A group of Jewish artists digging deep into Jewish writing and turning it into theater is trying to bring something fresh and smart to the table.
Billing itself as “New York’s first Jewish theater company dedicated to Sabbath-observant artists,” 24/6 launched on December 11 with an evening of short plays called “Sabbath Variations: The Splendor of Space” at The Sixth Street Community Synagogue. The performance consisted of five short plays, followed by a discussion of the life and work of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose writings inspired the company.
Artistic Directors Jesse Freedman, Yoni Oppenheim and Avi Soroka organized the company in May. They began inviting artists to work with them, and to envision what a Jewish theatre company would look like.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces the poetry of Samuel Menashe. This piece originally appeared on December 5, 2003, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Every death before mine
Absorbed, builds the bone
Of a skeleton, my own,
Flesh shall not confine
Long enough to suit me —
I wish I had the time
Of a redwood tree
— Samuel Menashe
Born in New York in 1925, Samuel Menashe enlisted in the Army in 1943 and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In 1950, he received a doctorat d’universite from the Sorbonne, though he has always lived as a poet — never as part of the academic-poet world. In a time of 24-hour news and trash celebrities, no living poet could be said to be famous, but within the literary world, Menashe is becoming famous for his obscurity. Every recent introduction to his work reflects on this painful fact, including a profile in The New York Times that appeared a few months ago.
Crossposted from Haaretz
The curtain rises on a teen in a wheelchair, an escort beside him. Evyatar Banai’s song “Yesh Li sikui” (“I have a Chance” ) plays in the background. The teen says: “I’m standing here today, but not everyone is standing with me; there are some who are different.”
Very soon the audience watching the performance of “Na Lashevet” (“Please be Seated”) understands that the intention is not to arouse pity, but also not to make them feel comfortable.
An actor on a wheelchair suddenly bursts onto the stage and shouts: “Hello, hello! What is all this nonsense? Clear the stage! You,” he indicates the musician, “stop playing your whining songs. Lights, put on more lights! If any of you expected a performance with violins, moments of poetry and feeling - sorry, you’ll be disappointed. There won’t be any dribbling children with a melancholy look. So swallow your saliva. Those of you who can, relax in your chairs, whether they’re mechanized or not. We’re starting!”
From the celebrated to the marginalized, from the heat of a summer antiwar protest to the searing cold of a Windy City winter, Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has been capturing unique, often strikingly ironic images for more than six decades. Thirty two of them, including pictures of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin and Marlon Brando, are currently in display in an exhibit titled “That Was Then” at Chicago’s Thomas Masters Gallery through December 23.
There’s a picture of writer Nelson Algren — who Shay photographed over a 10-year period — waiting for a bus on a rainy Chicago street in 1949. (A Shay photo of Algren graces the jacket of his 1956 novel “A Walk on the Wild Side,” and Shay’s famous shot of Algren’s lover, Simone de Beauvoir, fresh out of a bath, is the subject of a book to be published in Paris next year.)
Crossposted from Haaretz
The singer Karen Malka appears to be on friendly terms with mother nature. Her new album “Eshet Hayearot” (“Lady of the Forest”) is, as its name implies, replete with references to rivers, flowers, earth, grass — and always with a feeling of cosmic harmony. But the weather conspired against Malka on Sunday, as the biggest storm of the year raged on the very day of her debut performance.
It’s not fair. Had Malka been a veteran performer, never mind; but this is her first album. She has worked for years to reach this point in her career. And then, suddenly, the heavens opened up and quite a few people who had planned to watch her show stayed home instead, leaving the venue very sparsely populated.
Gitai’s 2009 film Carmel featured French actress Jeanne Moreau (star of a recent Gitai staging of a play inspired by Josephus’s “Jewish War”) reading authentic letters written by Efratia Gitai, the filmmaker’s late mother, about life in early Israel. On October 29, Jeanne Moreau read more of these letters onstage at Paris’s Théâtre de l’Odéon. Two weeks before, Les éditions Gallimard published “Efratia Gitai: Correspondence 1929-1994” edited by Gitai’s wife Rivka, illustrated by family photos which are rich in drama and narrative power, resembling film stills. Efratia writes:
If life is just a stage and a play, it’s good to perform as well as possible, alongside talented actors!
Small wonder Gitai became a filmmaker.
The Babylonian Talmud counsels that at times of bitterest cold, it is best to say, “Such is the way of the world,” and then “observe eight days of festivity.” One such ideal post-winter solstice festivity for Manhattanites is a January 11 Carnegie Hall recital by America’s sweetheart of song, soprano Renée Fleming, in a program of German Jewish composers of art songs, including Arnold Schoenberg, Alexander Zemlinsky, and the ever-schmaltzy Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
Another German Jewish contemporary of these masters, Kurt Weill, is honored on January 25-26 with Collegiate Chorale concert performances of the 1938 musical “Knickerbocker Holiday” at Alice Tully Hall. Starring Victor Garber, a beloved Canadian performer of Russian Jewish ancestry, as Governor Peter Stuyvesant, “Knickerbocker Holiday” is noteworthy — even apart from the immortal melody “September Song” — for its disconnection between Weill, who saw the work, set in colonial New Amsterdam, as anti-fascist allegory, and playwright/lyricist Maxwell Anderson, who intended it as a screed against then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Heidi Latsky, head of Heidi Latsky Dance and creator of The Gimp Project is about to end her one-year artist-in-residency at the JCC in Manhattan. After months of rehearsals, workshops with everyone from preschoolers to seniors, and tidbit performances in the lobby and other spaces in the JCC building, Latsky‘s final offering is “IF: A Work in Two Parts.”
The first piece features Ms. Latsky, Jeffery Freeze and Suleiman Rifai, a professional dancer who is also blind. The movements are slow and deliberate. At first, the three move separately, standing at different levels, before Ms. Latsky finds her way to a wall where she meets Mr. Rifai. The wall becomes an inseparable part of the performance as the dancers interact with it and each other. The piece, however, is an internal exploration and not a fully formed work. When Ms. Latsky finally breaks out into solo movement, which was later revealed as a complete improvisation, it is a welcome relief from the stillness and tension.
Crossposted from Haaretz
After a long cinematic silence, Assi Dayan is back, directing a black comedy about a psychiatrist who rents out his apartment to patients who want to commit suicide. On the set, one of the most important Israeli filmmakers, the hero of whose new film is a very intelligent individual, describes a story of missed opportunity.
Dr. Pomerantz hangs up the telephone. He has called the police to the Tel Aviv street where he lives. Someone has jumped from his apartment, on the 12th floor, and his corpse is lying on the sidewalk. The balcony of the apartment is seen behind him. The doorbell rings. Pomerantz, his shock of hair disheveled and wearing a faded, buttoned shirt that does not manage to conceal a sloping potbelly, hastens to the front door and opens it wide.
Sotheby’s New York sale of important Judaica, an annual event featuring ceremonial metalwork, manuscripts and printed books, takes place this year on December 15. Leading the auction are a pair of Italian-made silver Torah finials belonging to Sha’ar HaShamayim, the Great Synagogue of Gibraltar. Other items such as 15th-century Torah scroll from Poland are also for auction.
Thought to be made in Turin, the finials date from 1780 to 1820, around the time of the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1782), when Spain attempted to re-conquer the peninsula from England. During the siege, many members of the congregation took refuge in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy. Similar finials, also of Torinesi make, can be found today in the Comunità Ebraica in Florence, Italy, and in New York’s Jewish Museum.
I’ve always had a deep appreciation for bluegrass. A form of Southern mountain music in overdrive, bluegrass coalesced in the late 1940s when Kentucky mandolinist and singer Bill Monroe, who had previously played old-time country and Appalachian music in a duo with his brother Charlie, formed a band called the Blue Grass Boys. The band really took off and defined its sound — and the sound of bluegrass as a genre — when Monroe recruited guitarist and singer Lester Flatt and innovative banjo player Earl Scruggs.
My problem with bluegrass is that a large part of its repertoire is built around gospel songs that tend to preach a kind of fundamentalist Christianity. Traditional white gospel music tends to be about having one’s soul saved through Jesus. It can get pretty tedious for a nice Jewish boy like me to listen to a lot of those kinds of songs. (Traditional African-American gospel music, on the other hand, tends to be more about Bible stories, and good stories are intrinsically interesting.)
There are a number of great Jewish bluegrass musicians — including the likes of Andy Statman, Barry Mitterhoff, Mark Rubin, Bob Yellin and Eric Weissberg — and there is a fabulous band called the Klezmer Mountain Boys, led by clarinetist Margot Leverett, which blends klezmer and bluegrass. But I’ve never really heard any Jewish counterparts to bluegrass gospel songs — until now, that is.
Crossposted from Haaretz
In October 1981 Italian composer Luigi Nono was commissioned to write a piece for the Warsaw Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music. Those were stormy days for Poland. It was the year Wojciech Jaruzelski rose to power, imposed martial law and became a dictator; to protest his actions, the Solidarity movement was formed by Lech Walesa in the shipyards of Gdansk.
Everyone knew where Nono’s heart lay. An advocate for human rights, an anti-fascist and one of the biggest humanists of his generation — who had become one of Europe’s greatest composers of the post-World War II era by the time he died in 1990 — he composed a piece called “Quando Stanno Morendo” (When They Are Dying ) for four female voices, cello and live electronic music, a work that was entirely a protest against the oppression taking place in Poland.
Is Adam Sandler’s next movie going to be about parking cars?
Russian Jewish oligarch Roman Abramovich needs an entire island to house his art collection.
Read an exerpt of Alfred Kazin’s journals, to be published this spring by Yale University Press.
Michael Chabon has been elected director of The MacDowell Colony.
How enigmatic Israeli music icon Ofra Haza became a breakout hit on British pirate radio.
Rachel Rubinstein looks to the future of Yiddish literature in translation.
Jay Michaelson questions the intuitive power of religion.
Jenna Weissman Joselit wonders what Cyrus Adler would have thought of contemporary museum going.
Gordon Haber gets depressed by Yael Hedaya’s “Eden.”
Alexander Gelfand listens to the evolution of Jewish music at the Folksbiene.
Earlier this week, Avi Steinberg wrote about Kafka in Tel Aviv and shared a horribly embarrassing memo. His first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” 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:
Winter Fridays in Jewish day school were the moments that made you proud to be of Israelite stock. I speak, of course, of early dismissal. Shabbes starts early, really early, and so the school day ends up being just a class or two in the morning — and one of those classes is Hebrew, which totally doesn’t count. For the uninitiated, Hebrew class in Jewish schools, at least where I went, is taught by some churlish Israeli mom who reeks of cigarette smoke and has neither the qualification nor the slightest inclination to teach the language. Typically, she would use Friday’s early dismissal as an excuse to whip out the accordion and have a sing-a-long.
I mention this by way of introduction. While I cannot offer you an accordion sing-a-long, I will, in honor of the great Jewish tradition of early Friday dismissal, be relatively brief.
Last August, during President Obama’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard, a protest erupted over a T-shirt being sold at the SunStations shop in Oak Bluffs that portrayed Obama as Moe, Vice President Joe Biden as Larry, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Curly. The caption read: “The REAL Stooges.”
The storeowner said no malice was intended, and pointed to other shirts in the shop that praise the President. For us, however, there was no need to explain, as we see the comparison as complimentary. After all, the Three Stooges, who are being honored on December 13 at the Three Stooges Film Festival in Albany, as well as in a forthcoming Three Stooges Movie, were pioneering geniuses of comedy.
“Weimar Cinema, 1919–1933: Daydreams and Nightmares,” running at MoMA until March 7, 2011, is billed as the largest-ever retrospective of German cinema from between the Wars to be shown in the United States. The era’s defining cinematic style, expressionism, is well-represented in dozens of offerings, giving a healthy dose of the atmospheric, disturbing and downright spooky in classics like “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “M,” “Nosferatu,” “Vampyr” and “Waxworks.”
But alongside these seminal works, the 75-film retrospective — created with assistance from the F.W. Murnau Foundation in Wiesbaden and the German Kinematek in Berlin — also highlights lesser-known and in some cases downright impossible-to-find fare, such as the surviving early comedies to which Billy Wilder lent his talents as screenwriter (see the 1930 ménage à trois musical “A Blonde’s Dream”).
On December 13, the museum will screen the impossible-to-find silent version of “Fräulein Else,” adapted from the revolutionary novella by Arthur Schnizler and directed by Paul Czinner. Schnitzler’s slim volume, written in a breathless interior monologue, tells of a young woman who consents to appear naked before the benefactor who is willing to save her father from financial ruin.
Crossposted from Haaretz
For a moment it seemed that the Bezalel Art Academy had decided to back down: shelving a plan to build a new campus in the center of Jerusalem, developed by an international team of architects which won a design competition five years ago.
For a moment it seemed possible to believe that the academy understood that returning to the city center and merging with the so-called urban fabric did not necessarily automatically mean that they needed to construct a new building, and certainly not to hide behind a project such as the one that won the bid.
But now it has emerged they are still open to such an endeavor. After they managed to sell their quarters on Mount Scopus, the academy is returning to the large project, which has since undergone changes, including reducing its height at the request of the city planning committee.
Each Thursday, The Arty Semite features excerpts and reviews of the best contemporary Jewish poetry. This week, Rodger Kamenetz introduces his poem “Allen Ginsberg Forgives Ezra Pound on Behalf of the Jews.” This piece originally appeared on December 7, 2001, as part of the Forward’s Psalm 151 series. It is being published here online for the first time.
Celebrating one year of editing Psalm 151 for the Forward, I hope readers will forgive me if I add a poem of my own to the mix. “Allen Ginsberg Forgives Ezra Pound on Behalf of the Jews” is a verse essay, a form that allows the exploration of ideas and associations as well as the use of documentary material. The stepping off point for the poem is a 1992 interview I did with Allen Ginsberg while writing “The Jew in the Lotus,” when Ginsberg made very clear his deep Jewish roots, but also his strong criticism of conventional Jewish American views. (For instance, Ginsberg affirmed that he agreed that “Zionism is racism.”)
I’ve always considered Ginsberg one of my poetic fathers, but at the same time, one incident in particular bothered me greatly: that he went to Venice and accepted Ezra Pound’s apology for his anti-Semitism. I always thought that took chutzpah. Especially because the Pound people later waved it like a flag to show that their master really didn’t hate Jews. The truth is that he did, and so did many of his followers and associates.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Those who, for one reason or another, stand outside the frame of Yuletide cheer often find their voices muted come Christmas. The singing of “Silent Night” leaves us, well, silent.
Not so for the protagonist of “The Loudest Voice,” one of the most celebrated of Grace Paley’s many singular contributions to American arts and letters.
In this short story, the young Shirley Abramowitz is recruited to play the voice of Jesus in her public school’s annual Christmas pageant. “They told me you had a particularly loud, clear voice and read with lots of expression. Could that be true?” inquires Mr. Hilton, who is in search of a “child with a strong voice, lots of stamina.” Flattered, Shirley agrees eagerly to become Jesus, if only for an afternoon. (“It was a long story, it was a sad story…. Sorrowful and loud, I declaimed about love and God and Man.”)