The Arty Semite

Searching for My Parents' Past in Vienna

By Edie Jarolim

Courtesy Jewish Museum Vienna

I know you can’t go home again, especially if home is a country your family was forced to flee. I was under no illusion that a lilting Strauss waltz would be the soundtrack to my visit to Vienna, where both my parents were born. Still, I’d traveled to the city earlier this summer to see how my relatives had lived, not to dwell on their victimization. Which is why I was looking forward to exploring the Jewish Museum Vienna — and why I was also dreading it.

I figured that, just as the Anschluss looms over all the books I read about fin-de-siecle Vienna, the horrors of the Holocaust were bound to shadow a place devoted to tracing the city’s Jewish past. Indeed, the institution itself was collateral damage. The world’s first Jewish museum, established in 1895, it was shuttered by the Nazis in 1938, its sacred objects and cultural artifacts from throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire dispersed.

The main Dorotheergasse branch of the museum is on one of the narrow streets that thread through the city center, just blocks from such popular attractions as St. Stephan’s Cathedral. It’s only natural that the words “Jüdische Museum Wien” would appear on directional signs helping visitors navigate this maze-like tourist hub. Nevertheless, I was spooked to encounter the word “Jüdische” in bold German letters on an arrow pointing towards my destination. I felt suddenly exposed, like I had sprouted a yellow star.

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The 'Unfilmable' James Franco

By Dorri Olds

Getty Images

Most actors strive to be a triple threat; James Franco puts them to shame. The actor, film director, screenwriter, producer, film editor, teacher, author and poet has an ever growing resume that began with his humble beginnings on the TV show “Freaks and Geeks” and currently ends with his role as writer-actor-director of the new film “Child of God.” The film centers on Lester Ballard, a deranged, violent necrophiliac for whom we somehow feel sympathy.

Franco, 36, a Palo Alto, Califorina native, is known for going back to film school at New York University and pursuing a Ph.D. at Yale University even after his career had taken off. And with a penchant for making films from unfilmable books like this one — based on Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name — the man of many titles is bound to only add more.

The Forward’s Dorri Olds sat with Franco to discuss this project as well as those past and future.

Dorri Olds: Why do you choose literary books that don’t lend themselves to film?

James Franco: That’s a good question. I just saw an interview with Robert Altman kind of talking about the same thing. His process is not Kubrick’s process, and you wouldn’t want it to be. I went to film school NYU, where the MFA [Master of Fine Arts] program teaches you to find your own voice. Before film school I had written screenplays and found I wasn’t pushing myself as far as I could. In school I began to adapt poems for films. “Herbert White” was based on a poem by Frank Bidart, and “The Clerk’s Tale” was by Spencer Reece.

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Good Intentions Aren't Enough for 'Good and the True'

By Curt Schleier

“The Good and the True,” a two-person play that just transferred to New York after runs in the U.K. and Belgium, unexpectedly became a potential nova-making vehicle.

The play originally starred Saul Reichlin as Milos Dobry (Dobry is Czech for “good”) and Isobel Pravda (Russian for “true” — hence the title), who played her grandmother Hana.

However, because of a glitch in a U.S. State Department computer, Isobel was unable to get her visa, and the producers, with limited access to the theater (a new show begins there in mid-September), had no choice but to start without her.

Enter understudy Hannah D. Scott. I was, of course, hoping for a Lou Gehrig or Leonard Bernstein moment, where a last-minute substitute steps in and becomes a star.

Sadly it’s not to be. Both Scott and Reichlin are competent, but are hampered by a script that is surprisingly vanilla.

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My Father The Ritchie Boy: An Interview With Nina Wolff Feld

By Jill Werman Harris

Shortly before his death, Walter Wolff handed his daughter, Nina Wolff Feld, a green metal file box. In it was a treasure trove of wartime letters written by him during his time as a U.S. Army Intelligence officer to his family. Feld, a writer and artist born and bred in New York, translated the letters into a new book, “Someday You Will Understand: My Father’s Private World War II” (Arcade Publishing).

Walter Wolff, who was fluent in five languages and went on to found and run the home furnishings company Bon Marché in New York, was born in Germany in 1924. As Hitler rose to power, Wolff and his family, which included his sister and parents, were forced to keep moving until they settled in neutral Belgium. But on the eve of the Nazi invasion in 1940 they began a harrowing 16-month escape through occupied Europe, arriving in New York in September 1941, just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In his letters, Wolff wrote endlessly, documenting both his training and experience as one of the well-known Ritchie Boys, an elite group of U.S. Intelligence officers known for their expertise in psychological warfare and interrogation. Wolff’s niche was vetting war criminals during the early postwar period. Many soldiers, like Wolff, were Jewish and had escaped from countries occupied by the Nazis. They enlisted or were drafted into the U.S. Army, where they became staunch defenders of American democracy shortly after running for their lives.

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Heart as Tender as Brisket

By Roz Warren

A version of this story first appeared on Women’s Voices for Change.

The best comic novel I’ve read this year wasn’t published by Random House or Penguin. It was self-published by Philadelphia writer Stacia Friedman. The title? “Tender is the Brisket.” Does the book live up to the comic promise of that title? Absolutely.

Ruth is a TV writer who, as her gold-digging pal Katya frequently points out, “is over forty… with nothing to show for it.” A few sitcoms, a couple of failed relationships, a marriage that went south — and no kids. At 42, Ruth wants what most women want — true love. She also wants a child.

A little financial security wouldn’t hurt either.

When her father dies, Ruth flies to New York for the funeral. To prevent her selfish siblings from stashing their wealthy mother, who has dementia, in a home, Ruth moves in with Mom and takes over the burden of her care. Which means continuing to cope with her malicious brother (a drop-dead-handsome man desperately seeking the money he needs to transition into a drop-dead-gorgeous woman) and her hostile sister, a clueless writer of self-help books like “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Highly Insensitive People,” whose hubby is cheating on her and whose teenage daughter is totally out of control.

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Jewish DNA of Rue Bernard

By Michael Kaminer

Call it the world’s most local travel magazine. Every issue, Berlin-based Flaneur profiles one iconic street. And its latest issue — the first to look outside Germany — delves deep into Rue Bernard, the Montreal thoroughfare whose Jewish DNA stretches back a century. “It represents Montreal in a hyperlocal microcosm, meaning the street reflects the Franco- and Anglophone identities at the same time as well as the Jewish community,” founder/publisher Ricarda Messner told the Forward. “The stark contrast between the street’s Outremont and Mile End side” — ultra-Orthodox and hipster, respectively — “was really the vital aspect of our choice.”

The magazine’s first issue covered Kantstrasse in Berlin; #2 surveyed Leipzig’s Georg-Schwarz-Strasse. “The magazine embraces the street’s complexity, its layers and fragmented nature with a literary approach,” says its web site. “The reader is challenged to become a Flaneur himself, wandering the pages of the magazine as if discovering the street.” Editor-in-chief Fabian Saul talked to the Forward from Rome, where he and Messner are scouting subjects for issue #4.

Michael Kaminer: There’s been a lot of tension between Orthodox Jews and everyone else in Outremont. Did you sense that as you got immersed in daily life on Bernard?

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Leonard Bernstein Sculpture Unveiled at Tanglewood

By JTA

(JTA) — A bronze sculpture of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), one of the last century’s towering musical figures, was unveiled last week at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Twitter

The sculpture, by artist Penelope Jencks, is the second in a series planned depicting Tanglewood’s most iconic music figures, according to a statement issued by by the BSO. The first sculpture, also by Jencks, is of Aaron Copland, Bernstein’s teacher and mentor, who in 1940 recommended the young Bernstein for Serge Koussevitzky’s conducting class at Tanglewood.

Over the next 50 years, Bernstein, who went on to lead the New York Philharmonic, and later conducted around the world, frequently in Israel, became a highly-anticipated presence at the renowned music center, known for its pastoral scenery. “Tanglewood has always been, and will continue to be, the spiritual home of Leonard Bernstein,” said composer and Academy Award winner John Williams, whose donation to the BSO is funding the sculpture series. A courtyard at the music center is named after Bernstein.

The themes of many of Bernstein’s scores, including his Kaddish Symphony and Chichester Psalms, reflected his Jewish roots. The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Bernstein wrote of the early musical influence of Solomon Braslavsky, the European-born and trained vocal director and organist at Boston’s Congregation Mishkan Tefila, the family’s synagogue.

Bernstein, who taught at Brandeis University from 1951 through 1956, launched the school’s Festival of Creative Arts in 1951 and served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1976 to 81. He performed frequently in Israel, notably during the country’s founding years and during the 1967 Six-Day War. At age 70, Bernstein was named conductor laureate of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bernstein was also a prolific composer for Broadway, with the musical “West Side Story” his most famous Broadway show.


POEM: 'Under the Olive Tree'

By Asher Reich

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

The light of the olive in this tree
is thick and dark — 
lost blood flows in it.

When I sat under its leaves
time killed itself in the tree’s shade.
Through all the afternoon hours
a figure on the hill

watched me, her face covered in a veil —
and the sun, like me, searched for her eyes
all the long afternoon,
the flute of silence singing in the rocks
as I gnawed nervously on the heavy air.

Years passed between us in fire —
an abundance of blood did not extinguish it.
With straight-necked weariness
we raised dust in our bodies —
but what connects us
may yet be stitched back together
and heal.

From “With an Iron Pen: Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry,” translated by Rachel Tzvia Back


POEM: 'All This Suffering'

By Tuvia Ruebner

Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back

All this suffering
all the sorrow
all this suffering and sorrow
in vain
all the fear-clenched
mothers
their eyes disheveled
all this sane madness
in vain in vain
the fathers, all these fathers
hiding their hearts
pretending
in vain
all this blood-crazy
land
in vain, in vain
the young faces a newspaper-grey
oh the colorful faces of youth
oh their faded colors
their photographed laughter, the girls and the young women
the kisses and hugs
in vain, in vain
blood drinking blood
these withering blossoming lives
oh the burnt bodies
in vain
all this destruction
all this blind ruin
Oh, oh

From “In the Illuminated Dark: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner.” Translated by Rachel Tzvia Back


Comedian Irwin Corey Celebrates Star-Studded Centennial

By Jon Kalish

Photo: Jon Kalish

I suppose that if a man lives to be 100, he has the right to recite a limerick about farting at his birthday party, even if it’s inside a synagogue. Which is exactly what happened Tuesday night when Irwin Corey was greeted by scores of well-wishers at the Actor’s Temple in Manhattan. That is, after all, the shul where Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman and two of the Three Stooges davened.

Because the Forward has a long, proud commitment to verse, we present the limerick here in its entirety:

There was a young girl from Sparta
Who was a magnificent farter
She could fart anything
From God Save the King
To Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

The Professor, as he has come to be known during a decades-long showbiz career, wore his signature black tails, string tie and high-top black basketball sneakers. Fans and friends, many of them north of 90 themselves, snapped photos with their cell phones as he struggled to unwrap gifts. At first he wore a baseball cap bearing such slogans as “9/11 was a psy-op” and “Uncle Sam is a big bully.” But replaced it when given a black baseball cap with the word “however” embroidered on it. “However” has been a catchword in Corey’s act, which was summed up as “double talk and nonsensical observations” in a proclamation issued by Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer.

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Mystical Gardening and Digital Art

By Menachem Wecker

Growing up in central New Jersey in the early 1950s, Allen Hirsh knew virtually nothing about Judaism as a religion. “My family was rather typical of the community: extremely left-wing labor Zionists,” he said of his parents, who spoke Yiddish at least half of the time in the house. Hirsh’s father, a chicken farmer-turned-landscaper, went to kheyder for 11 years and “was considered a Yiddish language scholar by other farmers,” Hirsh said. His father, he notes, took several “extended trips” to Israel during the Suez crisis “to help build the fledgling chicken industry at Kibbutz Gesher HaZiv in northern Israel.”

As a young adult, though, Hirsh, a Silver Spring, Maryland-based biophysicist and artist, turned to his faith. After what he describes as a “tumultuous period” in his life as a neurophysiology graduate student at Columbia University, he studied Jewish mysticism as part of what he calls “my teshuvah.”

“It has long sat in the background of my life,” he said, “but its rich concepts of an infinite God are compatible with my theological, artistic, and scientific instincts.”

Those instincts, honed at Caltech prior to Columbia and in a doctoral program in plant physiology at the University of Maryland, College Park, have led Hirsh down a rare path. The self-declared “abstract gardener” — whose digital print “Early in the Big Bang” is on display in the exhibit “Fireworks” (through July 27) at Washington’s Foundry Gallery — maintains an exotic garden.

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London's Crusade Drama Falls Flat

By Liam Hoare

Photo: Marc Brenner

Is this the most ill opportune time to mount a “fantasia on the Third Crusade and the history of violent struggle in the Holy Lands”? That’s how the pompous, Kushner-esque subtitle of David Eldridge’s underbaked new play “Holy Warriors” would have it.

London’s Globe Theatre might believe this is quite the coup, for what better time to stage a play about war in the Middle East than in a time of war in the Middle East? But the debate surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict — so polarized and contentious at the best of times — becomes even more entrenched, bitter and blind during periods of armed struggle. The instinct to pick a side overtakes the mind and ears close to nuance, including the nuance of art.

But perhaps in the case of “Holy Warriors” (running in repertory until August 24), the notion that its subtlety might be lost shouldn’t be of much concern. The play’s first act is a well staged and often engaging canter through 12th-century Levantine history, beginning in Damascus with Saladin’s decision to march upon Jerusalem, through the Battle of Hattin, the capitulation of the Christian rulers of Jerusalem in 1197, and the Third Crusade and Richard the Lionheart’s failure to recapture Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers.

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Toronto Deli Sponsors Palestinian Film Fest

By Michael Kaminer

It seemed like a great publicity stunt: Just as the conflict in the Middle East started boiling over, Caplansky’s Deli announced its sponsorship of September’s Toronto Palestinian Film Festival.

Except Zane Caplansky, the deli’s owner, inked the deal months ago. And while he expected some backlash, the war’s escalation has cast an outsized spotlight on his support of the tiny film fest in Canada’s largest city.

“This was not some grand political statement,” Caplansky told the Forward from Toronto. “I’m not taking sides. I have no agenda other than community building, cross-cultural understanding, and a nice gesture for this film festival.”

Caplansky said he reached out to festival organizers In January. “I was doing some work with an organization called Action Against Hunger. One of their staffers mentioned TPFF. I had no idea it even existed,” he said.

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Holocaust Victim, Artist Charlotte Salomon's Life Premieres as Opera

By Michael Roddy

Photo: Salzburger Festspiele / Ruth Walz

(Reuters) — The Berlin-born Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon left behind a body of watercolors and text she called “Life? or Theater?” before she was killed at Auschwitz in 1943 at age 26, carrying her unborn child.

Salomon’s life, which has inspired films, plays and a musical, was turned into an opera that plumbed the depths of human emotion in its premiere on Monday at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

With music by French composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie, staging by Swiss director Luc Bondy and libretto by German-Jewish author Barbara Honigmann, who used 85 percent of Salomon’s own text, the work was the season’s most anticipated opera at the prestigious festival in the city of Mozart’s birth.

It did not disappoint.

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When the Occupied Film the Occupiers

By Mira Sucharov

At its best, art is about connection. A new Israeli-Palestinian documentary short film exploits the natural three-way relationship between artist, audience and subject to reveal an unexpected source of real-life intimacy: that between occupier and occupied.

Produced by B’Tselem and directed by Ehab Tarabieh, Yoav Gross, and the al-Haddad family, “Smile, and the World Will Smile Back,” which screened July 16 at the Jerusalem Film Festival, is a study in understatement. As the opening sequence explains, under the terms of occupation, Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to arbitrary IDF searches without a warrant, though the IDF legal advisor has ruled that residents may film such operations.

Over twenty minutes, with a hand-held camera passed from one family member to another, the viewer experiences the nighttime search of a Palestinian family’s home in Hebron by IDF soldiers. The result is a little gem of a film that tells a much larger story about power, adolescence, masculinity and nationhood.

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'Sam the Record Man' Sign Returns to Toronto

By Michael Kaminer

Rush frontman Geddy Lee called it “an important fixture on Toronto’s musical landscape.” Singer Feist wrote of the “importance of commemorating and protecting” it. Crooner Anne Murray called it “an integral part of music history in Canada.”

Now, after years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white Sam the Record Man sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch.

Toronto’s City Council voted recently to install the sign on the roof of the city-owned Toronto Public Health building, steps from where the retail chain’s flagship location once stood, Toronto’s City News reported.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of the sign for generations of Canadians who cherished Sam’s as a scrappy homegrown haven for music lovers. As the chain grew to 140 stores nationwide, the sign also came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses. Sam Sniderman died in 2012 at the age of 92.

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Manhattan Project's Forgotten Humanist

By Lisa Amand

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Growing up in Australia, Danny Ginges was both fascinated and fearful of the atomic bomb, and as an adult delved deeper into the story of the scientists who created the monster. The more he discovered of these men (and woman) and their top-secret Manhattan Project, the clearer it became that one name was lesser known than the others.

Ginges was working in advertising in Sydney in 2002 when he wrote a screenplay revolving around Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-American, Jewish physicist who conceived nuclear chain reaction. A decade later Ginges’s project has evolved into the big, polished, off-Broadway musical “Atomic,” on through August 16 at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre.

“When I came across Szilard’s story it both engaged me and enraged me,” Ginges said. “My anger that such an important figure should be forgotten by history is the fuel that’s driven me this far, and continues to drive me every single day. I feel very strongly that Szilard has a message for today. Fifty years after his death, it’s high time it was told.”

Oppenheimer, performed by Euan Morton, narrates the fleet-footed show that includes a surprising mix of gleeful dancing and rock music (by Philip Foxman), a daring contrast with the tragedies of the Holocaust and World War ll (cue “Springtime for Hitler”). Book and lyrics are by Gregory Bonsignore and Ginges, who hopes “Atomic” restarts a dialog. ”A lot of people don’t want to deal with this event, even after this much time. But it’s better not to have things locked up in a closet.”

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Seinfeld May Be Heading To Netflix

By Gabe Friedman

Sick of watching a random assortment of “Seinfeld” episodes on cable? Tired of watching the famous episodes over and over again?

In a Reddit AMA session yesterday, Jerry Seinfeld hinted that the show could make its way to Netflix’s online streaming service sometime in the future. When asked about the possibility of working with Netflix, Seinfeld said: “Those conversations are presently taking place.”

Nothing is for certain, especially as Netflix’s economic situation has been precarious lately. The company would presumably have to pay a large sum of money for the rights to the acclaimed “show about nothing.”

However, all fans are hoping that negotiations progress quickly. And who knows, maybe next summer could be the “summer of George.”


POEM: 'Visit'

By Michael Heller

The descendant kings rule over rock-strewn littoral,
banked clouds, hyssop hills of Jordan, a shimmer
that concedes hope, which is bound unto the other,
to the sheer indecipherability of landscape.

Believe — some god behind the edged shrubs, the pebbles,
and near flat glassiness of sea. Human need contracts,
matters little. Curls of viscous foam at shoreline,
tour bus inching between wary-eyed soldiers.

Concede they grew from this hardened land, clad in khaki.
Pre-taped voice is provender: even this body of water excludes.
After the mudbaths of Ein Gedi — here David took refuge
from murderous Saul — conqueror trinkets on sale in the shop.

Martyrdom of Masada, of Herod’s palace further along this road.
Marker: 300 feet below sea-level. Around this lowest point, earth
is mere bowl. Bottom of the world, bottom of language.
Inscriptions in rock, echolalia in the caves of the Scrolls.


'Shakespeare in Love' Adaptation Gets Rave Reviews in London

By Edward Baran

Courtesy of the Walt Disney Company

(Reuters) - The Disney-backed stage adaptation of the hit film “Shakespeare in Love” won nearly across-the-board rave reviews in London this week, to the relief of its creators who are pleased that their big gamble looks set to pay off.

The show, based on the 1998 Hollywood movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, received a standing ovation from its opening night audience on Wednesday at the Noel Coward theater in London’s West End theater district.

With the backing of the Disney organization, which is behind money-spinners like the “The Lion King,” and co-production by leading British producer Sonia Friedman, the stage revamp has gone straight to a commercial theater instead of having the benefit of a first run at a government-subsidized venue, as is common in British theater.

“Obviously something like this was such a huge production which is probably the biggest play that has even been put on in the West End,” playwright Lee Hall, who did the adaptation from the movie script that was in part written by Tom Stoppard, told Reuters on Wednesday.

“We have got 28 in the cast and a dog, quite a complicated set, it’s been years in the planning, and I am stunned to finally get here but it’s wonderful to get such a warm response,” he added.

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