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“Every Day a Visitor” is a play about seniors living — no, make that confined — in a faded Bronx nursing home. They have no family, friends or, very soon, an audience nearby.
Based on a short story by playwright Richard Abrons and presented off-Broadway a dozen years ago, the play tells the story of seven residents in a home that, as one resident describes it, “is not how I pictured ending up.”
The home has seen better days, when it was filled with people. Now it’s just these seven residents subsisting on a meagre diet and few activities.
An attendant suggests that the seven can improve their spirits and empower themselves by assuming the persona of famous individuals. So soon we have a would-be LaGuardia, Bella Abzug, and Kissinger strutting around the stage. Moreover, the most withdrawn and ill of them assumes the role of president.
His first edict is that if one is hospitalized, someone from the group would visit him or her every day. For some reason, their play-acting energizes the group, and even makes them nicer to each other — though why this happens is never clear.
When the Koffler Centre of the Arts lost its North Toronto home five years ago, it made a virtue of necessity. Rather than replace its gallery space at the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre — which closed to make room for a huge new complex — the Koffler launched an ambitious off-site program that took its smart, edgy programming into venues all over Toronto.
Now, the Koffler’s finally settling down, but in a very different milieu. After an intensive competitive process, the Koffler became one of 10 arts and culture organizations to win a space in Artscape Youngplace, a massive “community cultural hub” in a converted century-old former school in the happening West Queen West neighborhood.
“It’s an end to our nomadic period,” said Tony Hewer, the Koffler’s director of communications, and part of the small team leading the transition. “And it’s an incredible chance to get the Koffler brand to new audiences.”
The move downtown also represents a symbolic shift. While the Koffler continues to offer arts instruction at north Toronto’s Prosserman JCC, where audiences tend to favor more traditional programming, the heart of its artistic programs will beat downtown, where tastes tend to the eclectic. (The Koffler’s offsite exhibitions have included “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated.)
Hot on the heels of a new graduate program in Jewish Cultural Arts, George Washington University has announced an additional new MA program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts. Whereas the first program focuses more on arts administration and museum management, the second is meant to train educators for professional roles in today’s broad and varied Jewish cultural landscape.
The program in Experiential Education and Jewish Cultural Arts, the first of its kind in the U.S., is set to begin this coming summer thanks to a $1.47 million grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation. It will offer an interdisciplinary curriculum of coursework from the university’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development’s Museum Education Program and the Columbian College’s program in Judaic studies.
Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit, who directs the Jewish Culture Arts graduate program and will co-direct the new experiential education one, told The Arty Semite that GWU is breaking new ground. “Academic programs in Jewish art already exist, but they are more geared toward connoisseurship and the curatorial. Our programs are more about advancing Jewish cultural arts programmatically, educationally and administratively,” she said.
Joselit and her colleagues are casting a wide net in terms of seeking students for these new programs. “There are a lot of people out there interested in this field, but they don’t know Jewish culture. And the opposite is true,” she pointed out.
Evan Rachel Wood stars with Shia LaBeouf in Fredrik Bond’s Tarrantino-esque thriller, “Charlie Countryman,” which opened November 15 in limited release. LaBeouf plays Charlie, whose dead mother appears and sends him to Bucharest. The griefstricken and unglued Charlie goes through a series of bizarre events leading him to Gabi (Wood), a mysterious Romanian he falls instantly in love with. The trouble is, as director Fredrik Bond put it, “Gabi is like playing with plutonium.” It is a dark and twisted, yet funny love story, in the brutal underworld of Bucharest.
As for her personal life, Wood, born to theatrical parents Ira David Wood and Sarah Lynn Moore, has been acting since she was 5 years old. On July 29, Wood and her husband, actor Jamie Bell, had their first child. The Arty Semite caught up with her on Wednesday in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.
Dorri Olds: Congratulations on being a mom. What do you like most about motherhood?
Evan Rachel Wood: Everything. It was my dream to be a mom so I’m loving it.
Is it hard getting back into the swing of work after having the baby?
Yeah, these last couple of days I’ve been having separation anxiety. I’m so used to having the baby right here [motions to her chest]. It’s strange. They become a part of you. I was lucky because I’d just done three films before I got pregnant so I was like, “I’m taking a break.”
What’s it like working with Shia LaBeouf?
(JTA) — Since the 1980s the Italian Jewish actor Moni Ovadia has garnered a popular following with stage productions and cabaret acts largely based on Yiddish, klezmer music and Jewish jokes and legends.
Born in Bulgaria, Ovadia, 67, came to Milan as a small child and attended the Jewish school there. Arguably Italy’s best known Jewish stage performer, Ovadia, a leftist, describes himself as agnostic, but he wears a beard and his trademark headgear is a big knitted kippah.
In recent years, however, Ovadia’s vocal opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians has garnered sharp criticism. Two years ago, his announced participation at an event in Siena for the European Day of Jewish Culture drew heated protests, including a long stream of comments on the official website of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI).
When he announced in a newspaper interview last week that he planned to quit the Milan Jewish community over its approach to Israel, Ovadia touched off another firestorm both in the Jewish world and the media.
“I don’t want to be part of an entity that calls itself a Jewish community but is the propaganda office of a government,” he said.
“I am against those who want to ‘Israelianize’ Judaism,” he added. Moreover, he said, he believed that he was barred from taking part in a big Jewish culture festival in Milan in September because of his views.
Ovadia’s remarks prompted a stream of angry reactions from Milan Jews and others who aired their outrage in interviews, statements, tweets and op-eds.
If, as Shelley had it, poets are the legislators of the world, then at this past year’s KlezKanada Poetry Retreat their law was music. Hosted at the large, week-long klezmer festival, the poetry was surrounded by accordionists, tsimbelists, people tapping out rhythms or tuning their violins. I was privileged to be co-teaching the retreat along with poet, scholar, and performer Adeena Karasick. It is a further privilege to introduce some of the poems, written at the retreat, to Forward readers. This kind of Jewish poetry, as it became clear throughout our sessions, doesn’t merely escape definitions. It drops words like notes into a stewing, communal, dialogical collective, quite like the one that unfolded amongst us.
We’ve seen Tel Aviv stand in for Beirut in screenwriter Gideon Raff’s smash Showtime hit “Homeland” (based on his Israeli series “Hatufim”). Now, in his new series, “Dig,” we’re going to see Jerusalem stand in for… well, Jerusalem.
Raff has scored a six-episode deal with USA Network, a subsidiary of NBC Universal. The action-adventure-event series will be produced completely in Israel’s capital city by Keshet Media Group. Co-written by “Heroes” writer Tim Kring, it will be about an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem.
While investigating the murder of a woman archeologist, he uncovers “a conspiracy 2000 years in the making that threatens to change the course of history,” according to Deadline.com. The protagonist “finds himself falling down an archaeological rabbit hole,” as The Times of Israel puts it more dramatically.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat hopes “Dig” is the harbinger of whole slew of American TV series shot in his city. “When we combine Hollywood’s creative potential with Jerusalem’s historic backdrop, it will result in the ability to connect hundreds of millions of viewers around the world to this unique and beautiful city,” he said in a press release distributed by Keshet.
Raff, who was born in Jerusalem, is drawn repeatedly to subjects related to his homeland. “Being Israeli is who I am, it’s part of my DNA,” he told The Times of Israel. “I write what I know, which happens to be Israel and the Middle East. It’s a raw nerve in a tricky part of the world, and it is fascinating to people.”
Eytan Fox’s latest film, “Cupcakes,” (“Bananot” in Hebrew, meaning bananas) will receive its U.K. gala premiere when it closes the 17th UK Jewish Film Festival on November 17, in London. A feel-good musical comedy about love, life and friendship, the movie is a significant shift away from the award winning writer-director’s previous works such as “Yossi & Jagger,” “Walk on Water” and “Yossi.” Fox is known for addressing major themes such as the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and doomed love affairs — in particular gay relationships — but “Cupcakes” is markedly different. It oozes nostalgia for an Israel that had, according to Fox, a sense of community, when neighborhoods possessed an intimate character. It harks back to “the long gone days of innocence, the days you borrowed a cup of sugar from your neighbor and stayed for coffee,” says Keren, the film’s commentator. “Cupcakes” is wonderfully entertaining kitsch and is as deliciously saccharine as a film can get.
Set in Tel Aviv, the movie shows a group of neighbours who get together to watch Universong , a Eurovision-esque television song contest. The evening is an opportunity to get away from the stresses of their daily lives — Dana (Dana Ivgi) is a high-strung aide to a cabinet minister but at the same time tries to please her traditional father; Keren (Keren Berger), is a shy, awkward blogger with a lisp; Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar) is a former model who is unfulfilled by both her job as a corporate lawyer and her relationship with her boss; Efrat (Efrat Dor) is a singer-songwriter whose career is in a rut; Ofer (Ofer Shechter) is a nursery school teacher whose long term pin-up boyfriend is still in the closet and won’t come out publicly and Anat (Anat Waxman) runs a successful bakery but her marriage is falling apart. When the friends learn that Anat is upset because her husband has left her, they compose a song to cheer her up and “A Song for Anat” unexpectedly becomes Israel’s entry for the following year’s contest.
There is palpable onscreen chemistry between these six main characters and their obvious enjoyment makes for infectious viewing. All are stars from Israeli media and they play using their own names, as does Edouard Baer, the presenter of Universong. Actor Lior Ashkenazi also makes a guest appearance. But it is the expressive singing-dancing tutu-wearing Ofer Shechter who steals the show.
Cheb i Sabbah, a DJ, producer and composer known for combining Asian, Middle Eastern and African influences into his global electronica music, died November 7 at age of 66. The San Francisco-based Sabbah was born Haim Serge El Baz in Constantine, Algeria to a working-class Jewish family with some Berber ancestry.
Major music publications have published articles mourning Sabbah’s passing from stomach cancer and celebrating his artistic contributions. Billboard referred to him as “the Godfather of global house” in its memorial piece. The San Francisco Chronicle called him “a master of music and life.”
Sabbah, recognizable by his long hair and round Ghandi-style glasses, got his start in 1960s Paris, where he would spin American soul records. From there, he went on to New York, and finally on to San Francisco, settling there in 1984. In 1989, he assumed the “Cheb I Sabbah” moniker, which means “young of the morning” in North African Arabic. Friends called him Chebiji, adding the Hindu honorific to the first part of his name.
His debut album in 1994, “The Majoon Traveler” consisted of cut-up remixes of pieces by jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, jazz musician Ornette Coleman, and Velvet Underground drummer Angus Maclise with the poetry of Ira Cohen. (He had met Cherry in New York and was greatly influenced by him.)
Half the Kingdom
By Lore Segal
Melville House, 176 pages, $23.95
Since 2001, the already-abundant anxieties of living in New York City have been ratcheted up by an exponential factor. Abandoned bags have become potential tools of terror; mysterious smells could be toxic; the sounds of sirens or of helicopters overhead might signify an emergency unfolding close to home.
That unspoken anxiety has been captured in several notable fictional works: Jonathan Lethem’s “Chronic City” presented an altered Manhattan that nonetheless alluded to everything from middle-class displacement to the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 in surreal, though no less wrenching, terms. Thomas Pynchon’s new “Bleeding Edge” is a more realistic account of several months of September 2001, albeit with Pynchon’s trademark mysterious and ominous portents looming in the background.
Lore Segal’s new novel “Half the Kingdom” taps into that same well of anxiety, and ups the ante by adding two more dimensions: the frustration of the unrecognized artist (which Segal’s 1976 novella “Lucinella” also ably channeled) and the terrors of growing old. “Having an Alzheimer’s epidemic?” asks Joe Bernstine, one of the book’s central characters, during a visit early in the novel to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. That chilling concept, with all it implies, pervades the actions that follow.
Joe, retired from a think tank and now at work on “The Compendium of End-of-World Scenarios,” teams up with Dr. Miriam Haddad to investigate whether the onrush of dementia in Cedars of Lebanon is a coincidence, medical emergency, or terrorist attack. He enlists family and friends to take part in this investigation, and once this premise has been established, the course of action seems clear: we’re in caper territory. Right?
Toronto-based Jewish world music group Jaffa Road keeps racking up honors. Most recently, the band was named World Group of the Year at the 2013 Canadian Folk Music Awards, which took place over the weekend in Calgary.
Jaffa Road’s second album, “Where the Light Gets In” (2012) was nominated for a JUNO Award this year. The group’s debut album, “Sunplace,” also scored a JUNO nomination, and the group has won Best World Music Artist at the Toronto Independent Music Awards.
“Jaffa Road blends Jewish, jazz, Indian and Arabic music with electronica and dub. The result is fantastic,” said CBC Radio One.
“I am thrilled, Jaffa Road just won WORLD MUSIC GROUP OF THE YEAR, at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (CFMA). There is so much great roots music at the CFMAs and in Canada in general. It is such an honor to even be nominated, so glad to get this acknowledgement,” posted Jaffa Road member Aaron Lightstone, who plays guitars, ud, saz, synthesizers, on Facebook Sunday night.
The London Group exploded onto the British art scene in 1913 as a radical alternative to the art establishment. Founding member and sculptor Jacob Epstein was credited with naming the group and fittingly one of his pieces, “Flenite Relief” (1913), is included in “Uproar!”, a small but powerful exhibition that opened November 1 at Ben Uri gallery in north London. It is one of two simultaneous exhibitions celebrating The London Group’s centenary year. The other exhibition, organized by The London Group itself, is showcasing contemporary work by its current members.
“Uproar!” presents 50 works by 50 artists and is the first extensive survey of the Group’s first 50 years. It hosts “a potted history of British modernism,” said Rachel Dickson, one of the exhibition’s two curators, and reflects the group’s “multi-tendencies” and “clash of styles.” These were artists who were determined to embrace new movements from Europe and a number experimented with Cubism and Futurism. It quickly became a forum for progressive artists and their innovative works stimulated the public’s appetite for the new.
Ben Uri has strong links with The London Group and a number of artists in its collection, such as Epstein and David Bomberg, were involved in the group’s inception and early shows. Founded in 1915, in London’s East End, Ben Uri was a response to establishment prejudice and exhibiting restrictions.
Although the Jewish contribution to ‘Uproar!’ is very much in the minority, it is significant. The show features work by the Whitechapel Boys — most of whom were artists whose parents had come to the U.K. from Eastern Europe — such as Bomberg’s uneasy “Ghetto Theatre” (1920), Jacob Kramer’s rather chilling “Clay/ The Anatomy Lesson” (1928) and a piece by affiliated “Boys” artist, Bernard Meninsky. Additionally, a charcoal by Leon Kossoff, “Portrait of N M Seedo” (1957) and a bold yet brooding oil, “Narcissus,” (1942) by German émigré Hans Feibusch, are also included.
When Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews’ main exhibition opens to the public in September 2014, it will add to the city’s Jewish historical trail something which does not presently exist: a history of Jewish life.
The core exhibition has been in development since 2003, when the master plan, including the concept and narrative line, was first conceived. Created and curated by an international team of more than 120 scholars led by Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Professor of Performance Studies at New York University, the multimedia narrative exhibition will consume the 43,000 square-feet of space located beneath the lobby of the museum. The 1000-year story the exhibit will tell is, Deputy Director of the Museum Zygmunt Stępiński told the Forward, “a unique moment and unique example of Jewish life” in Europe.
In the absence of source materials — the physical evidence of Judaism in Poland having been largely erased during the 20th century — the core exhibit will utilize interactive, theatrical, and textual elements to immerse visitors in the story. Thus, when visitors enter the first gallery, they will find themselves in a poetic forest, where tales and legends of the first Jewish settlers in Poland are to be carved onto the trees and projected onto the floor.
Following the medieval gallery examining the life of the Jewish merchant, the second gallery brings the history up to 1500 when, during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Poland was becoming the centre of the Ashkenazic world. The exhibition will make available to visitors a Virtual Library where they will be able to explore the earliest Hebrew and Yiddish texts printed on Polish soil, as well as an interactive scale model of Krakow and Kazimierz.
On September 29 of this year, Jewish folklorist Dov Noy passed away at the age of 92. Howard Schwartz offers this poem in his memory.
you brought back the merchants trading tales,
the grandmothers whispering buba mayses,
brought back so many fairy tales
told by the stove,
warming so many generations.
If all the storytellers are silent,
who can blame them?
the wonder child sheds tears in her sleep —
how will the prince vault over the silence
and recover the shining jewel
that could save her?
And the boy awaiting the bird of happiness
is still stranded in the desert,
with no hint of how to find his way
the princess trapped in the golden mountain
needs the spell
you learned from a magic oud,
the winds need someone who knows their language,
the storytellers are parched for the waters
of eternal life.
It was you who recovered the golden dove
we lost in the desert,
and now we have lost you.
Howard Schwartz is the author of “The Library of Dreams: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2013,” and “Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism,” which won the National Jewish Book Award in 2005.
Happy Mutant Baby Pills
By Jerry Stahl
Harper Perennial, 272 pages, $14.99
The narrator of Jerry Stahl’s new novel “Happy Mutant Baby Pills,” has a serious case of unrest. Lloyd earns his living writing pharmaceutical copy — specifically, disclaimers for the side effects of various drugs. He’s also got a fairly severe heroin habit, and possesses a general sense of detachment from the world.
Lloyd is a particularly deadpan narrator. He’s bleakly funny, world-weary, and appropriately candid. Stahl (and, through him, Lloyd) is handy with a turn of phrase, as in a pastor who makes reference to the “withered as the dugs of Satan.” Late in the novel Lloyd notes that one character “looked exactly the same, except for missing an arm.” In the novel’s lengthy prologue, he says that years of drug use occasionally affect his sense of time, and warns the reader that “I used to write greeting cards. Sometimes I relapse.” Thankfully, those nods to cliché manifest themselves as the bleakest of comedy — something this satirical, occasionally transgressive novel has in abundance.
Lloyd is savvy enough to come up with the perfect reference for nearly every situation, from nods to Nick Tosches’s similarly harrowing body of work to Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana” to Katherine Dunn’s “Geek Love.” Curiously, there is one instance where Lloyd barely acknowledges a cultural reference point: the discovery of a character with a name echoing Fernando Pessoa, author of “The Book of Disquiet.” Is Stahl paralleling Pessoa’s account of one writer’s flights of fancy from his day job, and contrasting those idle thoughts with Lloyd’s journey from frustrated writer to outlaw?
Carolyn Starman Hessel, Director of the Jewish Book Council, the coordinating organization for the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary programs, calls it “a true life detective story on a thousand-year-old Hebrew Bible.” That’s the description of Matti Friedman’s “The Aleppo Codex,” which has won the 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. The $100,000 prize is named for the the late businessman and philanthropist Sami Rohr, who died in 2012. In previous years, the prize — which alternates between fiction and non-fiction — has gone to such writers as Gal Beckerman and Austin Ratner.
The runner-up prize of $25,000 has been awarded to Sarah Bunin Benor, an associate professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. She is the author of “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language of Orthodox Judaism,” which Hessel describes as a book about how “a community influences one’s speech patterns.”
The 2014 Sami Rohr winner and finalists will be feted at a ceremony in Jerusalem this January.
In a resolution of a plagiarism case appeal brought by author Naomi Ragen, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the author to delete 25 phrases from future editions of her bestselling novel “Sotah.”
The order made on Wednesday upholds a December 2011 decision by Jerusalem’s District Court, which ruled that Ragen used parts of haredi Orthodox author Sarah Shapiro’s 1990 book “Growing With My Children: A Jewish Mother’s Diary” in her book “Sotah,” which appeared in 1992. The district court in March 2012 ordered Ragen to pay nearly $63,000 in damages in addition to removing the phrases in future printings of the book.
Also as part of the appeal verdict, the Supreme Court ordered that a large portion of the settlement money go to two Israeli charities. The justices reportedly called the lower court’s original verdict “problematic.”
Among the phrases that Ragen must remove are “perfectly behaved little angels,” and “I forgive you,” she said in a statement.
Many people are familiar with an iconic photograph of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo titled “Frida at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel, NYC 1933.” In the picture, Kahlo is seated, and a small painted self-portrait hangs above her and slightly to the left on the wall. Less known than the photograph itself is the name of the woman who took it. Her name was Lucienne Bloch, and she was Kahlo’s friend, and an artist in her own right.
The Jewish Community Library in San Francisco currently has an exhibition of photographs by Lucienne Bloch, along with some taken by her father, the famous Swiss-born Jewish musical composer Ernest Bloch (1880-1959). The show, titled “A Shared Eye,” highlights the father’s interest in artfully documenting nature, and the daughter’s preferred focus on people and what the camera can catch of their psychological make-up.
Some of Ernest’s photographs of life in the Swiss countryside grab the eye, including “The Mushroom Lady, 1912” featuring an elderly woman in a witch-like ensemble looking straight into the camera while holding a giant mushroom in each hand. Lucienne’s photos of social and political demonstrations in New York and Detroit in the mid-1930’s are well composed. Also of note is her rare photo of Albert Einstein playing violin in a musical group at Princeton.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here
A recently released music video weaves together the classic Yiddish hit “Mein Yiddishe Mame” (“My Jewish Mother”) with a modern hip-hop tribute to a more contemporary Jewish mother. In its first two weeks on You Tube, the video received a whopping 11,000 hits.
“Mein Yiddishe Mama,” which was written by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack in the early 1920s, was made famous by singer Sophie Tucker, cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, and later, the Barry Sisters. In 1928 it was featured as one of the five most popular songs on American radio. It has since been translated into other languages including Spanish, Hungarian, Polish and Finnish.
In the music video, produced by Sparks Next, 32-year-old cantor Mayer Goldberg sings a heartfelt rendition of the song, while images of young Jewish mothers and their children flash across the screen — young mothers preparing dinner, or older mothers affectionately stroking their grown daughter’s faces.
As soon as Goldberg finishes singing the Yiddish version of the song, a young singer from the Jewish rap group “Brooklyn Mentality” comes on to tell, in hip-hop style, about his youth, his rebellion against his mother and other figures of authority:
After watching the excellent production of “Becoming Dr. Ruth,” at Manhattan’s West End Theatre, my first thought was that someone had handed playwright Mark St. Germain (creator of “Freud’s Last Session”) a gimme.
On the face of it, all Germain had to do was stick a microphone in front of the voluble sex therapist, transcribe her words, and there you have it: a play.
Because what a rich life she’s lived, filled with sadness and joy and the drama that makes great theater.
To his credit, Germain resisted the temptation to turn this into the burlesque it could easily have become. Nor does he dwell on the moments of pathos. Instead he does a delicate balancing act, effortlessly shifting between the ups and downs and taking the audience with him.
It’s the same approach smartly taken by star Debra Jo Rupp (“That ‘70s Show”), rrrrrolling her Rs, of course, German accent intact, but never reducing her role to a parody.
The play is set in 1997, a little more than two months after the unexpected death of Dr. Ruth’s third husband, Fred. She is cleaning out her Washington Heights apartment because, despite its spectacular views of the New Jersey Palisades across the Hudson River and of the George Washington and Tappen Zee Bridges, despite the objections of both her children, she feels she needs to move on.
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