The Arty Semite

4 Latin Jewish Movies at Miami Film Festival

By Hilary Saunders

Miami — It’s the “Gateway to the Americas,” both North and South. It’s called “the capital of Latin America” and it’s the most populous tropical metropolis in the United States. But Miami also home to one of the country’s most welcoming Jewish communities, a diverse population of Cubans, Brazilians, Colombians, and others from South and Central America. There’s overlap in these groups, as Latin America has a storied history with the Jewish people, in its own right.

While many Jews sought refuge in South America between the World Wars, some countries attempted to tighten their immigration regulations as World War II intensified. After the Holocaust, though, many survivors found new homes in the sub-continent. Today, Jewish communities in Latin America are growing in size and reputation. Argentina, for example, boasts the sixth largest Jewish community outside of Israel.

As the 18th edition of the Miami Jewish Film Festival (MJFF) returns, running January 15-29 in nine different venues throughout the metropolitan area, the Latin-Jewish community is represented in numerous ways within and outside of the festival’s host city. Here are four Latin-Jewish films to look for during MJFF and upon wider release.

God’s Slave (Esclavo de Dios) (Feature)

Venezuelan director Joel Novoa based this action film on the aftermath of 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires), the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history. Shot on location in Argentina, Venezuela, and Uruguay, this historical fiction narrative details the crisscrossing paths of a violent terrorist cell and an undercover Mossad agent as they explore the limits of religious extremism and free will.

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POEM: 'In Paris'

By Michael Heller

The Place de la République’s outdoor cafe, white wine
in a glass so thin it blurs realms with the greenery,

and with a statue patina-ed bronze, its plaque too far to read,
dull-lettered, pigeon-marked, possibly a thesis on history.

Yet the student lesson for today was the bomb at Boulevard
St. Michel, and the tourist’s heightened sense increased

in the evening’s Semtex blast near Le Drugstore at L’Étoile.
Luxe, voluptuousness, the children of freedom have returned.

Benjamin was here in the late 1930s, jackboots down the street,
wrote to Scholem of his “estrangement from everyone he knew.”

Old Paris, carnage and death, St. Denis grilled on the champs,
the slaughtered diners at Goldenbergs in the Marais. I have

eaten there too, and now the wine’s tincture puckers the lips,
and then the buds of flavor burst coming through, like a life

passed from one into another’s care, in the City of Light
where hope was stifled once between le mot juste and le mot juif.

From “Wordflow,” 1997

Oxford Press Bans Pigs and Pork References


Oxford University Press has banned references to pigs and pork in its publications in order to avoid offending Jews and Muslims.

“Many of the educational materials we publish in the UK are sold in more than 150 countries, and as such they need to consider a range of cultural differences and sensitivities,” a spokesman for Oxford, the largest university press in the world, told the British media.

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7 Jewish Movies To Watch Out For at Sundance

By Anthony Weiss

Sundance Film Festival

(JTA) — Although it’s now well entrenched in the Hollywood ecosystem, the Sundance Film Festival remains a venue for some of the film industry’s more offbeat voices and still largely unknown talent — and a place for boldfaced names to redefine themselves.

Jewish subjects and artists again will figure prominently in this year’s festival, which runs from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1 in Park City, Utah. Here are the films to look for at Sundance:

“Censored Voices” (Documentary)

Just after the Six-Day War in 1967, Amos Oz and fellow kibbutzniks recorded interviews with returning soldiers about their experiences during the fighting. The interviews were largely censored by the Israeli military. In the nearly half-century since, Oz became one of the Jewish state’s most renowned authors of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a prominent opponent of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In “Censored Voices,” Israeli director Mor Loushy revisits the now declassified recordings and the lingering aftereffects of war.

“City of Gold” (Documentary)

Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold is an icon in Los Angeles: His recommendations are treated with reverence by foodies, and his reviews can change an obscure noodle shop or greasy spoon into a culinary hotspot. “City of Gold,” directed by Laura Gabbert, follows Gold’s perambulations through the city’s large and diverse food scene, devoting equal care to rickety food trucks and pricey haute cuisine. As befits a man who by his own account received much of his Jewish and culinary training at the city’s delis, Gold is as heimische as his palate is ruthlessly discerning.

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Meet Stefan Zweig, the Jewish Author Behind 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

By Gabe Friedman

Getty Images

Wes Anderson’s whimsical film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was nominated for nine Academy Awards Thursday morning, just days after winning the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical. Named one of the best films of the year by several top critics, it could earn Anderson, a director whose cult following has steadily grown over the past decade, his first Oscar.

It will also likely raise the profile of Stefan Zweig, the Austrian Jewish novelist who, Anderson has said, inspired the film’s quirky Eastern European setting and several of its characters.

Indeed, a new book about him,“The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World,” just won the Jewish Book Council‘s National Jewish Book Award for Best Jewish Biography.

During the 1920s and ’30s, Zweig was one of the world’s most prominent novelists. Born to wealthy Jewish parents in 1881, he earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Vienna in 1904 and fell in with the Austrian and German literary intellectual crowds of the time. Although he was not a practicing Jew, he became friends with Theodor Herzl, who published some of his earliest essays in the Neue Freie Presse, then Vienna’s leading newspaper. Later, during his peak decades of popularity, Zweig became close with Sigmund Freud, whose psychoanalytic theories influenced his fiction. (Zweig even gave a eulogy at Freud’s funeral in 1939.)

In 1942, after years of unhappy emigration though England and South America forced upon him by Hitler’s rise to power, Zweig and his wife committed suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

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'I Think You're Totally Wrong' Goes to Hollywood

By Philip Eil

Photo courtesy Rabbit Bandini Productions

Capital punishment. Bungee jumping. Cormac McCarthy. Waterboarding. Jackson Pollock. “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Abortion. Rupert Murdoch. The Seattle Mariners. The war in Iraq. The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Disneyland. Balding.

These are just few of the subjects David Shields and Caleb Powell cover in their new book, “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel.” Or, rather, it’s what they covered in 2011 when the two friends — Shields, a bestselling author of 16 books who teaches at the University of Washington, and Powell, a world-traveler-turned-stay-at-home dad who has published stories in a few literary magazines — headed to a cabin in the mountains of Washington State to verbally joust for four days.

The transcript of those conversations is the basis for the book — and the inspiration for a James Franco-directed film, starring Shields and Powell, scheduled for release later this year. “We can’t faux-argue like Siskel and Ebert,” Powell says as they discuss ground rules. “It’s staged, but it can’t be fake.”

“It’s an ancient form,” Shields says later. “Two white guys bullshitting… you can go all the way back to Plato’s dialogues with Socrates.”

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Celebrating the Life and Career of Yiddish Theater Legend Mina Bern

By Jordan Kutzik

A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.

A large crowd filled the main auditorium at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan on January 11 to see a memorial program in honor of the life and work of the Yiddish actress Mina Bern. During the concert a dozen singers, actors and musicians performed songs and skits from Bern’s diverse repertoire and shared personal memories of the beloved actress, who died in 2010. The Congress for Jewish Culture and the American Jewish Historical Society organized the event.

While the audience took their seats, a screen above the stage showed footage of Bern cooking chicken soup in her apartment and performing in various concerts and theatrical productions. The footage was taken from a documentary film that the director and photographer Joan Roth is making about Bern’s life and career.

At the beginning of the program Shane Baker, the executive director of the Congress for Jewish Culture and a Yiddish actor and translator, explained that Bern’s original surname was Bernholtz. She changed her name in her native Poland on the advice of the theater director and playwright Moshe Broiderzon, in whose theatrical troupe she performed. Broiderzon, a distant relative of Bern’s, told the young actress to cut the second half of her surname, which means “wood” in Yiddish, and to stick with just “Bern,” because “you’re not wooden.”

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National Jewish Book Award Winners Are Here

By Anne Cohen

The Jewish Book Council has announced the recipients of the 2015 National Jewish Book Awards. The council began giving out this award — the most prestigious of its kind — in 1948. Past winners include Philip Roth, Chaim Potok and Cynthia Ozick. It’s a pretty important way of giving recognition to the year’s most outstanding Jewish books! Check out the full lists of winners and finalists below:

Jewish Book of the Year

Everett Family Foundation Award

Yale University Press’s Jewish Lives Series
​Ileene Smith, editorial director
Steven J. Zipperstein and Anita Shapira, series editor​s

American Jewish Studies

Celebrate 350 Award


“The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire”
Adam D. Mendelsohn
NYU Press


“After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965”
Libby Garland
The University of Chicago Press

Biography, Autobiography, Memoir

The Krauss Family Award in Memory of Simon & Shulamith (Sofi) Goldberg


“The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World”
George Prochnik
Other Press


“Little Failure: A Memoir”
Gary Shteyngart
Random House

“Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History”
Joseph Telushkin

“David: The Divided Heart”
David Wolpe
Yale University Press

Children’s and Young Adult Literature


“Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker”
Devra Lehmann


Donna Jo Napoli
Simon and Schuster

“Tucson Jo”
Carol Matas
Fictive Press

“I Lived on Butterfly Hill”
Marjorie Agosin; Lee White, illus.
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice

Myra H. Kraft Memorial Award


“A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halakhic Debates”
Shlomo M. Brody


“Maps and Meaning: Levitical Models for Contemporary Care”
Jo Hirschmann and Nancy H. Wiener
Fortress Press

“The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life’s Greatest Mystery”
Sara Davidson

“The Soul of Jewish Social Justice”
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
Urim Publications

Education and Jewish Identity

In Memory of Dorothy Kripke


“A Philosophy of Havruta: Understanding and Teaching the Art of Text Study in Pairs”
Elie Holzer with Orit Kent
Academic Studies Press


“Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back”
Naomi Schaefer Riley
Templeton Press


JJ Greenberg Memorial Award


“The Betrayers”
David Bezmozgis
Little, Brown and Company


“The UnAmericans”
Molly Antopol
W.W. Norton & Company

“The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”
Gina B. Nahai
Akashic Books

“A Replacement Life”
Boris Fishman

“To Rise Again at a Decent Hour”
Joshua Ferris
Little, Brown and Company

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WATCH: First Look at CBS’ Masada Mini-Series

By Curt Schleier

CBS has just released the trailer for the four-hour mini-series, “The Dovekeepers,” which will air March 31 and April 1.

The series is based on the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Alice Hoffman novel of the same name which, in turn, is based on true events at Masada.

The Masada story is told from the perspective of three woman — the titular dovekeepers — who arrive at the besieged fortress with unique backstories, and secrets.

Among the stars are Cote de Pablo, the Chilean-born actress best known for playing the Mossad agent on NCIS; Sam Neil, as the Jewish historian Josephus, and Diego Boneta as a warrior.

The series is being executive produced by Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel”) and her husband Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Voice”), who were also responsible for “The Bible” mini-series and theatrical feature “Son of God.”

The Dean of Women Drummers

By Philip Eil

Photo: Gesi Schilling

“What I’ve done with the magazine — through social media, through web and through print — is hype us to an extreme, to make up for lost time.”

That’s Mindy Abovitz in a mini-documentary on “The Oral History of Female Drummers,” a 2013 performance at MoMA PS1, in Queens, during which seven female drummers, including Abovitz, wailed away on drum kits stationed throughout the museum.

The magazine she’s referring to is Tom Tom, the self-described “only magazine in the world dedicated to female drummers,” which she founded and edits. The “us” are women like longtime Lenny Kravitz drummer Cindy Blackman, Berklee-trained percussionist Christina Bouza, Hole/Mötley Crüe alum Samantha Maloney, and hundreds of others featured over the course of 20 issues. The “lost time”? Well, that’s basically the entire history of media and music prior to Tom Tom’s November 2009 debut issue.

At lot has happened since then. Circulation has leapt from around 5,000 to 60,000 copies of the current fifth anniversary issue, which you’ll find on shelves at Guitar Center and Barnes & Noble. Tom Tom has launched a mini-drum school, Tom Tom Academy; held a 19-drummer jam session in the lobby of Manhattan’s Ace Hotel; and established an online shop which Abovitz says will ultimately be filled with “instruments you can’t find anywhere else, all made by people who believe in female drummers.” And, perhaps most significantly, people have stopped asking Abovitz a question that dogged her during the magazine’s early days: “Will you ever run out of content?” (For the record the answer was, and remains, a firm, “No.”)

The Forward recently caught up with Abovitz, via Skype, in England, where she was working to expand the magazine’s circulation and lay groundwork for a University of Cambridge symposium about gender and drums.

Philip Eil: In 2009, everyone was talking about the death of print. Why did you say, “I’m going to start a magazine?”

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Of Golda Meir, Laverne and Shirley and 8 Other Facts About (Jewish) Wisconsin

By Jack Nusan Porter

1) Wisconsin has only 50,000 Jews in a state with about 5.9 million people. Sixty percent, 30,000, of them live in Metro Milwaukee and only 4.500 live in the city of Milwaukee itself (out of 600,000) or less than one percent in the city and less than one percent in the entire state.

2) Wisconsin’s first Jews came in the early 1790s and were most likely fur traders.

3) Wisconsin is the only state in the USA to have contributed a prime minister to Israel — Golda Meir (nee Mabowitz).

4) Wisconsin is the only state that had two male Jewish U.S. Senators serving at the same time — Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.

Wikimedia Commons
Laverne and Shirley, Circa 1976

5) One of the world’s greatest connoisseurs of the Old Master’s school of Rembrandt and his students is Alfred Bader of Milwaukee, co-founder of Sigma-Aldrich Chemical Corporation, the 80th largest chemical company in the U.S.

6) Charlotte Rae (nee Lubotsky), famous for her role in the TV show “The Facts of Life,” hails from Milwaukee. In fact, several TV shows have their origins in Milwaukee including “Laverne and Shirley” and “Happy Days.”

7) Milwaukee’s Washington High School has produced such graduates as Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, actor Gene Wilder (formerly Jerry Silberman) and the author of this essay.

8) The quintessential New Yorker Jackie Mason was actually born Yankel Maza in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1932. Both his father Eli Maza and his brother Bernie Maza were ordained rabbis.

9) Harry Houdini, the great magician and escape artist, was born Erich Weiss in Budapest, hailed from Appleton, Wisconsin, and his father was also a rabbi.

10) The Wisconsin-born Zucker Brothers (David and Jerry) and Jim Abraham, Hollywood producers and directors, produced O.J. Simpson’s last film “The Naked Gun,” which also starred Leslie Nielsen and Elvis Presley’s former wife Priscilla Presley. Charlotte Zucker, their mother, appears in nearly every one of their pictures.

POEM: 'Prague by Night'

By Helen Mitsios

Patchouli oil and the scent of your travel hair,
our smaller days middle-aged and measured
by hotel soaps that come in gold foil
wrappers like they’re something special.
You say one European city is like another.
Scientists say somewhere in space
exist colors we’ve never seen.
When we make love in the hotel room
in Prague, I close my eyes
and try to think about you instead of
those colors and if we’ll see them
like some kind of reward when we die.
Yesterday we went to Kafka’s house.
He died of starvation in a hospital before
intravenous feeding was invented,
not in a concentration camp or ghetto
like his sisters Ottla, Elli, and Valli.
At the breakfast buffet today
I took extra bread and cheese
to make sandwiches for lunch.
I wasn’t hungry and slipping
them in a plastic bag felt like stealing.
I surprised myself with petty satisfaction.
I thought about Kafka and his sisters
as we ate the sandwiches sitting on the steps
of St. Giles Church. Inside, baroque gold angels
bored with God, cavort half-nude in gilded heavens
where they hoard their gold and ignore us.

I'm Still Drawing, Charlie

By Lior Zaltzman

Lior Zaltzman

As a cartoonist, I’ve often been scared to breach political topics in an overt way. My fear centers on the reactions I might get from family and friends, or from internet trolls — but never on any concern for my life. That reality has now changed.

This is a heart-wrenching week for the cartooning community. Two masked gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, four of which were cartoonists: Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier (47), the editor in chief, Jean “Cabu” Cabut, Georges Wolinksi (80) and Verlhac “Tignous” Bernard (58).

I’ve often looked up to cartoonists like those staffing Charlie Hebdo: it takes some real chutzpah and strength of character to make fun of the most charged and sensitive topics out there. Yet they do it with ease, regularity and ferocity. Nothing was sacred for the satirical publication: It made fun of French politicians, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims — oh, and Israel, too. Nothing was off-limits and the cartoons were often offensive and sometimes crass and arguably racist.

But the cartooning community is reeling from the repercussions. Charlie Hebdo was a satirical publication, not just a cartooning magazine. And yet the reason it got attention was because of its strong images, a lot of which were drawn by its editor in chief Charb (Stephane Charbonnier). Charb had been getting death threats for years and the publication was previously bombed in 2011. Charb’s latest cartoon, seen below, said: Caption: Still no terror attacks in France Character: “Wait! We have until the end of January to present our wishes!”

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The Challenge of Preserving Jewish History

By Paul Berger

Courtesy of the Center for Jewish History

2014 was a tumultuous year for the Center for Jewish History. CJH, which houses one of the world’s largest and most important collections of Jewish books and documents, lost its longtime chief operating officer, Michael S. Glickman, when he left in May. A few months later, two of the center’s wealthiest board members, billionaires Joseph Steinberg and William Ackman, stepped down. Enter Joel Levy, 69, who was selected as the center’s president and CEO in the fall. (Levy resigned from the Forward Association shortly after taking up his new post.)

Levy takes over an organization with an operating budget of $7 million that has stumbled financially since it was founded 14 years ago. He also heads an organization that must balance the needs of five partner organizations of varying sizes, from the tiny American Sephardi Federation to the large YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. (The other three partners are the American Jewish Historical Society, the Leo Baeck Institute and the Yeshiva University Museum.)

Steinberg and Ackman resigned around the same time that board members debated — and then dropped — a plan to subsume the respective boards under the CJH board’s control. But Levy, who has been in the job for only a couple of months, says that disagreements about the center’s direction have been mostly ironed out.

Levy spoke to the Forward’s Paul Berger about the center’s intellectual and commercial resources — 145,000 square foot of prime Manhattan real estate, event spaces, conservation labs and a combined collection of 100 million documents and half a million books — as reason to be optimistic about the center’s future.

Paul Berger: You spent most of your career working overseas in the Foreign Service. Since returning to the United States in 2001, you have worked for the Anti-Defamation League and the not-for-profit Vera Institute of Justice. Why come out of retirement to run the Center for Jewish History?

Joel Levy: I was approached for this job. I said, I’m not looking for a job but I find the concept of being able to contribute to the smooth functioning of an institution such as this as an opportunity to do something for klal yisroel [the community of Israel]. I find it personally very meaningful, and I hope that all of my background in diplomacy and in the Jewish nonprofit world, as well as my personal interest in Jewish scholarship, all comes together. I think it’s really bashert [intended] to be in this place.

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WATCH: Susan Sontag's Panned and Banned Israel Documentary

By Liam Hoare

In October and November 1973, during and shortly after the Yom Kippur War, Susan Sontag travelled to Israel to make a documentary film entitled “Promised Lands.” The movie constituted a mere coda in the recent HBO documentary about her life and work, “Regarding Susan Sontag”, which as Gabe Friedman noted in his review “leaves out a detailed discussion of her work.” Since “Promised Lands” is the principle testament by which Sontag’s view of Israel can be judged, it warrants re-watching.

Upon its initial release in 1974, “Promised Lands” was panned by The New York Times. Israel’s “situation is just too factually complex to be treated as a tone poem,” Nora Sayre wrote, arguing that “the viewer almost has to function as an editor, since the selection of the footage is so haphazard.” The movie “won’t increase your understanding of Israel. Perhaps the latter should have been a book instead of a film,” the review concludes rather sniffily.

This judgment is fair in some senses. It is certainly true that “Promised Lands” won’t increase anyone’s factual understanding either of Israel itself or the wider conflict with its Arab neighbors. But it is not Sontag’s ambition to provide context and explanation for the Yom Kippur War. Rather, as Leon Wieseltier observed, “there are endless shots of desert (read: Nature) and corpses (read: History), and a host of cute juxtapositions of the old and the new which look like El Al’s TV commercials and which add nothing to our understanding of the situation.”

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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.”

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