The Arty Semite

Mysterious Manuscript Owners Come To Life

By Rebecca Schischa

While a bunch of musty old books may not, at first, sound like a diverting idea for an exhibition, Columbia University has succeeded in bringing to life an illuminating collection of Judaic manuscripts.

Courtesy Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Decision from the Venetian Doge regarding the status of the Jews in Corfu, 17th century

“The People in the Books: Judaic Manuscripts at Columbia University Libraries,” on display in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library until January 25, is all about bringing to life the stories behind the manuscripts — who were the authors, owners and real people who handled these books, papers and letters hundreds of years ago? This is all about the “paratext” — the scribbled notes written in the margins of books, the changing ownership of a manuscript, the physical aspect of text. In other words, all the bibliographical clues that lead us to visualise the interaction real people had with a manuscript during its active life.

The exhibition, broken up into sections such as “Travellers,” “Congregants,” “Mystics,” “Doctors” and “Timekeepers,” gathers together diverse and rare manuscripts such as philosophical treatises, sefarim, letters, ketubot, and calendars, which are written in Hebrew, Dutch, Judeo-German and Spanish, among other languages, each giving its own vignette of Jewish community life in Europe and beyond.

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Caught in a Sad Romance

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy DOC NYC

Filmmaker Josh Freed is willing to do a lot for the sake of his art, including casting himself in a negative light. His debut documentary, “Five Weddings and a Felony,” which premieres November 6 at the DOC NYC film festival, is Freed’s personal journey as a Jewish 28-year-old New York guy, trying to figure out the dance of modern romance.

As one sees in the movie, Freed is, indeed, quite a dancer — both literally, as he cuts a rug with many a wedding date, and figuratively, as he maneuvers around and away from commitment. “This film is about me making some bad decisions about relationships because of fear and insecurity,” he admits.

It wasn’t until the beginning of 2010, when Freed was editing the footage he had shot of his life and loves over four years, that he saw its narrative and unifying theme. “It’s a first person film, and I didn’t know what the story would be or how my character would end up coming across. But in this kind of film, the main character — me — has no antagonist but himself. There was no going back. The story warranted my making myself not the most sympathetic character,” he said.

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Inbal Abergil Goes to the Movies

By Schuyler Velasco

From the series, 24 Frames Per Second, Untitled, C-print, 33 x 33 in., 2008

Photographing movie stills, where the images are essentially held captive in a confined, measured space, might seem like predictable work. Not so for Inbal Abergil, whose absorbing new exhibit, “24 Frames Per Second,” opened at New York’s Miyako Yoshinaga Art Prospects in Chelsea on July 15.

To capture the eleven 33-square-inch images that make up the project, Abergil had to sneak a manual camera past security guards into movie theaters around Israel.

“To people who don’t know photography, it just looks like a box, so I never got caught, “ the Israeli artist said.

Once inside, the Columbia University School of the Arts MFA candidate and former Air Force photographer took shots of movie screens from the audience’s perspective, often from behind silhouetted rows of seats and other spectators’ heads.

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