It was a little tricky telling who was a real Hasidic Jew and who wasn’t on 13th Avenue in Boro Park earlier this week. The CBS police drama “Blue Bloods,” starring Donnie Wahlberg, was filming there, and the extras dressed as Hasidim were throwing the real members of the tribe for a loop.
If you watch the clip that someone filmed and put on YouTube, you can see why telling the Jews from the non- would have been hard. This is one instance where the actors didn’t look like they had pasted-on fake beards and side curls. We extend kudos to the makeup and wardrobe departments.
The video is worth watching if only to see one (real) Hasidic man walking around dumbstruck at how authentic the extras look. “I can’t believe it,” he keeps on exclaiming. “It’s mindboggling. You have to watch out. You don’t know who you’re talking to.”
Performance and installation artist Helène Aylon scrutinizes the entrenched, sometimes invisible, belief systems that shape society. Since the 1970s, she has used her work as a tool for poetic dissent and constructive revisionism. Aylon’s early work contributed to the women’s movement, opposing the unrealistic imagery pedaled by magazines like Playboy. In the 1980s, her focus shifted to ecology and nuclear non-proliferation. By 1990, she turned her penetrating gaze to the religious texts that helped to define her female identity.
The Pentateuch, or Chumash, is the focus of Aylon’s exhibition “The Liberation of G-d and The Unmentionable,” now on view at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. The show is part of the Warhol’s ongoing series, “The Word of God,” which features art that addresses religion in ways intended to promote understanding between faiths. Aylon’s show follows the series’s controversial first installment, Sandow Birk’s “American Qur’an.” While controversy is also central to Aylon’s exhibition, her approach is more analytical than accusatory. Aylon acknowledges this, dedicating the show, in part, to her fifth grade Hebrew teacher and a female principal, who “encouraged Boro Park girls to question.”
Tongues have been clicking in the Orthodox world about the U.S. debut of Eve Annenberg’s feature film “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” (which I previously wrote about for the Forward here), but the New York Jewish Film Festival screening on January 16 at Lincoln Center sold out quickly and the Hasidic dropouts-turned actors who star in the film expect a huge black hat turnout.
On the frum woman’s web site imamother.com someone who grew up in Boro Park with former Satmar beauty Malky Weisz, who plays Juliet, posted: “I think this film is going to create a huge chilull ha shem [desecration of G-d’s name], even though I have no inkling as to what the story line is.”
I was pleased to see a profile in the New York Times on July 20 of the unusual cantorial-music-aficionado-turned-audiophile-sound-engineer Mendel Werdyger. Werdyger is the proprietor of Mostly Music, one of the last bastions of old school Jewish culture in New York City. While you can certainly buy the standard schlock recordings of Hasidic boys choirs there, the shop is also rich with reissues of powerful cantorial records and classics of Yiddish theater and Hasidic music.
My cousin Cantor Zachary Konigsberg and I have long been fans of Mostly Music. Zachary first introduced me to the shop when he was living in Kensington, a stone’s throw from Boro Park’s heavily populated Jewish enclave and specialty shops. We would go there partly because we got a kick out of seeing our grandfather, Cantor Jacob Konigsberg’s cassette on the shelves alongside the pantheon of cantorial greats. Here we had the opportunity to buy cassettes by many of the classic names in hazanus: Pierre Pinchik, Leib Glantz, Zavel Kwartin and more. We chatted with Werdyger on a few occasions. I was always struck by his warm and open presence and his obvious scholarship in the field of cantorial music.