The Arty Semite

Talking With an Angel in Suburban Hell

By Tobias Carroll

An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell
By Deborah Levy
And Other Stories, 96 pages

Whether writing with barely suppressed rage or achieving a brisk comic pace, the writing of Deborah Levy rarely lets the reader grow complacent. Her earliest novels, “Beautiful Mutants” and “Swallowing Geography,” channeled Thatcher-era fury through surrealistic modes and landscapes. Her 2011 novel “Swimming Home,” shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, worked in a more realistic vein, but left the reader no less unsettled, as Levy slowly revealed the buried secrets and repressed tension in the hearts of her central characters. It was the sort of novel the reader knew would end unhappily; the tension stemmed from the how, not the why. Levy deals with grand themes in unexpected ways, and her latest book (in a manner of speaking) addresses this head-on.

“An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell,” a long poem in dialogue, was first published in 1990, and has been revised for this edition. There’s a short reference to smartphones; otherwise, this fable of suburban disquiet and divine intervention achieves a largely timeless tone. Our two speakers, “He” and “she” — which also reflects the use of capital letters in their dialogue — are, respectively, a man working as an accountant and residing in the titular suburbs and an angel, “wonderful and winged and leaking,” who hopes to save him by bringing him out of the familiar and into the wider world. Their dialogue is a verbal tug-of-war, opening with the man gazing upon the angel, describing her in (literally) glowing terms, then posing a crucial question: “Who are you / Anyway?”

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Remembering a 20-Year Protest for Soviet Jewry

By Menachem Wecker

Photo Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington

Long before Occupy Wall Street, protests were held from 12:30 to 12:45 p.m. every day from December 10, 1970, until January 27, 1991, in front of the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., in an effort to raise awareness about the mistreatment of Soviet Jews. Those demonstrations, held rain or shine — including through muggy District summers — are the subject of the exhibit “Voices of the Vigil: D.C.’s Soviet Jewry Movement,” which is on view at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md., until October 19.

“Washington Jews organized rallies and marches, waged letter-writing campaigns to pressure politicians, sent packages and Rosh Hashanah greeting cards to refuseniks, and visited Jews in the Soviet Union,” according to the exhibit website.

Some gems from the exhibit include photographs of the actor Theodore Bikel speaking at the September 1965 Eternal Light Vigil on the National Mall (he shares the stage with a man holding a twisted shofar); of 3-year-old David Sislen burying his face in tears in his mom Bonnie’s coat after a police officer removed the placard from his sign, which violated a rule prohibiting any signs within 500 feet of an embassy; and a youthful Senator John Kerry marching, arms locked, with colleagues and with Avital Sharansky en route to the Soviet Embassy demanding Natan Sharansky’s release.

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An Israeli Artist's Abandoned Spaces

By Aimee Rubensteen

Naomi Safran-Hon, ‘Wadi Salib: Living Room with 4 Windows,’ 2013

Art is a language of its own, and Naomi Safran-Hon is redefining its words. “Hard Times: Paintings,” is a small solo exhibition of the Israeli artist’s most recent work currently on display at Slag Gallery in Brooklyn. The gallery explores the evolution of mediums (Slag is a recyclable waste product in metal smelting) and celebrates the way Safran-Hon utilizes unconventional materials such as concrete, sequins and lace in order to transform worthless objects into meaningful pictures.

When the artist returned to her hometown of Haifa in Israel, she photographed abandoned interiors. While Safran-Hon does not suggest a particular political agenda, her canvases present a multitude of questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The gallery explains that the depicted spaces “have been abandoned for the past half-century following a mass Palestinian exodus — a migration whose causes and effects differ depending on the historical narrative to which one subscribes.”

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Conversations With Ed Koch

By Curt Schleier

That Neil Barsky selected Ed Koch as the subject of his first film was far from an accident. Barsky spent his formative years in New York during Koch’s mayoralty (1978-1989), both as a high school student and later as a journalist.

The city was in the midst of desperate times. Crime was rampant and the Big Apple was running out of cash and time. Koch ran as a “liberal with sanity” on a law and order platform shortly after the 1977 blackout and ensuing riots; he easily defeated a passel of more liberal Democrats (Bella Abzug and Mario Cuomo, among them) for his party’s nomination and then won the election handily.

Koch was brash and combative in a New York City kind of way — at least in the way New Yorkers like to think of themselves. Barsky is a former journalist — he wrote for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News — and he comes to filmmaking by a circuitous route. He ran a hedge fund, Alson Partners, named for his children, Alexandra and Davidson, but “retired from the hedge fund world” in 2009 when the market collapsed. After a brief stint teaching college-level economics, he self financed “Koch,” his first foray into the world of documentaries. The movie opened to near unanimous praise last year and will be broadcast September as part of POV’s 27th season on PBS.

Barsky spoke to the Forward about his life journey, why there was a time when Koch refused to speak to him and the Yiddishkeit in his life.

Curt Schleier: How did you go from hedge fund entrepreneur to filmmaker?

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Forging Art for Fun and Philanthropy

By Dorri Olds

Art forger Mark Landis is the subject of the documentary “Art and Craft,” directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker. The film focuses on Landis’s history of art forgeries and the process he went through to create and donate them. The film also features Matthew Leininger, a museum registrar from Cincinnati who discovered the fakes and made it his mission to track down and stop Landis.

At the age of 17, Landis took the death of his father very hard. He was sent to a mental hospital for treatment and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Later he took art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and worked on repairing damaged paintings. He bought an art gallery but it went bust. At 30, he went back to live with his mother.

In an attempt to honor his father and please his mother, Landis donated a Maynard Dixon painting he’d copied to a California museum. After that went well, he continued to paint dupes and donated them to 60 museums over a 20-year period. Most times he approached the museums impersonating a priest.

Landis said, “I liked being a priest and being kind to people. I remember once I was at a bus station and saw a family who had everything they owned tied up in boxes so I watched all their things for them when they wanted to go off and do something. Then, when they came back I gave them a blessing and sent them on their way. I’ve also comforted people at airports, with marital problems.”

In 2007, Landis offered a few paintings to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The museum’s registrar, Matthew Leininger, investigated the pieces and discovered that one of the paintings had already been donated to the SCAD Museum of Art. Leininger dug deeper and found out that Landis had tricked more than 60 museums in 20 different states. It became Leininger’s mission to stop Landis from deceiving museums. Landis did not sell any of the paintings, so he has never faced legal charges for the fakes.

We talked to directors Cullman and Grausman about meeting Mark Landis, authenticity in art, and what will be in the DVD extras.

Dorri Olds: How did this project begin?

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12 Underappreciated Leonard Cohen Songs

By Ezra Glinter

Leonard Cohen is not a very prolific artist. In a 47-year music career he has made just 13 studio albums, along with a passel of live releases. (Compare that with Bob Dylan’s 35, or Neil Young’s 39 solo records.) But despite the relatively small size of Cohen’s catalog, it still has a lot of underappreciated gems. Here are 12 songs that seem to me to be unjustly overlooked, in honor of Cohen’s 80th year. Happy birthday, Leonard!

1. “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy,” 1969

I’ve always preferred Cohen’s first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” to his second, “Songs From a Room,” partly because I’ve never been a huge fan of “Bird on a Wire,” the most famous track from the second album. But the 1969 release does have this sad and beautiful tune, one of several Cohen songs to address the subject of suicide. In this performance, from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, he explains some of the background as well.

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POEM: 'You Think This May Be How It Happens'

By Janet Kirchheimer

You’re sitting in an armchair,
it’s your favorite, though
beat up from years of use,
and there is a tear in the fabric
covering the seat cushion, and
it’s after noon, and you’re taking
your nap, and you

wake up and ask your daughter
if anyone is there, you feel as if
someone has been pulling
at your arm, and she tells you
no one is there, to go back to sleep,
and you begin to wonder
if someone was there,

perhaps the Angel of Death who comes
to distract you for the slightest moment
so he can take you, and if you concentrate
on something, studying, praying, or
performing a commandment, the Angel must pass you by
but he is cunning, and will do everything

in his power to distract you, and you are
tired these days and are having
trouble concentrating and remembering things,
and you know the Angel will not stop trying, and
your daughter tells you, again, to go back
to sleep, but you can’t, you keep wondering
if this may be how it will happen.


POEM: 'Neighbors'

By Rachel Berghash

If only I’d climb over the fence
and step into my neighbor’s
grove of almonds, stealthily put
my ear against his window
listening closely to Farid
and his oud, and think
of his ancestors as mine, and
remember him coming
from Mecca with his green flag
for my son’s birth, if only
we’d sit together under
the garden’s broad-leaved tree,
unknowing religion and race,
and worship a nameless God,
crouch, humble like grass,
a seraph on fire, we’d wash
each other’s feet, letting
the hamsin pass over,
and breaking bread without a claim.


A Page-Turner That Tackles Hot-Button Issues

By Roz Warren

All I Love and Know
By Judith Frank
William Morrow, 432 pages, $26.99

You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy “All I Love and Know,” Judith Frank’s terrific new novel. Nor do you have to be gay. Although the book addresses issues important to both Jews and gays — Jewish identity, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gay parenting and marriage equality — it will satisfy anyone who longs for a first rate novel.

Daniel Rosen is a twin whose brother and sister-in-law are killed when a terrorist bomb explodes in an Israeli café. Their will grants custody of their baby boy and 6-year-old daughter to Daniel and his partner Matt, who, until then, have led an enviably carefree life as a popular gay couple in the “Lesbian Mecca” of Northampton, Mass.

Although Dan‘s brother and sister-in-law loved Israel, “If we die, take them away from here,” they’ve instructed Dan. “Enough is enough.”

But it’s not that simple. The will, as it turns out, isn’t binding. An Israeli court must decide the issue, and the children’s maternal grandparents, who are not only Israeli citizens but Holocaust survivors, are also fighting for custody. And they might win. The judge could have a bias toward keeping the kids in Israel, or against granting custody to a gay couple. And they’re a “mixed” Gay couple at that — Matt isn’t Jewish.

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Reason and Religion Converge in 'The Mathematician's Shiva'

By Tobias Carroll

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.

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Abram Games Designed Posters for Humanity

By Anne Joseph

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.

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The Pain of Rootless Jews in Berlin

By Helen Cahill

(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.

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How Isabel Rose Went From Acting to Writing to Music

By Curt Schleier

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.

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Israeli Artist Assaf Evron Takes Chicago By Storm

By Michael Kaminer

Photo: Rea Ben-David

When September’s Chicago magazine tipped Assaf Evron as one of “four rising artists worth investing in,” it was the first many in the Windy City had heard of the Israeli-born creator.

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?

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POEM: 'Bind Me'

By Adeena Karasick

From Salome Libretto

When to cut is to bind,
take me
and as you come
to the tenet of my house. In the bed that is
spread across this lexicon

bind me
in the splendor of our haunting

bind me to your wrists
to your forearms, your fingers

bind me
with your leather strapped
heritage histories rituals traditions

bind me
with your tableaux fabliaux
of ragged madenss
aberrance, labyrinths

bind me
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.


Clearing Hurdles at the Nazi Olympics

By Curt Schleier

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.

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Israel Horovitz on Paris and the Movies

By Curt Schleier

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?

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Sara Erenthal Turns Her Unhappy Ultra-Orthodox Childhood Into Art

By Anna Goldenberg

“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.

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Jews of the Civil Rights Movement

By Menachem Wecker

The Honorable Emanuel Celler, chairman, Judiciary Committee U.S. House of Representatives. From the Emanuel Celler Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

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.

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Behind the Firehouse Doors

By Curt Schleier

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?

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