The Mathematician’s Shiva
By Stuart Rojstaczer
Penguin Books, 384 pages, $16.00
Sasha Karnokovitch, narrator of the novel “The Mathematician’s Shiva,” isn’t the warmest of storytellers. Born in Russia at the height of the Cold War to two brilliant mathematicians, Sasha has eschewed the cold Wisconsin town where he came of age in favor of a career in Tuscaloosa, researching atmospheric science and predicting hurricanes. The death of his mother Rachela, a legendary mathematician, brings him back to his hometown in middle age, reuniting him with his family and introducing a number of additional characters to the mix. When rumor spreads that Rachela solved a problem that had stymied mathematical thinkers for centuries before her death, a drove of mathematicians descends on Wisconsin, seeking evidence that Rachela may have left behind.
Rojstaczer has been a professor of geophysics, and he effectively communicates the academic community’s rivalries, making both Sasha’s and Rachela’s pursuits of knowledge tangible. At times, Rojstaczer subtly undercuts Sasha’s perspective. Sasha’s estranged father isn’t introduced in the most glowing terms: We learn that Rachela discovered him cheating on her and left him, less for the adultery than for the shallowness of his choice.
Yet he’s also one of the novel’s most outspoken feminists, lashing out at an obituary that calls Rachela “The greatest female mathematician of her generation.” “What is this qualification ‘female’?” he demands. For all that he is a sober narrator, Sasha is far from perfect: His interactions with women aren’t always laudable, and his rabbinical detection abilities border on the obsessive. And Rachela’s prodigious talent can be alienating: consider her role, decades earlier, in hastening the end of Sasha’s marriage via her devotion to academic rigor.
Photo courtesy Estate of Abram Games
“To be an artist you need talent and you haven’t got it,” the young Abram Games was told by his headteacher, advising him to pursue a career as a bank clerk instead. Regardless, with what appears to be characteristic tenacity, sheer hard work and obvious talent, Games went on to become one of the most influential British designers of the 20th century.
“Designing the 20th Century,” a major new exhibition at the Jewish Museum London, marks the centenary of his birth, and celebrates Games’s life and art. The show successfully juxtaposes the professional and the personal elements of Games’s life, and visitors will leave having gained a significant insight into Games’s creative output and character.
Games was an exponent of the poster, particularly those produced during the Second World War. His 60-year career also included stamps and emblems, as well as product design.
The son of Eastern European immigrants, Games grew up in London’s East End, often assisting his father, who was a professional photographer. He attended art school for just two terms before deciding to build his own portfolio, establishing himself as a freelance designer. The exhibition displays many of his iconic works, as well as personal objects and a re-creation of his north London studio, which was attached to the family’s Golders Green home.
(Reuters) — Moshe Gershuni’s expressive, historically loaded art, which places symbols of the Holocaust in a religious setting and seeks to polarize opinion about current Israeli society, seems unlikely to reward the casual viewer.
Titled “No Father No Mother,” the retrospective of paintings and ceramics since 1979 in the New National Gallery is the first solo show by an Israeli artist to be opened at Berlin’s premier location for modern art.
The focus is especially poignant in Germany, where a Jewish population of over half a million in 1933 was annihilated in the Holocaust, with just 30,000 surviving by 1945.
“His paintings evoke haunting, even oppressive notions of rootlessness and detachment connected with the horrors and atrocities of the 20th century or with the diaspora,” said Udo Kittelman, director of the New National Gallery.
Born into a Polish-Jewish family that emigrated to Tel Aviv in 1936, Gershuni is one of Israel’s most renowned artists, with work in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Tate Britain.
Crawling on paper-covered floors and painting with his hands, he invests physically and emotionally in his art — and unlocking its power often calls for a gaze that is equally intense.
The first song on Isabel Rose’s new CD is “Lot of Livin’ To Do,” an especially appropriate choice. She has already packed a lot of living into her, uh, years on planet Earth.
“I don’t want to distract people,” Rose said about her age. In a phone interview with the Forward, she added, “I prefer they not focus on whether I look good for my age. That is too much of a preoccupation, too much of a distraction from a person’s work.”
As it happens, Rose has an extremely lengthy and varied body of work for a person of any age. She acted at the Williamstown Theater Festival, landing a main stage production just weeks out of school; she’s written a best-selling novel (“The J.A.P. Chronicles”) that she subsequently turned into an off-Broadway one-woman musical; she wrote the screenplay and starred in an independent film (“Anything But Love”); and, now, her new album of standards, “Trouble in Paradise,” which drops September 16.
Rose spoke to the Forward about her family — she’s the scion of the wealthy, influential and charitable New York real estate clan — about Friday night Jewish song fests, and what she wants to do when she grows up.
Curt Schleier: I read somewhere that your family prefers a low profile and wasn’t thrilled with your career choice.
Photo: Rea Ben-David
But Evron has long been a name to watch among the cognoscenti. In Israel, his work is in permanent collections of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Haifa Museum of Art and the Petach Tikva Museum of Art. In Chicago, where he’s lived since 2011, he’s got work in two major area shows. A group show at the Little Wolf, WI venue Poor Farm includes his photographic installation based on infrared kinect sensor light; at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography, the show “Phantoms in the Dirt” showcases his repurposed photos of 1930s French colonial settlements. A November group show at the Haifa Museum of Art is next.
Evron’s sculptures and photographs “play with perception, often distorting everyday objects into abstract images,“ Chicago magazine wrote. “His work consists of things we can’t easily see or decipher,” a local curator told the magazine. “It’s smart and subtle and appealingly enigmatic. It lingers with you.”
One-half of an art-world power couple, the 37-year-old Evron is married to acclaimed Israeli artist Nelly Agassi, who late last year had her own exhibition of video works at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Evron spoke to the Forward from their home in the Chicago neighborhood of Wicker Park.
Michael Kaminer: You’ve got an unusual background for an artist. How did your studies at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University influence your work?
From Salome Libretto
When to cut is to bind,
and as you come
to the tenet of my house. In the bed that is
spread across this lexicon
in the splendor of our haunting
bind me to your wrists
to your forearms, your fingers
with your leather strapped
heritage histories rituals traditions
with your tableaux fabliaux
of ragged madenss
in prophecy, sophistry
as i taste you
all palistrophically erotic and
threaded with hysteria
bind me to your doorposts bedposts
For in my death i taste you
with the paradox of worship.
Photo: Carol Rosegg
I’m certain everyone involved in “Olympics Uber Alles,” currently running off-Broadway, had good intentions. But as we all know, the road to Hell was paved with them. And while the play won’t lead audiences to the netherworld, it won’t leave them feeling a heavenly embrace, either.
History Professor Steve Feinstein (Tim Dowd) wants to mount an exhibit about anti-Semitism using the 1936 — or Nazi — Olympics as its prime example. But the museum curator, Kate McCarthy (Amy Handra), claims the event slots are reserved for minorities, and by minorities she means Blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
The play travels back and forth in time, from the ‘30s, when Marty Glickman and teammate Sam Stoller are kept from running in the Olympics, back to the present, when Feinstein tries to convince the museum board that Jews are a minority worthy of a spot on the schedule.
“Olympics” was written by Samuel J. Bernstein with the help of Marguerite Krupp, who provided, according to the program, “the Catholic perspective.” Bernstein, who has had some plays produced in smaller venues, is a professor of English at Northeastern University and Krupp lectures there as well.
This is not surprising since much of the dialogue sounds lecture-like rather than conversational. Even when a discussion becomes more relaxed, it’s clearly to establish a plot point rather than a natural outgrowth of the story.
Israel Horovitz is the author of over 70 produced plays, most famously “Lebensraum,” his “Fountain Pen” trilogy, and “The Indian Wants the Bronx.” But, as he explains, “I was turning 75 and I thought that would scare the hell out of me.”
The “that” that he refers to is directing the film version of “My Old Lady.” One of his plays, “North Shore Fish,” was filmed in 1997. He’s written original screenplays. And he’s directed a documentary that ran on Bravo. But this is first time he’s taken on all the forms at once.
“My Old Lady” is set in France, where Horovitz spends much time. He is kind of a literary Jerry Lewis, whose work is appreciated and much honored there, including the recent award of a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.
Here, Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), a down-on-his luck New Yorker, inherits a lavish Paris apartment from his estranged father. He intends to sell it, but discovers he has tenants, Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith) and her daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), who can block the sale under a complicated French real estate law known as viager.
With nowhere else to go, Mathias moves in as well, and uncovers secrets about his family and theirs. The film is funny, intense, romantic, and the principal actors are exceptionally well cast.
Horovitz spoke to the Forward about how the film came about, the anti-Semitism he faced growing up and why some of his children were raised secular and some Jewish.
Curt Schleier: When you write, do you think of your plays cinematically?
“Eidele Meidele,” the braided girl // Copyright Camilla Cerea
A narrow bed with light blue bedding, flanked by two nightstands, is propped up against the wall right behind the glass doors. A Hebrew book of psalms lies on one nightstand, a vase with dried flowers on the other. One of its drawers is opened, and contains a pile of family photographs. A pair of tights dangles out of another. On the wall across from the bed hangs a portrait of a man with a long beard, peyes, and a white yarmulka. It’s a collage titled “Father” that uses fabric, twine rope and staples. Entering Soapbox Gallery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, feels like walking into someone’s home. And this, says Sara Erenthal, whose first solo exhibition titled “Be!” is on display here, is fully intentional.
The show is small (apart from the bedroom, which is titled “Good Night Hindy”, there are only a few other art installations) but tells a powerful story: Erenthal, 33, grew up in the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist sect Neturei Karta. She spent the first four years of her life in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood; then her family moved to Boro Park, Brooklyn, and also lived for a while in Monsey and Kiryas Joel, New York. The photographs in the nightstand drawer show her as a serious looking girl, dressed in modest skirts and blouses, her hair dark, long and braided.
The braids — a hairstyle she was forced to wear, she says — are represented in the show as well: A five foot papier-mâché head hangs on one wall, with a total of 1,600 foot of manila rope forming two gigantic braids that rest on the floor.
Among the more than 200 items which are slated to appear in the Library of Congress exhibit “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom” in Washington, D.C. — which will be on view until September 12, 2015 — are documents written by civil rights leaders, newspaper clippings, legal briefs and artwork.
According to a library release it constitutes “some of the most important materials in [its] collection,” and it “will highlight the legal and legislative challenges and victories leading to its [Civil Rights’] passage, shedding light on the individuals — both prominent leaders and private citizens — who participated in the decades-long campaign for equality.”
What there won’t be are troves of artifacts tying Jewish activists to the struggle for civil rights. “It’s not a show that specifically deals with the role of Jews in the Civil Rights movement,” said Betsy Nahum-Miller, one of three directors of the exhibit. But, she added, Jewish elements exist.
Nahum-Miller thought right away of Arthur Spingarn, the Jewish civil rights activist who is profiled in the exhibit. A photograph of Spingarn, who held leadership roles at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, addresses the early days of the organization. And upon further reflection, other connections surfaced.
Filmmaker Liz Garbus is responsible for numerous powerful and award-winning documentaries: “The Farm: Angola USA,” about Louisiana’s infamous maximum security prison; “The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust”; and “Killing in the Name,” an Academy Award-nominated documentary about Islamic terrorism.
Therefore, the emotional intensity of her latest, “A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY,” doesn’t come as a surprise. The title has nothing to do with salary or benefits. In fact, “a good job,” according to one of the fire fighters interviewed, is “a really tough fire.” And “good jobs” are a recurring theme in the film: a 1966 conflagration in which a dozen fire fighters died; the Happy Land Social Club fire (87 victims), and of course 9/11.
A number of fire fighters — including early women and African American members of what until recently was an almost exclusively male and white fraternity — are interviewed. What’s surprising is how little swagger or arrogance they display. Despite the constant peril of the job, they don’t look at their work much differently than an office worker whose greatest risk is a paper cut. Their answers to interesting questions posed by the filmmakers are thoughtful, intelligent and moving.
Garbus partnered on the project with actor Steve Buscemi, who worked as a New York City fire fighter for five years before pursuing a career as an actor. Garbus, 44, spoke to the Forward about how the two met, Buscemi’s contribution, and how making her first documentary got her kicked out of her high school physics class.
Curt Schleier: How did you get involved in the film?
Photo: Nadja Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman — celebrated comics book artist, illustrator and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” — has broken his silence on the subject of Israel. At least that’s how he put it to his Facebook followers last week when he shared a collage he designed for a recent issue of the magazine The Nation.
Prefacing the social media post by saying that he has spent a “lifetime trying to NOT think about Israel,” Spiegelman went on to say that “Israel is like some badly battered child with PTSD who has grown up to batter others.”
Captioned “Perspective in Gaza (The David and Goliath Illusion),” the Biblical-style art image consists of two panels. On the left is a traditional rendering of David facing Goliath. The right-hand panel presents a shrunken Goliath brought closer to the foreground. Using the tricks of size and perspective to make what is surely not an original political point, it’s a clever play on Spiegelman’s life’s work as an illustrator.
At least two important questions arise from this. First, what does it say when The Jewish Museum in New York mounted a Spiegelman retrospective which overlapped with the controversy over Israel critic Judith Butler’s slated talk there on a subject unrelated to Israel? (Butler later pulled out amidst the pressure.) Had Spiegelman spoken up against Israel earlier, might the museum’s donors and critics have applied similar tactics?
Photo: Fumie Suzuki
So, there in a gazebo on the boardwalk in Coney Island are The Brothers Nazaroff, taking refuge from the steamy afternoon sun. It is 92 degrees and horribly humid outside as the five Nazaroffs start playing and singing. A Hungarian documentary crew is shooting with two cameras as the brothers sing “Lucky Jew,” so I have to be on my toes to stay out of the camera shots. My t-shirt is drenched with sweat but I realize that as awful as it is being outside in the heat and humidity, watching these spirited Yiddish musicians play their raucous repertoire does indeed make me a lucky Jew.
Billed as a “Yiddish supergroup,” The Brothers Nazaroff is a tribute band to an obscure Russian immigrant in New York known as Nathan “Prince” Nazaroff. The man is known mostly by hardcore Yiddish music lovers. He is called an outsider, though he did record an album for Moe Asch’s Folkways label in 1954 and Nazaroff promoted himself as an established entertainer. None of The Brothers Nazaroff are actually brothers or Nazaroffs. Danik Nazaroff, Pasha Nazaroff, Meyshke Nazaroff, Zaelic Nazaroff and Yankl Nazaroff are in fact Daniel Kahn of Painted Bird fame, genuine Russian Psoy Korolenko, Michael Alpert of Brave Old World, Bob Cohen of the Budapest-based Di Naye Kapelye and Jake Shulman-Ment, widely regard as one of the best working klezmer fiddlers on the planet.
Thanks to Cohen’s connections in the Hungarian arts scene, a well-funded documentary on the Nazaroff project was begun. Various Nazaroffs were flown to New York for the film, which will also shoot in Paris and Berlin, where 35 year-old Daniel Kahn is based.
Lynn Sherr spent more than 30 years with ABC News, reporting on everything from national political campaigns to social issues. But it was her time covering the space program that provided the grist for her latest book, a biography, “Sally Ride: America’s First Women in Space.”
Following a career in print journalism, primarily at The Associated Press and then a career in local broadcast TV in New York. Sherr, 72, was one of the first hires when the iconic Roone Arledge, famously of ABC Sports, took over and revolutionized the news division. She was at ABC from 1977 to 2008.
At a time when the already few women in network news were generally not assigned a science beat, Sherr was assigned to the shuttle program in 1981 and met Sally Ride shortly thereafter.
In many ways, Sherr was as much a pioneer as Ride. In her 2006 memoir, “Outside the Box,” she wrote about being asked in 1980 by one of her ABC bosses to address the Radio-Television News Directors Association, which had specifically requested a woman. This upset her because they had not requested her but just a woman, as though women were all interchangeable. Sherr went on to deliver a blistering speech.
Recently she spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about that assignment, her best story ever and her basketball playing dad, a 6-foot Jew who jumped center.
Curt Schleier: Do you think you got the job because the ABC powers-that-be felt you’d be able to relate to Sally Ride?
Lynn Sherr: I don’t know. I actually asked the guy who assigned me why I got that wonderful assignment. He said it was because he liked the way I explained things. I was a good explainer.
The word is out. Leonard Maltin’s annual movie guide has fallen into what, in Hollywood speak, would be called “developmental hell.” First published in 1969 and annually since 1986, the new 2015 edition is its last. Like newspapers and other print media, it has fallen victim to the Internet, where much of the information is readily available, easily accessible and free.
The story behind the series is probably more interesting than the average “Transformers” film, however. Maltin was a high school student who published a fanzine. An English teacher impressed with his work put him in touch with a publisher, who was similarly awed.
The first edition of was to become “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” was called simply “TV Movies.” It “is a terrible title,” Maltin said in a telephone interview. “A competitor used up a better title, “Movies on TV.” It was actually Maltin’s suggestions for improving that book that convinced the publisher to sign the high school senior.
“I suggested adding a more extensive cast list, the director’s name, and indicating if it was in color or black and white, which was more important then.”
Maltin spoke to the Forward about being a high school nerd, his favorite (and least favorite) films, and davening with Theodore Bikel.
Curt Schleier: Were you a nerd in high school?
“Dressing America,” which debuts September 2 on WNET, is a nostalgic look back at the largely Jewish history of the New York City garment business, replete with interviews of mostly old Jews fondly recalling a bygone era.
Some of those interviewed head well-known fashion brands including Perry Ellis, Nicole Miller and Leslie Fay. (Notably, though they are mentioned, there’s no Donna Karen or Ralph Lauren.) We meet present and former executives of smaller firms, as well as the button, bias and trimming manufacturers that used to dominate the area.
It’s a documentary likely to evoke sentimental reminiscence from viewers old enough to have worked in the garment center, or perhaps their children.
One anecdote from the film is told by a salesman for a start-up. Early on at his company he got a sizable commitment a prominent retailer. The store’s owner insisted on giving the salesman a check immediately — not 30 days after delivery. “He knew how desperately I needed the money,” the salesman recalls.
Can you imagine such a thing happening today? That level of generosity has vanished, as has much of the garment industry in New York. By concentrating on the headquarters — the sales rooms and design centers — the filmmakers leave the false impression that the garment industry still exists. While there is still a segment of the business in Manhattan, it’s not the same industry the filmmakers memorialize.
It’s a bit presumptuous of me to suggest that the History cable network scheduled its two-part “Houdini” mini-series over Labor Day weekend on the theory that most folks will be away from their television. But, if by some chance, that turned out actually to be the network’s strategy, kudos to them.
Houdini is played by Adrien Brody, but not even the Academy Award winner can drum up a performance magical enough to make his character seem real.
He is burdened by Nicholas Meyer’s script, which paints a one-dimensional portrait of a man with daddy issues and who seems to talk exclusively in aphorisms. What could even the greatest thespian do with dialogue like this:
“I love my father. But he was a nobody. I’m not going to be like him.”
“Fear is how I know I’m alive. Not like other people. I don’t escape life. I escape death.”
“The only way to beat death is to put your life on the line. Why was I so compelled to beat death? What was I trying to escape?”
Musician Rosanne Cash reminisces about a purple shirt that once belonged to her legendary father. Designer Cynthia Rowley rhapsodizes about the Girl Scouts sash that helped ignite her entrepreneurial spark. And an octogenarian Holocaust survivor named Dorothy Finger shares memories of a suit made with a bolt of cloth she took from her childhood home — her only possession touched by her late mother.
Their stories are among 67 “sartorial memoirs” in “Worn Stories” (Princeton Architectural Press), a new book inspired by the blog where visitors share their stories about clothing and life experiences. A stark, simple image of an article of clothing — many in an advanced state of wear — accompanies each testimonial.
“Most of the garments aren’t particularly extraordinary by themselves,” says Worn Stories creator Emily Spivack. “It’s only by hearing each story that you recognize the significance. And even though the memories are all very specific, the themes they touch on are universal — family, relationships, a funny moment. They’re all moments in time from a personal and cultural perspective.”
“Shadows From My Past” is a strange amalgam of a documentary. Though it is often amateurish (it has the feel of a home movie) and dated (it includes interviews of people long dead), it is powered by its subject matter and evokes strong emotion.
Gita Weinrauch Kaufman escaped Vienna with her parents and two brothers in 1940. Luckily, the family received U.S. visas on the day they were scheduled to be deported to Dachau. Most of the rest of her relatives, including numerous uncles, aunts and cousins, did not survive. She knew them only as the titular shadows who came alive in a treasure trove of correspondence discovered among her parents’ belongings.
These letters were from desperate people describing their tenuous situations, often begging their kin for help securing visas and money for transit to anywhere but Wien. The missives were sufficiently moving that Gita and her late husband, Curt Kaufman, secured a grant from the Bruno Kreisky Foundation to create an audio-visual presentation about them, leading to an invitation to speak about the correspondence at the University of Vienna.
Gita was at first undecided about returning to the city of her birth, but ultimately did, hoping to discover if Austria had come to grips with its past, so she could come to grips with hers.
According to the production notes Gita and Curt subsequently made multiple trips to Europe.
Image courtesy Canadian War Museum
The hazy images take up just one small corner of a massive new exhibition on revered Canadian artist Alex Colville at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
But his depictions of corpses at Bergen-Belsen, where a young Colville was dispatched to document World War II atrocities, hold the key to understanding the artist’s worldview and work.
“Seeing that really marked Colville for the rest of his life,” Andrew Hunter, the AGO’s curator of Canadian art, told the Forward. “More than just seeing war, what he saw at Belsen really cast a shadow over his view of the world and of what people are capable of doing.”
The experience also shaped the signatures that came to define Colville’s painting, said Hunter, who curated the exhibition. “He thought a lot about the chaos that lies under the surface of order,” Hunter said. “It sounds simple, but those who ran the camps did it in a way that was very structured. On the surface, it was all highly rational. He was conscious of how order could also lead to great evil.”
In Colville’s iconic 1967 painting “Pacific,” a shirtless man, visible from the back, stares at the ocean while a gun rests on an old sewing table in the foreground. The gun, Hunter explained, represents the possibility of chaos; the ruler built into the sewing table presents a symbol of order.