at your local HMV or Virgin Superstore easier. But that’s about it.
But Yemen Blues, the most exciting touring band out of Israel (with apologies, Monotonix), are different. Mixing traditional Yemenite music with soul, blues, and West African rhythms, the group’s claim to the “world music” moniker is well-earned. “The sense of the band, especially in industry circles, is that this band is the hottest thing,” said Eric Stein, artistic director of the Ashkenaz Foundation in Toronto, Canada. So when Stein heard that the band was plotting a North American tour, he scrambled to schedule a Toronto date. (Yemen Blues plays in Toronto on February 26 before dipping south of the border for dates in Chicago on February 27, Los Angeles on March 6, and New York on March 9, among others.) “I’d been hearing rumblings for months that there was this hot new thing coming out of Israel. And my ears always perk up to that kind of thing.”
In this age of conflicts in and with the Islamic world, it’s heartening to see a fact-based film about religious amity, even one that’s set during a sectarian civil war in an Arab country. The French-language production “Of Gods and Men” follows a group of French monks in Algeria who are threatened by Islamic extremists during the Algerian civil war in the 1990s. After winning the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010, the film is being released commercially in the U.S. on February 25.
The film’s star, Lambert Wilson (alongside the ever-stately Michael Lonsdale), is a veteran actor in both his native French and in English. His talents as a singer stand him in good stead as Brother Christian, the head monk in a Trappist monastery. The authentic prayers the actors intone are but one of the film’s charms.
Aside from a title inspired by Psalm 82, the Jewish connection is slight: A visiting monk brings “The Chosen” as a gift requested by Christian. The screenwriter, Etienne Comar, confirmed in an e-mail that this was Chaim Potok’s novel, but he could not recall if the gift was factual or an invention.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Though the Jerusalem International Book Fair continues through tomorrow morning, it’s possible that last night marked the festival’s climax, as two literary titans — A.B. Yehoshua and Umberto Eco — met and put on a performance for an enthusiastic, overflowing crowd. Even 20 minutes before the event’s scheduled start, fans were being turned away, and the air had that electrified sense of anticipation that precedes historical events.
History was certainly something that infused the entire hour-long conversation between the Italian novelist and his Israeli interviewer, as Yehoshua acknowledged that “The Name of the Rose,” Eco’s 1980 murder mystery set in a 14th-century Italian monastery, inspired him to write his 1997 historical novel “A Journey to the End of the Millennium,” set in Paris in the 10th century.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Jake Marmer introduces three poems by Aaron Roller.
Notorious for having their heads in the clouds and their hearts set on unearthly matters, poets have, nevertheless, often designated physical spaces as makeshift shrines for their inspirations. Just think how much verse has sprung from the proverbial park bench, the grassy bank, or the window of a moving train. In his poem “Naked,” featured below, New York poet Aaron Roller picks the most auspicious location of all: the mikveh, or ritual bath.
In a wild Whitman-esque frenzy, Roller summons the world to the mikveh with him, purifying us with his gritty, ecstatic, and at times endearingly dorky jokes. As it becomes clear from the second poem, “My Wife Has a Secret,” the mikveh is more than a random location on the map of Roller’s inspiration; rather, it is a recurring image, a pit stop where his muse does not fail to pause while racing through the lines. And indeed, if the third poem, “Write Like a Jew,” does not reference the ritual bath explicitly, it is clear that the wild hair of the rallying, ranting poet is still wet with precious drops of that holy water, enriched with the traces of the many greats who have bathed in it before.
Roller has been one of key editors and contributors to the Mima’amakim Journal of Jewish Art, and the first two poems made their initial appearances in the journal. The final poem was composed especially for Mima’amakim’s closing party earlier this month, and luckily, was captured on video. Located where spirituality meets holy awkwardness, romanticism holds hands with sarcasm, Orthodox Judaism jives with high-brow and low-brow grimaces of the Western cannon, Roller’s poetry continues to entertain, to explode, and, indeed, to purify.
The crowded hallways of the Bialik-Rogozin school in gritty South Tel Aviv are about as far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as one can imagine.
But on the evening of the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27, the school’s principal, Keren Tal, will make the transition from those hallways to the red carpet, as she walks alongside filmmakers Kirk Simon and Karen Goodman. Tal, along with the teachers and students of her school, are the stars of a 40-minute documentary “Strangers No More,” which is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short category.
Bialik-Rogozin is not your typical Israeli school. On the campus, 800 children from more than 48 countries in grades K-12 are educated, many entering school with no understanding of Hebrew.
“Here, Christians, Jews and Muslims study together,” declares principal Keren Tal in the film. “In education, there are no strangers.”
How one of the most popular Jewish books of the modern era explained everything from Kabbalah to cosmology, astronomy, geography, botany, zoology and medicine.
Novelist David Bezmozgis and filmmaker Richard J. Lewis exchange letters on “Barney’s Version.”
Will Justin Timberlake star in the upcoming Three Stooges movie?
A film about Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery and two Israeli movies were honored at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
Paintings of Rahm Emanuel, covered with pancakes, bagels, challah, and other assorted foodstuffs.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Joel and Ethan Coen, the Oscar award-winning producer-director team that created films like “The Big Lebowski” and “A Serious Man” have been announced as the recipients of a million dollar prize from Tel Aviv University, to be granted in May.
The Dan David Prize is named for the businessman and philanthropist and is administered by a board of directors headed by Tel Aviv University President Professor Yoseph Klafter. Ten percent of the recipients’ prize money is donated on their behalf to doctorate and post-doctorate student grants.
In Frank Loesser’s beloved 1961 musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, a new production of which starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe opens at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre on March 27 (previews start February 26), J. Pierrepont Finch (Radcliffe) is portrayed as an inexorably rising businessman. His name alludes to the turn-of-the-century capitalist and Episcopalian, J. Pierpont Morgan, whose presence in 20th century American Jewish culture includes appearance or evocations in E. L. Doctorow’s novel and subsequent Broadway musical Ragtime; Charles Strouse’s musical “Annie,” Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! (in the song “Elegance”); and even Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. But how Jewish is J. Pierrepont Finch and his world?
Finch, a window-washer who schmoozes his way amazingly quickly to being chairman of the board, is often casually compared to Sammy Glick from the Broadway musical What Makes Sammy Run? adapted from Budd Schulberg’s 1941 novel. Yet Sammy Glick is a lethally ambitious, double-dealing bluffer who “runs people down” so somberly that some readers saw him as an anti-Semitic stereotype, to which Schulberg could only reply that Sammy’s victims were Jews, too. By comparison, Finch is a gracefully sunny caricature (entirely appropriate for a theater named after Hirschfeld), thanks to the genius of writer and director Abe Burrows (born Abram Solman Borowitz), who directed “Sammy” in its Broadway debut in 1964, when “How to Succeed,” for which Burrows wrote the book and directed as well, was still running.