The Arty Semite

A Holocaust Survivor's Confounding Choices

By Ronen Shnidman

When filmmaker Yael Reuveny sought backing in Israel and in Germany to make “Farewell, Herr Schwarz,” film people would ask her, why make another Holocaust film after so many have been made?

“The answer,” Reuveny told the Forward, “is that the movie is not about them [Holocaust survivors], it’s about now. It’s about who we are and how the Holocaust influenced who we are and what we want to be.”

“Farewell, Herr Schwarz” — which won the Best Documentary prize at last year’s Haifa International Film Festival, and premieres in New York January 9 — is an unusual Holocaust documentary. The film avoids the sweeping group characterizations seen in Hollywood Holocaust dramas like “Schindler’s List” and “The Pianist.” Instead, it captures the real complexities and difficult choices made by two individuals caught in turbulent times, and the impact of those choices on their descendants. Directed by Reuveny, a graduate of Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, “Farewell, Herr Schwarz” casts a spotlight on the families of two deceased Holocaust survivors, brother and sister Feivke and Michla Schwarz, who reacted to the horrors of the war in very different ways.

Feivke and Michla, Reuveny’s great-uncle and maternal grandmother, were the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust, and were supposed to reunite at the train station in Lodz after the war. For reasons that are never entirely clear, they never met again. But when Feivke’s son Uwe sought to reconnect with Michla, for some reason she rebuffed him.

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'McMansion' Man Gives Everyone a Raise

By Curt Schleier

David Siegel is back in the news.

You of course remember the head of the Westgate Resorts timeshare billionaire whose efforts to build the largest home in the U.S. were the subject of the documentary “The Queen of Versailles.”

When last we heard from him, he prophesied that the election of Barack Obama would lead to economic ruin. He sent an email to his employees saying that the election of Obama will “threaten your job” and mean “less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone.”

It turns out his crystal ball was clouded. In a company-wide email to employees announcing that he was raising minimum wage to $10 an hour, he noted: “We’re experiencing the best year in our history.” It is not clear what he was paying them or how many of his employees will be impacted, but a company spokesman said it numbers in the thousands.

Things are so good, in fact, he’s resumed construction on his palace.

My Brush With Herzl's Beard

By Adam Rovner

Just think of Theodor Herzl and what do you see? A long, lush, black beard. There it is on Herzl’s prophetic profile staring out from the hotel balcony in Basel pointing Zion-ward. There it is again groomed in three-quarter portrait, a flowing beard fit for a modern day Moses. No better icon of the Zionist movement exists than Herzl, and nothing dominates Herzl’s image more than his beard. Even Herzl’s piercing eyes are no match for the majesty of his beard that — in the words of one of his close friends — gave him the look of an Assyrian king.

And here’s the thing: I touched it. I actually touched Herzl’s beard. And I don’t mean metaphorically. I really and truly brushed the tip of my index finger across the whiskers of the great man’s great beard. Yes, there was trepidation. Awe, even. Imagine being able to reach out and stroke the wiry bristles of Zionism’s patron saint! While I know full well that Judaism neither condones the veneration of relics nor the worship of men, the sensation still sent shivers down my spine. But that’s a cliché and fails to get across the experience. Better: a kind of adrenal jolt surged through me as I connected with Herzl’s facial hair, a morbid charge that plugged me into powerful myths and made my own hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

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James Palmer Gets Looted Art Back

By Michael Kaminer

Photo: Courtesy Goh

When The New York Times broke the story of a lawsuit over misdirected proceeds of Nazi-looted art, it dedicated a couple of lines to Mondex Corporation, a low-profile outfit whose research brought the case to light.

But Mondex, which operates out of Toronto and London, has played a headline role in helping heirs navigate the murky world of looted-art restitution.

Its soft-spoken founder, James Palmer, was behind the sensational 2013 lawsuit against disgraced gallerist Helly Nahmad over the attempted sale of Modigliani’s “Seated Man with a Cane” (1918). On behalf of the heirs of a Jewish art dealer who fled the Nazis, Mondex sued Nahmad to determine the painting’s true ownership.

Restitution claims from Mondex in March led the Dutch government to cede two 17th-century paintings stolen from Bernhard Levie, a Jewish textile salesman who died at Sobibor in 1943. Levie’s sole heir now owns the artworks.

And in its most recent — and most charged — case, Mondex helped heirs of Ludwig and Margret Kainer, German art collectors whose collection was seized by the Nazis, sue banking giant UBS. Rather than seek out the heirs, the lawsuit alleges, UBS funneled proceeds from sales of works like Degas’ “Danseuses” and other restitutions into a foundation whose main beneficiary seems to be the bank itself.

Along with the fact that he’s built a business around it, what motivates Palmer to pursue such complicated, slow-moving cases?

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POEM: 'A Visit to the Doctor During the War'

By Karen Alkalay-Gut

“Where do you go,”
I ask the orthopedist,
“When the sirens go off?”
He opens his desk drawer,
The bottom one near the corner.

“Here,” he says,
“And don’t forget
On your way out
To kiss the mezuzah.”

George Mosse Finds Himself in Comics

By Paul Buhle and Nick Thorkelson

George Mosse was a German-born, Jewish cultural historian best known for his studies on Nazism. This comic, devised by Nick Thorkelson for the occasion of a “Mosse Fest” in Madison, Wisconsin, is based upon Mosse’s many important books on European cultural and political history, but also his life as lecturer and public personality from Wisconsin to Tel Aviv. The artist, a sometime cartoon contributor to the Boston Globe and frequent comic art collaborator with Paul Buhle, was one of the thousands of students whose understanding of history and culture was shaped by Mosse’s lectures.

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Looking at Ramat Gan From the Inside Out

By Anne Joseph

In a career that has spanned over 40 years, veteran Israeli filmmaker Ram Loevy has produced some of Israel’s most prominent and challenging television documentaries and features. Renowned for raising social and political issues, Loevy has addressed subjects such as class conflict, torture, the prison system and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His 1986 award winning drama, “Lehem,” (“Bread”) exposed the problems of unemployed, working-class Mizrahi Jews living on the country’s periphery. In 1993, Loevy received the prestigious Israel Prize in Communication, Radio and TV in recognition of his achievements. He is also Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University.

Yet Loevy’s latest documentary, “Let’s Assume, For a Moment, That God Exists,” is somewhat of a departure for him. Here, he has turned his camera’s attention to Ramat Gan in an attempt to provide “a collage of the place.” It is an affectionate, if slightly unconventional portrait of everyday life in the neighborhood in which he lives and it is, by his own admission, “a strange film… which has a strange name, which jumps from one item to another.”

Loevy — in London last month for the film’s screening at the UK Jewish Film Festival — explains that he made “Let’s Assume” because he had “come to an age [Loevy is 74] where you are questioning all your principles.” For him, this meant his artistic, filmic principles. This is no issue driven documentary, more a fly-on-the-wall observation where not much happens.

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A Year for Women in Comics

By Michael Kaminer

Roz Chast / Photo by Martyna Starosta

Jewish women have been pushing boundaries of comics for years, but 2014 proved an especially rich year for smart, challenging work from supremely talented artists.

Some confront personal history. Last year, in “Letting it Go,” Miriam Katin beautifully captured her own ambivalence about visiting Germany — and the double edge every place holds for her as a Holocaust survivor.

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The Most Jewish True Crime Book Ever

By Philip Eil

Photo: Germain McMicking/Riverhead Books

John Safran’s literary debut, “God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of A White Supremacist, A Black Hustler, A Murder, and How I Lost Year in Mississippi,” arrived in the U.S. with momentum.

The Australian Crime Writers Association had already named it the best true crime book of 2014. New York magazine placed it squarely between “HIGHBROW” and “BRILLIANT” on its Approval Matrix, and dubbed it one of “7 Books You Need to Read This November,” writing, “Imagine In Cold Blood written not by Capote [but] by an Australian, higher-brow Johnny Knoxville.” And John Berendt, author of the 1994 mega-bestseller, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” blurbed that it is “by turns, informative, frightening, and hilarious.”

As a card-carrying true crime geek, I can now vouch for the book, too. Safran’s inquiry into an elderly white supremacist’s stabbing death in 2010 at the hands of a young black man is chilling, insightful, compulsively readable, and surprisingly funny. It’s also one of the most Jewish true crime books ever written.

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It Was the Year of the Centenary

By Forward Staff

Photo copyright Getty Images

It’s a common trope that the 20th-century — and with it, the modern era — didn’t really start until the outbreak of the First World War (represented in the images above and below).

This year we marked the centenary of that event, ushering in not only the second century of the modern era, but a whole century of centenaries. In the coming years we’ll look back at major events like the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression and the beginning of the Second World War, along with countless less major milestones.

In other words, we’re about to live the 20th century over again in retrospective, and perhaps change our understanding of the modern world in the process.

POEM: 'Naming the Thirst'

By Alicia Ostriker

when we are born
thirst makes us cry

thirst surges through our arteries
when the hormones hit

when we start to wither
our thirst actually increases

for the tongue of touch
the dictionary of rain

we remember we were once loved
it was love that kept us alive


Then every face
was like the face of God

each berry in the bucket
sweet to the taste

we were swifter than eagles
stronger than lions

when was this
it was in our dream

and when we wake
all gone but the thirst


if moments exist
when illusion dissipates like fog

do not say we are dreaming
we see past supermarket and traintracks

we dive off the high board
into the wind-whipped trenchcoat of a world

we eat flowers and mud
in mirth kissing our friends

then fog looms again
stinging and blinding our eyes

A Year for Polish Jewry

By Forward Staff

Photo copyright Getty Images

Nearly 20 years in the making, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw finally opened this fall. With its reported 9-figure budget, its seven main galleries, and more than 40,000 square feet of space, the museum was dubbed “The Louvre of Jewish Museum,” by Forward art critic A.J. Goldmann.

Now, finally, a millennium of Jewish and Polish history is being told in the midst of a city that, before the Holocaust, boasted the world’s second largest Jewish population after New York.

In an interview with the Forward, museum director Dariusz Stola said he wanted to show that, for centuries, Jewish life was an integral part of Polish life, and that the museum would not put undue emphasis on anti-Semitism.

“I’m not doing a museum on anti-Semites,” he said. “Someone else can do fundraising for that.”

It Was a Year for Filming Biblically

By Forward Staff

Christian Bale as Moses in Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus’ / Photo copyright 20th Century Fox

Bible spin-offs are nearly as old as the Bible itself, but this year saw a couple of big-screen adaptations that were hard to rival in their ambitions, or their controversies.

Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, provided a freewheeling version of the flood story, and courted criticism from those upset by its disregard for biblical literalism.

And, more recently, Ridley Scott’s “Exodus” — if anything, even a bigger special effects production than “Noah” — brought on the ire of Twitter with its allegedly racist casting.

Then there were more explicitly Christian-oriented offerings, like the rapture fantasy “Left Behind” and “Son of God,” which was adapted from 2013’s TV miniseries, “The Bible.”

At this rate, it shouldn’t be too long before we get the Michael Bay interpretation of Ezekiel.

10 Womance Movies To Watch on Christmas

By Curt Schleier

When Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz decided to write “Life Partners,” they used Nicole Holofcener’s “Walking and Talking” as their model. The 1996 indie is about two close friends, played by Anne Heche and Catherine Keener, and how their relationship changes as one is about to get married and the other struggles with single life in New York City.

There are plenty of other female buddy movies that are funny, sad and even suspenseful. Here are just a few:

1. Thelma & Louise (1991, Ridley Scott)

The man who gave us “Exodus: God and Kings” and Callie Khouri, the screenwriter behind the TV show “Nashville,” combined forces here for a top notch film about two women who decide to take a two-day vacation from their hum-drum lives. Thelma (Geena Davis) is married to an abusive control freak and Louise (Susan Sarandon), is a waitress. Things go from bad to worse, including a near-rape, a murder, a robbery, an exploding oil tanker and a cop taken prisoner. But on the plus side, they find empowerment. You probably know the ending. If you don’t, watch this movie.

2. 9 to 5 (1980, Colin Higgins)

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A 'Third Wheel' With a Twist

By Curt Schleier

Two’s company. Three’s a crowd.

That aphorism is at the center of Susanna Fogel’s debut as a movie-hyphenate. She both co-wrote (with Joni Lefkowitz) and directed “Life Partners,” which opened this month to much critical praise.

The movie is about two women, Paige (Gillian Jacobs) and Sasha (Leighton Meester), co-dependent friends since childhood, and what happens to their relationship when one falls in love. Cinema buffs may see similarities to the 1996 indie “Walking and Talking” (which inspired Fogel and Lefkowitz), but there is a key difference.

Here Sasha is gay. In many ways the relationship between these two women mirrors the one between Fogel and Lefkowitz, almost. In the film, Paige meets Tim (Adam Brody), a dermatologist who momentarily disrupts the ladies’ relationship. In real life it was Lefkowitz who found love and Fogel who was on the outside looking in.

She spoke to the Forward about finding success as a writer and being a neurotic Jew.

Curt Schleier: How did the two of you meet?

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9 Jews Who Changed The Sound of Jazz

By Curt Schleier

Willie Smith at his Manhattan apartment. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.

Barney Josephson opened Cafe Society in 1938, but the music he featured (and is featured in the play “Cafe Society Swing”) has been around much longer.

Jazz originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in African-American communities — most notably in New Orleans. As it spread, the music began to draw on different traditions, including the work of Jewish composers who populated Tin Pan Alley.

Because it took in so much from so many places and changed so much from its origins, Jazz might easily be called the Yiddish of musical forms. It includes everything from ragtime to be-bop to big band, and in most of these incarnations the Jewish impact was large. Here are 9 Jewish artists who helped shape the many different sounds of jazz:

1. Willie “The Lion” Smith (1893-1973)

An early jazz great, pianist Smith was the son of a Jewish father, Frank Bertholoff. He apparently learned Hebrew from a rabbi for whom his mother worked, and according to all accounts was a bar mitzvah at age 13. In fact, he told Nat Hentoff, “People can’t seem to realize I have a Jewish soul and belong to that faith.” According to his autobiography, later in life he served as a cantor for a black Jewish congregation in Harlem.

2. Teddy Charles (1928-2012)

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A Life of Progressive Politics and All That Jazz

By Curt Schleier

Photo by Carol Rosegg

“Cafe Society Swing,” a new musical that opened in New York on December 21, has so many good parts it’s a shame they don’t fit together.

The play tells the story of Barney Josephson, the son of Latvian Jewish immigrants who scrapped together a few thousand bucks and, in 1938, opened a Greenwich Village nightspot he called Cafe Society. A fan of jazz, he wanted to bring downtown the music he’d seen uptown at Harlem’s Cotton Club.

But with a difference: In Harlem, the audiences were almost all white (black customers were seated in the back behind partitions) and the entertainers all black. Even legendary musicians such as Duke Ellington had to come in through the back door.

Influenced by the political cabarets of Prague and Berlin, Josephson integrated both the Cafe Society entertainers and audience. Billie Holliday, bluesman Big Joe Turner, gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, folk singer Josh White, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughn graced the club’s stage. Jack Guilford was a long-time MC, as was Zero Mostel. Imogene Coca and Carol Channing, among others, also appeared there.

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It Was an Un-Orthodox Year

By Forward Staff

Photo copyright George Baier

Books by and about Jews who leave Orthodoxy have been around for years now — centuries, really — but in 2014 they reached a critical mass.

With new memoirs by Leah Vincent and Deborah Feldman, an academic study by Lynn Davidman, and scores of essays, articles, films, profiles and trend pieces, 2014 became the year of the “off the derech” story.

Will readers grow bored of the ex-Orthodox tell-all? The books are still being published for the time being, including a forthcoming memoir by OTD pioneer Shulem Deen.

Even if the publishing phenomenon has peaked, however, these stories illustrate the considerable and lasting impact of Orthodox defection on the Jewish cultural landscape.

The Year the Met Met Klinghoffer

By Forward Staff

Photo copyright Ken Howard/Met Opera

In the end, Marilyn Klinghoffer’s voice resonated most clearly in the controversial production of Alice Goodman and John Adams’s ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ at the Met.

There were, of course, the protests accusing the opera’s creators of, at worst, anti-Semitism, and at best, naiveté. And there were the counter-protesters who asserted that the opera’s critics had misconstrued its intentions. But those who saw the opera understood that the voice of Leon Klinghoffer’s grieving widow served as the opera’s conscienece.

For better and for worse, this was the first time in ages an opera made the front page of The New York Times.

We’d say the same thing about the Forward, but Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera “The Passenger,” made our front page in January.

#Pluslight Spreads the Hanukkah Cheer

By Forward Staff

With all of the candles, the menorahs and the doughnuts, Hanukkah is a naturally photogenic holiday. But now artist Tobi Kahn is putting party snapshots to a higher purpose than just showing your friends how many latkes you’re about to eat.

Together with the JCC of Manhattan, Kahn has created #pluslight, a social media project that collects contributors’ photos “as a way of documenting the light we see in the world during the holiday season.” And each night of Hanukkah, Kahn is choosing one of those photos to feature on the JCC’s Facebook page. You can check out — and contribute — more #pluslight photos by following the hash tag on your favorite social media platform, and also by following the Forward on Instagram. Happy Hanukkah, shutterbugs!

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