The Arty Semite

Hanukkah YouTube Round Up: Eight Candles and a Shammas

By Dan Friedman

It seems like so long ago that The Maccabeats warmed the hearts of millions and inspired thousands to take pop songs and make Hanukkah themed YouTube videos. Those friendly Yeshiva boys have split, seemingly, into StandFour and the intriguingly named The Maccabeats. While the schadenfreudistic side of me would love to see live footage of the split, the bubbe side of me can’t help but note that they are all growing up so nicely!

First Candle:


StandFour (they know what they stand for!) have a highly produced parody medley of pop songs with a nice reference to the silliness of it all — “random jewish references in a Hanukkah song.” But this time around all seems a little serious and samey — even to the white frames floating around the video. It feels a little like this singing might be a career now and maybe it’s time to find a nice wife and settle down. Noey, bubbele, why not spill jam from the doughnut again, that was so funny!

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Q&A: General Aladeen on Obama and Romney

By Dan Friedman

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

After I was mercifully saved from the bourgeois enjoyment of a sailing trip off the Horn of Africa in 2008 by the merciful boats of the Navy of Wadiya, I spent several months lying prostrate at the doors of a Wadiyan palace hoping that the then Colonel-General Aladeen would release me.

In early 2010 he deigned to lean out of the door and cover me in the divine mouth-water that meant I would be free to leave as soon as my family sent him a Mercedes Benz S600 and a copy of Lil Wayne’s “Rebirth.” So it was with great personal fondness that I submitted a few questions to him via the intimate medium of email.

Dan Friedman: The peoples of Egypt and Tunisia rose up against their very own rulers. What can dictators do about the Arab spring?

Colonel-General Aladeen: I think that the Arab Spring is a passing fad, like the Atkins diet, or human rights, and you’ll find that pretty soon it will turn into the Crackdown Summer, Torture Fall and Execution Winter. But you know the Arab Spring could have been avoided. I told Mubarak a thousand times: “If you get Wi-Fi in your palace, put a f**king password on it. The people will start using it.”

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Dresden’s Sharp, Shining History Lesson

By Dan Friedman

Image courtesy of Studio Daniel Libeskind

Rising from the conservative courtyard of the Military History Museum of Dresden, a gleaming metallic wedge heads straight for the wall of the original 1873 Saxon armory building. Without pausing, Daniel Libeskind’s new wing cuts through the 19th-century structure and reaches its soaring vantage point on its far side. Since its opening on October 15, visitors have been able to climb up to the exposed viewing balcony at the tip and look out over Dresden.

The architectural intervention would be striking anywhere, but in Dresden it’s downright startling. Talking to Libeskind about the project, it’s clear he’s deeply excited about the possibilities of making a building in the context of Dresden. In an interview with The Arty Semite, he characterized the town’s post-war recovery as nostalgic:

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Video: What Freedom Meant in Europe

By Dan Friedman

When we talk about the Enlightenment, or the Haskalah, in Europe, we have a general historical sense that all Jews were in ghettos and then the walls came down. One day pogroms, the next Einstein, Freud and Kafka. The period of time was indeed extraordinary, as Michael Goldfarb elucidates in his book “Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews From the Ghetto Led to Revolution and Renaissance,” recently released in paperback from Simon & Schuster. The shift, however, was more gradual and more geographically specific than we might imagine, and the results were more nuanced and even more spectacular than could have been expected. I caught up with Goldfarb at a recent book talk at the JCC in Manhattan and, unfairly, asked him to summarize his 432-page book in a couple of minutes.

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Keats's Prayer for the World to Come

By Dan Friedman

Rarely has the presence of the Divine Being been so radically affirmed by the actions of a Wired magazine columnist. Having decided that our own created universe was getting perilously close to extinction, Jargon Watch writer Jonathon Keats set up an altar designed to stimulate the Ineffable One into further acts of creation.

Jonathan Keats

The title “Pornography for God” recalls his equal opportunity 2007 piece “Pornography for Plants” (also known as “Cinema Botanica”) which projects explicit images of plants being pollinated onto plants on the floor in the gallery. From November 12, both pieces will be hosted at alternative arts space Louis V E.S.P. Located on an upper floor of a walkup in Williamsburg, Louis V E.S.P. is at the perfect nexus of belief and hipsterdom.

Rather than the prurient delights of pollination, though, this new installation displays images from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The two LHC tunnels, Alice and Atlas, have live online graphic feeds of the experiments where they replicate the Big Bang, and these glow through a ghostly altar in front of which votive candles, incense, flowers and other objects are offered. In the tradition of pornographic exhibitions, the show is intended to excite the Creator by showing acts of creation. “I felt sorry for God,” Keats told me, “monotheism must be lonely.”

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30 Days, 30 Texts: Gerard Manley Hopkins

By Dan Friedman

In celebration of Jewish Book Month, The Arty Semite is partnering with the Jewish Education Service of North America (JESNA) and the Jewish Book Council to present “30 Days, 30 Texts,” a series of reflections by community leaders on the books that influenced their Jewish journeys. Today, Dan Friedman writes about the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Growing up as a progressive Jew in the North of England, I couldn’t decide whether God was an earnest Divinity of social justice or a Zeus-like Old Testament Man-With-a-Beard. Whichever it was, neither had any hold on me as an angst-y, angry adolescent fan of The Smiths, The Cure and The Wedding Present.

Toward the end of high school, though, I read the poems and “Dark Sonnets” of Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Their intense joy and anguish made theology a real living idea for me. It was eye-opening that the sheer beauty of “The Windhover” with its stunningly evocative: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple- dawn-drawn Falcon,” could co-exist with the despair of “No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief, / More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.”

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Off in Yonder Klezmer Mountains

By Dan Friedman

It may be stretching a humorous point to call the band behind original Klezmatics member Margot Leverett “boys,” whether or not they are from the Klezmer Mountains. Nevertheless, the Klezmer Mountain Boys of the band were at least a decade younger than most of the audience members who’d snapped up the tickets so early that the first show of the Jewish Museum SummerNights Concert Series on July 1 had been sold out for three weeks.

Despite the youth obsession of popular culture, having a more, shall we say, experienced gathering was no hardship. In the large and appreciative crowd, no one was tapping at iPhones or Blackberries, no one was rushing off early to catch the next show in Brooklyn, and the music itself was amplified to enjoyable — rather than deafening — levels.

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Soulful Seder Soundtrack

By Dan Friedman

Nina Simone sings “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” on the 2010 mix.

Take a shmear of Diaspora Soul, a bisele Indie Rock, a brekl archive recording, a kapike of hazanut, a shtikl of gospel, a zemdl of hip hop and a couple of soul legends, mix together with the sort of free time that comes with no obvious means of support and you have the Idelsohn Society’s Passover Mix 2010.

It’s this year’s version of “The So Called Seder: A Hip Hop Haggadah” which featured, among others, Matisyahu and David Krakauer. In fact, Idelsohn includes some of that excellent album. Check out Socalled’s take on the Ten Plagues.

If you’re going to do kitsch nostalgia, may as well do it well and the people who brought us “Mazel Tov Mis Amigos” have done a fine job. The mix has about the same amount of Jewish cultural value as Osem’s Spring Soup Mix 2010 or as Uncle Heshie singing “Chad Gadya” but infinitely more pleasant.

Exodus 2.0: Idelsohn Society Passover Mix 2010 by The Idelsohn Society

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Sherman Alexie Beats Lorrie Moore

By Dan Friedman

Last night Sherman Alexie beat Lorrie Moore and Barbara Kingsolver. And people applauded as he did so.

A shonda? No, just the shortlist at the presentation of the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction on March 23. Alexie, the Native American writer, won for “War Dances.” Lorrie Moore lost for “A Gate at the Stairs” and Barbara Kingsolver for “The Lacuna.”

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Of Women, Jews and iPads: Foxes and Hedgehogs

By Dan Friedman

The iPad is a fox.

In his book about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Sir Isaiah Berlin famously quoted a fragment of Archilochus who distinguishes between fox and hedgehog: “The fox knows many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing.” The former (like Tolstoy) were cunning whereas the latter (Dostoevsky) were utterly effective. Both had their merits, as long as the fox was cunning enough and the hedgehog prickly enough.

The iPad doesn’t do a lot of things, and it only does them one at a time, but it is certainly foxy rather than hedgehoggy. And it’s the reason that Amazon (Kindle), Barnes and Noble (Nook) and Sony (Sony Digital Reader) are worried that T.S. Eliot was right and that April (iPad launch month) is indeed “the cruellest month.

What has this to do with women and Jews?

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