The Arty Semite

Sorry Jon Stewart, Don't Quit Your Day Job

By Anna Goldenberg

Gael Garcia Bernal in ‘Rosewater’

“Listen, Jews do a lot of things out of guilt. Generally it has to do with visiting people, not making movies.” That was everyone’s favorite Jon Stewart (née Jonathan Stuart Leibovitz) talking to New York Magazine last month.

Stewart, 51, writer, producer and award-winning host of the satirical “The Daily Show” was referring to his latest project, which is also his first excursion into filmmaking: The full-length feature film “Rosewater” opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday. It’s based on the autobiography of Iranian-born, London-based journalist Maziar Bahari, who went to Iran to cover the Iranian presidential elections and the protests that followed. Voters believed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory against the moderate Mir-Hossein Moussavi was due to election fraud in 2009.

Shortly after being interviewed by “Daily Show” correspondent Jason Jones in Tehran, a scene that is reenacted in the film, Bahari is arrested, and spends 118 days in Evin prison, accused of being a spy for America. Bahari is tortured and interrogated by a so-called “specialist” whose perfume preferences are reflected in the title of the film.

No question, “Rosewater” is a solid movie. There is some fine acting, with Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari, and Kim Bodnia as Rosewater. There are enough light-hearted moments, sophisticated editing and strong imagery to make the 103 minutes go by fairly fast. And the narrative has just the right amount of sadness and despair to make it feel serious, but not overly sentimental.

Read more

6 Movies About Ex-Orthodox Jews Everyone Should See

By Anne Joseph

In contemporary cinema the representation of Jews is not so unusual. However, ex-Orthodox Jewish characters are portrayed far less often. Nonetheless, their role is significant and in some cases, iconic. (See my recent piece about Anna Wexler and Nadja Oertelt’s documentary ‘Unorthodox’ for one of the most recent examples.) Here are six of the best.

1. The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927)

Famous for being the first film with synchronized dialogue, this classic talkie stars Al Jolson as Jakie Rabinowitz, the son of a cantor who defies the traditions of his Orthodox parents because of his desire to pursue a career as a jazz singer. Following punishment by his father, Jakie runs away from home, but many years later his professional success comes into direct conflict with his religious and family responsibilities.

The film was remade twice — in 1952 (directed by Michael Curtiz) and again in 1980 (directed by Richard Fleischer and Sidney J. Furie), the latter starring Neil Diamond and Lawrence Olivier.

Read more

Orthodox in Israel, Secular in Kathmandu

By Anne Joseph

Courtesy Anna Wexler

At 8 years old, Anna Wexler wanted to be a great Torah scholar. At 12 she started to question her faith, and by 16 she was an atheist. It was at this point that Wexler decided to break away from her Modern Orthodox, New Jersey upbringing, to live a life with no rules and no limits.

Gravitating towards others like her, she says they went “pretty wild.’” But during their gap year, a significant change occurred. While she was travelling in Kathmandu, her rebellious friends had “flipped out” in Israel. Having gone to yeshiva, they had become religious, and exchanged their former lifestyle for one of modest dress and Torah study. It led Wexler to question why, and forms the subject of her debut documentary, “Unorthodox.”

The film has had several successful U.S. film festival screenings, including at the Boston Jewish Film Festival and DOC NYC. It will receive its U.K. premiere later this month during the U.K. Jewish Film Festival.

Read more

How Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis Got Past Race and Gender

By Aimee Rubensteen

Left: Lee Krasner with Stop and Go, c. 1949 (detail). Photographer unknown. © 2014 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Norman Lewis, n. d. Photographer unknown. From the Willard Gallery Archives. Collection of Kenkeleba House. Art © The Estate of Norman W. Lewis, Courtesy of Iandor Fine Arts, New Jersey

Look! It’s a white female artist! And, an African-American male artist! And, their art has something in common!

At face value, the painters Lee Krasner (1908-1984) and Norman Lewis (1909-1979) share more than their paintings suggest. This fact is practically shouted by The Jewish Museum’s current exhibition, “From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945-1952,” on view until February 1, 2015. Bringing Krasner and Lewis from the fringes to the foreground produces a liberal parallel of exploration, experimentation and expression.

The recognition of these two painters who contributed to Abstract Expressionism is paramount, since Krasner and Lewis were once overlooked figures. But the way in which they are presented counterbalances the problem of marginalization. As the Museum’s didactic exhibition broadens the understanding of each artist’s development and artistic process, the wall text will not let you forget that you are gazing at a painting made by a woman or by an African American. The show opens with two self-portraits that not only show both artists’ colorful palettes, but also the identity of the sitter, as if to say: Look! Neither painter is a white, male artist.

The visual language of both artists is examined chronologically through the exhibition’s four sections: “From the Margins,” “Influence and Experiment,” “The Language of Painting” and “Evolution.” The paintings by Lewis, for the most part, are made up of softer hues and matted surfaces. In contrast, Krasner’s bright pigments shine and the canvases glow in the gallery.

Read more

'Wiesenthal' Play Offers Emotional Dialogue, Dry History

By Curt Schleier

Photo: Carol Rosegg

In Tom Dugan’s play, “Wiesenthal,” the title character, Simon Wiesenthal (played by Dugan), describes a conversation with his wife, Cyla. She is ill and wants Simon to quit his work as a Nazi hunter and take her and their daughter to live in Israel.

Wiesenthal explains that he can’t:

“When we all meet in the next world, those who died in the camps will say, ‘Tell me what you did with this gift of life?’ One will tell of becoming a doctor; another a jeweler or a banker. When they ask me, I will say, ‘I have never forgotten you.’”

Then there was the time his 8-year-old daughter, the only Jew in her school, came home and asked why all the other children have family to spend holidays with. “Why do I have no one to visit?”

These are moments that will register with people of a certain generation. This play is important because there are other generations for whom this won’t register at all.

Unfortunately, emotional dialogue aside, the rest of the production comes off more as a dry history lesson than as an inspirational drama, lessening any potential impact it might have. The setting is Wiesenthal’s office at the Vienna Jewish Documentation Center in April 2003. It is his last day there and the show’s conceit is that one final group of visitors has come to hear him speak — or more accurately, recite.

Read more

POEM: 'Signs'

By Linda Zisquit

It has to do with seeing. Light.
Or dark. It has to do with
knowing. Speak and prophesy,
darken and move:
But what I see is not what I know.
What I hear is not what I believe.
And now the first light is dark,
the morning has not yet lifted the night sky.
Chirping. At first many. Then few.
A call from a deeper-throated bird
till the others rest, and start again together.
Like a chorus with various parts assigned.
I never heard it this way before.
Rumble of planes.
Bees now. Little sounds.
And flaming purple spikes light the garden.

From Linda Zisquit’s recently published new collection “Return From Elsewhere.”

Maggie Gyllenhaal's Top 8 Roles

By Curt Schleier

It’s no surprise that the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” boasts Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Anna. She is a strong, intelligent activist and actor, a key player in this drama about marital love and infidelity. It’s the type of character Gyllenhaal regularly and successfully inhabits.

For the young actress, who recently discovered her birth name is Margalit (Hebrew for Pearl), it adds another star performance in her ever-expanding galaxy. Here are some others:

1. The Honourable Woman

Gyllenhaal played British business executive Ness Stein in this eight-part mini-series that aired originally on the BBC and last summer on the Sundance Channel. Stein, who is Jewish, works hard to build bridges of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but as soon becomes clear in this spy thriller, it is a complex and difficult task. But the series and Gullenhaal’s performance won raves, with The New York Times saying she played “a principled but conflicted woman whose quicksilver personality alters from hour to hour and flashback to flash-forward.”

Read more

Bernice Eisenstein Plumbs Memory in 'Genizot'

By Michael Kaminer

The concept behind genizot is simple. These spaces, usually housed in synagogues, would store disused documents that contained the written name of God — and thus couldn’t be discarded.

But genizot also symbolize remembering. And that’s what Canadian artist Bernice Eisenstein so brilliantly explores in “Genizot: Repositories of Memory,” her new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

For Eisenstein, now artist-in-residence at Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Center, genizot become a launch pad to plumb the prismatic complexity of memory, whether personal, historical, literary, religious, or some combination thereof.

At first glance, “Genizot” seems like a loose assemblage of work. Eisenstein pairs her black-and-white portraits of figures like Antoine de St.-Exupery and Marcel Proust with elliptical text treatments; a glass display case houses casually arranged found objects. But as with all of Eisenstein’s work, there’s a compelling internal logic that unites the project into a powerful statement about memory, its weight, and its fluidity.

Memory is a favorite subject of Eisenstein, who created last year’s acclaimed “Correspondences” with Anne Michaels, and is the author of the award-winning graphic novel “I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors.”

“Genizot” was created for Holocaust Education Week in October, but the project will run through February 8, 2015 (Eisenstein is also one of the artists in “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” which I co-curated and The Forward sponsored.)

“I’m not didactic,” Eisenstein told the Forward from Toronto. “I want whoever sees “Genizot” to engage in it however their own memory works.”

Read more

Learning Jewish History on 'Finding Your Roots'

By Curt Schleier

Photo Courtesy of WNET/Joseph Sinnott

Henry Louis Gates’ PBS series, “Finding Your Roots,” is invariably emotionally powerful. And tonight’s episode, which profiles the background of three leading Jewish Americans, is no exception.

Carole King, Tony Kushner and Alan Dershowitz are the subjects. As always, Gates and his research team have done an excellent job checking the roots of the participants’ family trees. They went back the furthest in King’s lineage, to late 18th-century Russia. But it is the Dershowitz and Kushner segments that prove the most fascinating.

Dershowitz’s mother’s family came from Galicia in the 20th-century when pogroms wrecked havoc there. His grandfather, Naftali Ringer, came first, followed two years later by his grandmother Blima. There was a problem at the dock when she arrived — Naftali had shaved off his beard. As a result she didn’t recognize him and, according to family legend, at first rejected him.

Blima ruled the roost in the Dershowitz household, and she remained observant. Dershowitz claims when he came home from Ebbets Field and declared “The Dodgers won,” she would ask “But was it good for the Jews?”

But she was also very American. “She made my brother and me recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day… America was everything Poland was not.”

Read more

Elegy to 'Car Talk' Everyman

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

When Daniel Pinkwater learned on November 3 that Car Talk host Tom Magliozzi had died, he sent a one-line condolence to Doug Berman, the show’s longtime producer: “He improved the lives of millions. Weekly. For decades. They give Nobel Prizes to the wrong people.”

Tom, better known as Click (or was he Clack?), co-hosted the public radio call-in show Car Talk with his brother Ray for 35 years. The show still airs in reruns, though the two stopped producing new episodes in 2012. Pinkwater, the renowned children’s book author and radio personality, was a longtime friend of the program and a frequent guest.

“The crux of it was — this is basically what made them popular —they’re brothers and they get along,” Pinwater said. “People love that.”

Though the show as it aired was family-friendly, Pinkwater recalled Tom and his brother as having a wild sense of humor.

“They were out of control,” Pinkwater said. “They would say things and tell jokes and deliver of themselves remarks which, had they not been caught and edited out by the remarkable Doug Berman, would have ended my career as a children’s writer.”

When Car Talk was picked up by NPR in 1987, the ragged-voiced Magliozzi brothers didn’t sound like anyone else on the public radio roster. “My wife used to notice you couldn’t tell the speakers on NPR one from the other — except them,” Pinkwater said.

Read more

Top 4 Christian Works By Jewish Composers

By Michael Kaminer

Everyone knows that the most popular American Christmas songs were written by Jews. But like Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” (see my piece on the recent Queens performance here) there’s a long tradition of Jewish musicians involved in Christian-inspired music — and even a few non-Jewish composers who’ve written for the Hebrews. Here are four of the most interesting:

1. Felix Mendelssohn wrote Christian music like Symphony No. 5 “Reformation,” St. Paul Oratorio along with other chamber and vocal pieces.

Read more

Harry Potter Keeps Taking Off His Clothes

By Dorri Olds

Dorri Olds

Actor Daniel Jacob Radcliffe, now 25, has a net worth of $110 million, thanks mostly to the Harry Potter franchise. The eight movies all made it into the top 50 grossing films of all time. At 18, Radcliffe was ready to shed the Harry Potter image. He starred onstage in “Equus,” a role that requires full-frontal nudity — and lots of it. These days Radcliffe continues to take off his clothes. In 2013 we saw him in a gay sex scene as the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg in “Kill Your Darlings.” Then his clothes came off again in that summer’s romantic comedy “What If.”

Now you can see him in the buff starting on Halloween, in the horror-fantasy-drama, “Horns.” The film is based on the best-selling novel by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King. Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a man who inexplicably sprouts horns right after his girlfriend, Merrin, is raped and murdered and he becomes the prime suspect.

Naked or not, though, Radcliffe is a damn good actor. Last year he played a morphine-addicted doctor on the BBC TV show “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” portraying the younger version of Jon Hamm’s character. He received critical acclaim for playing a crippled man on Broadway’s July revival of “The Cripple of Inishmaan.” Known to work 90-hour weeks, the actor has honed an enormous set of talents. He learned to dance and sing for the musical “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”; and in late October he surprised everyone on “The Tonight Show” by rapping a flawless version of the complex, lyric-heavy Blackalicious song, “Alphabet Aerobics.”

Currently, the prolific star is learning to speak Japanese for the movie “Tokyo Vice.” He’s also set to play the son of Michael Caine’s character in the sequel to “Now You See Me,” slated for 2016. And he just wrapped playing Igor in “Frankenstein,” due out October 2015.

The Forward’s Dorri Olds caught up with Radcliffe to talk about his timed-for-Halloween movie, “Horns.”

Read more

Bernstein's 'MASS' Gets Rare Performance at Queens College

By Michael Kaminer

Getty Images

In 1971, the first time Maurice Peress conducted Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” the monumental piece echoed the life and death of John F. Kennedy, the social upheaval of the 1960s, and the morass of Vietnam.

Spectators today might see “MASS” in a very different light — as a tragic commentary on U.S. involvement in the Middle East, according to Peress. “The geography’s different, but it’s the same issues, the same arguments of what destructive power can do,” he told the Forward.

For the first time in nearly two decades, audiences will get the chance to make those connections themselves. Bernstein’s monumental “musical pageant” will get a rare full staging at Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Arts on November 1 and 2.

More than 200 performers, a rock band, marching band, and full pit orchestra will convene for the performance, which Bernstein loosely based on rituals of the Roman Catholic Mass. Folk, blues, rock, gospel, jazz, and even a marching band make appearances, along with Mahlerian meditations for orchestra, Hebrew prayer, chamber music, Arabic dances, and — why not — a Chilean folk ballad.

What’s different now from the historic 1971 premiere of “MASS,” which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had commissioned for the inauguration of Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center?

Read more

POEM: Friday Late Morning Montage

By Shoshana Olidort

baby: in bassinet, breathing loud,
me: on the couch breasts filling up, heavy with milk
toddler’s sweater thrown over his chair,
on the floor: toys, a towel, a Ziploc bag
on the ottoman: blue-and-white polka-dotted boppy — a nursing pillow
on the sofa: baby-wearing wrap
outside: the rain, in the dining corner: shades are still drawn though it’s
nearly midday (but what is time
in the life of a new mother — second time around — ?)
a not-yet-ripe pineapple on the credenza, a bowl of fruit, a piggy bank and toddler’s
most recent paintings
strewn across the coffee table: envelopes and opened books,
(shrine for Amiri Baraka, just dead)
also: a blue suction bulb for baby’s nose,
white tissues in a pink box
baby blue breakfast bowl
my new breastfeeding friendly cocktail: diluted cherry juice concentrate
kids’ books, Marguerite Duras, poetry, a pen, The New Yorker
on the desk: a little American flag, Jake’s welcome gift from the U.S.A. and an unopened bottle of chardonnay
Jimmy Cliff vinyl spinning in silence

Jan 10th 2014

POEM: 'Rockets Falling'

By Rachel Berghash

and the melon field drinks the cup of wrath.
I go from room to room,
weighing my conscience,
and stop by the window to look at the view.
The river is calm, a boat or two.
Melons, unpicked, are on fire, leaving
black scars. A kid’s kite on a winged
wind disappearing in smoke.

'Finding Your Roots' Goes All Jewish

By Curt Schleier

WNET/ Joseph Sinnott

If you’re not familiar with it, “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates is in part a PBS response to the genealogy craze, people increasingly curious about where they came from.

The next episode is all Jewish, as we learn about the ancestors of three celebrated Americans. Tony Kushner delves into the history of the Holocaust to discover his ancestors’ fate; Carole King learns the origins of her family name and confronts the reality of the discrimination her ancestors faced in America, and Alan Dershowitz finds out that the first Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn, started by his great-grandfather, played a secret role in World War II.

The episode airs November 4 at 8 p.m., though it’s always best to check local listings.

6 Jewish Crime Novels With Female Protagonists Everyone Should Read

By Michael Kaminer

Nora Goodman, the troubled heroine of Diane Lawson’s thriller “A Tightly Raveled Mind,” (read our interview with the author here) might call herself a disciple of Freud. But she follows a long line of Jewish women in crime fiction, from Orthodox mothers to Miami Beach beauticians to wisecracking lawyers. Here are six of our favorite books featuring Jewish women crime-solvers. Who’s yours?

1. Sara Paretsky, “Indemnity Only” (1982)

V.I. Warshawski, daughter of a Polish Catholic policeman-father and an Italian Jewish opera singer-mother, has practically become a folk hero. Kathleen Turner portrayed her in a 1991 film.

Read more

A Freudian Detective in Texas

By Michael Kaminer

When San Antonio psychotherapist Dr. Nora Goodman’s patients start dropping dead, police tell her it’s a coincidence. But the good Dr. Goodman refuses to buy it, and hires a private detective to help figure out if someone’s targeting her practice. Could it be her despised ex-husband, a disturbed patient, or something more nefarious?

Author Diane Lawson — herself a therapist and a convert to Judaism — takes the plot in some unexpected directions in “A Tightly Raveled Mind” (Cinco Puntos). It’s hard to believe this is Lawson’s first novel; the dialogue crackles, the story hums along, and Dr. Goodman, a strict Freudian still haunted by her Talmud-spouting kook of a father, seems completely real. The only thing hard to buy about the novel is that San Antonio seems just as populated by neurotics as New York. The Forward caught up with Lawson by email.

Michael Kaminer: What did Nora’s Jewishness allow you do with that a non-Jewish protagonist wouldn’t have?

Diane Lawson: Since the inception of the field, a high (though diminishing over time) percentage of the practitioners of psychoanalysis have been Jewish. On that level, Nora’s being Jewish adds some degree of authenticity. Her being Jewish in San Antonio, of course, is simply another iteration of her life-long feeling of being an outsider.

“In Texas, as in most of the country, Jews are well enough regarded, as long as they’re doctors, lawyers or accountants,” Nora says. Could you elaborate?

Read more

PBS Wades Into the ISIS Quagmire

By Curt Schleier

“The Rise of ISIS,” the latest documentary from the award-winning Frontline PBS investigative series, is likely to leave you with one major takeaway.

Despite the best of intentions, pretty much everything the U.S. has done in the Middle East has contributed to the chaos. We are Westerners lost in a strange land with absolutely no idea what we are doing or the consequences of our actions.

The film starts in late 2011, when American troops withdrew from Iraq. Presumably, we left behind a stable government with a functioning military. Both assumptions were incorrect.

The nation’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, promised an inclusive government, but soon began a campaign of terror against Sunnis, including Sunni officials in his own cabinet. Shia militia were particularly violent and Sunni bodies piled up on the streets.

The then-U.S.ambassador, James Jeffrey, warned President Obama that Maliki needed to be constrained, but he adopted a hands-off approach, claiming it was an Iraqi internal problem. Leon Panetta said U.S. the response was to keep “their fingers crossed [hoping] that Maliki would step down.”

The President’s position seems defensible. We just got out of that country and he didn’t want to be the man who put us right back in. And at the time Al Qaeda was a small broken force unable to mount a serious insurgency.

Read more

Treblinka's 'Last Witness' Keeps Alive Camp's Memory

By David Adams and Zachary Fagenson

Samuel Willenberg, the last known living survivor of the notorious Nazi extermination camp Treblinka is nearing the end of a life’s mission to tell of the horrors that he saw there.

Now 92, his remarkable story, featured in a documentary film produced by Miami public TV channel WLRN, is spurring efforts to fulfill that mission by building an educational museum at the camp’s site in a remote pine forest in eastern Poland.

“Treblinka’s Last Witness,” airing on Tuesday, tells the story of how Willenberg, a Polish Jew, became a forced laborer at Treblinka where his two sisters were among the 900,000 Jews sent to their deaths. He later escaped during a camp revolt, one of barely 100 Jews to survive the place.

A history professor he met in the camp told him: “You’re not like other Jews, you have blonde hair, you know how to survive,” Willenberg recalled in an interview during a visit to Miami for a premiere of the film last week before a packed audience, many of them relatives of Holocaust victims.

“You have to run away from this,” the professor told him. “It will be your mission to tell people about what happened here.”

Read more

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.