The Arty Semite

My Lipa Schmeltzer Problem, and Ours

By Ezra Glinter

When Lipa Schmeltzer’s new music video, “Hang Up the Phone,” hit the Internet last week, I didn’t know what to think. What on God’s green earth was this?

YouTube

The video is a study in contradictions. So much so that, as Josh Nathan-Kazis observes, it enters into the Uncanny Valley between Hasidic and mainstream culture. With its pop sounds and Lady Gaga imagery it’s an affront to the Haredi establishment, whose worst fears about outside influence it confirms. That would be the same establishment that successfully shut down Lipa’s “Big Event” at Madison Square Garden in 2008, making the video even more of a provocation.

But the lyrics! Oy. “The gadgets make us lazy / We gotta take it easy / uh uh oh / Can you hang up the phone?” Is there a more culturally conservative, moralistic message than that? Apparently, according to Lipa Schmeltzer, technology is eroding the fabric of our civilization. (Quick! Someone alert Ann Landers!) Watch clips of Orthodox apologist Eytan Kobre at the recent anti-Internet Asifa at Citi Field, and it sounds like much the same thing. Ugh.

Read more


Q&A: Accordion Author Marion Jacobson

By Ezra Glinter

Tom Hilliard

Before Marion Jacobson discovered the accordion, she was a classical music critic for The Washington Post and an academic with a doctorate in ethnomusicology from New York University. But after wandering into Manhattan’s Main Squeeze accordion store in the fall of 2001, she knew she had found a new passion. So, needing to make space in her cramped Brooklyn apartment for her first child, she traded a Baldwin upright piano for a friend’s ruby-red Delicia Carmen accordion. Now Jacobson’s piano is the house instrument at the Brooklyn music venue Barbes, and Jacobson is the author of “Squeeze This!: A Cultural History of the Accordion in America,” out this month from the University of Illinois Press. She spoke to The Arty Semite about her dream instrument, her “desert island” album and the man she considers the “Michael Jackson of the accordion.”

Ezra Glinter: In your book, you use the phrase “accordion industrial complex.” What does that mean?

Marion Jacobson: The Accordion Industrial Complex is the official, self-appointed voice of the accordion world. They’re usually well-spoken accordion players with some kind of business investment in accordions, whether they’re studio operators or have a relationship with factories. These are people — men usually — with the biggest stake in keeping the accordion at the forefront of culture.

Yet the accordion isn’t always taken very seriously. Why is that?

Read more


Out and About: Third-Generation Holocaust Literature; Whither the Israel Philharmonic?

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra music director Zubin Mehta

Read more


Out and About: Jewish Hong Kong; Festivus in Orange County

By Ezra Glinter

Wiki Commons
Jean Epstein
  • The Arty Semite contributor Christopher DeWolf profiles Hong Kong’s Rabbi Asher Oser and looks at the city’s Jewish history.

  • The Jewish Chronicle talks to actor Elliott Gould.

  • VICE Magazine talks to author Sam Lipsyte.

  • “Lipstikka,” an already-controversial film by Israeli director Jonathan Sagall, will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

  • Anselm Kiefer’s latest exhibit carries a special message for Jews.

Read more


Out and About: Adam Sandler Becomes a Valet; Alfred Kazin in His Journals

By Ezra Glinter

  • Is Adam Sandler’s next movie going to be about parking cars?

  • Russian Jewish oligarch Roman Abramovich needs an entire island to house his art collection.

  • Read an exerpt of Alfred Kazin’s journals, to be published this spring by Yale University Press.

  • Michael Chabon has been elected director of The MacDowell Colony.

  • How enigmatic Israeli music icon Ofra Haza became a breakout hit on British pirate radio.

Read more


Out and About: Remembering Walter Benjamin; Polanski Wins Big in Europe

By Ezra Glinter

Wiki Commons

Read more


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

  • John Semley goes behind the scenes of “Barney’s Version.”

  • I profile musician, filmmaker, photographer and folk revivalist John Cohen.

  • Glenn C. Altschuler reviews a new book about Harry Gold, a “disciplined, smart, lonely, pathetic and oddly appealing” Soviet spy.

  • Benjamin Ivry takes a fresh look at the polarizing French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

  • Philologos elucidates the possible Biblical allusions in the Stuxnet computer virus.

Read more


Out and About: The New York Times Goes to KlezKamp; New Hanukkah Song From Matisyahu

By Ezra Glinter

Getty Images

Read more


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Joan Marcus
  • Stephen Hazan Arnoff reviews two new books on Bob Dylan.

  • Joshua Furst goes to see the current revival of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.”

  • Philologos tries out Cockney rhyming slang.

  • Benjamin Ivry watches the films of documentarian and social critic Frederick Wiseman.

Read more


Out and About: Banned Books in Jordan; 'Finnegans Wake' in Yiddish

By Ezra Glinter

Wiki Commons
James Joyce in Zurich, c. 1918.
  • The L.A. Times explores Jordan’s premiere destination for banned books.

  • The Wire creator David Simon talks about his father Bernard Simon, a “professional Jew” and the public relations director of B’nai B’rith for more than 20 years.

  • New York’s Kehila Kedosha Janina is the last Greek synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.

  • Philip Glass is writing a new opera based on Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.”

Read more


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

Yuri Dojc
  • Leigh Kamping-Carder tells the story of the Mexican Suitcase, a collection of photographs from the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour that got lost in Mexico for almost 70 years.

  • Ilan Stavans wonders why we can’t escape from Harry Houdini.

  • Shoshana Olidort reviews Avi Steinberg’s “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.”

  • Marla Brown Fogelman reviews “The Jews of San Nicandro,” a book about a remote Italian town whose 80-odd inhabitants all converted to Judaism after World War II.

  • Philologos is on the make.

Read more


An Electric Simcha With Omar Souleyman

By Ezra Glinter

JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images
Omar Souleyman at the 16th Sonar Festival in Barcelona in 2009.

Omar Souleyman is a singer from Hasakah, Syria, who plays a techno-ish version of dabke, an Arabic folk music usually heard at weddings. He performs in a red-and-white checkered keffiyeh, dark glasses, and a moustache.

Not the most likely artist to take the American hipster-indie music scene by storm, you say? Think again. Now on his second tour of the U.S. to promote “Jazeera Nights,” his third album on Seattle’s Sublime Frequencies label, Souleyman performed Tuesday for a sizeable crowd at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, last night at the Paramount Theatre in Boston, and he appears tonight at Purchase College, SUNY.

On Wednesday he played a show in Philadelphia at Johnny Brenda’s, where he made another strange connection: Opening for Souleyman was Electric Simcha, a month-old Hasidic punk outfit led by trombonist and vocalist Daniel Blacksberg. The Arty Semite spoke with Blacksberg about Electric Simcha and how it came to play for hundreds of hipsters in Fishtown with one of the Middle East’s most popular artists.

Ezra Glinter: What is Electric Simcha?

Read more


Out and About: Jason Schwartzman on 'Bored to Death'; Al Pacino on Broadway

By Ezra Glinter

Joan Marcus

Read more


This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

ILLUSTRATION: BARA SAPIR; BELLOW PHOTO: NANCY CRAMPTON
  • Ron Dicker goes to see “Precious Life,” a documentary that was transformed in the making from a sentimental heart-tugger to a more complicated moral maneuver.

  • Asaf Hanuka goes grocery shopping in “The Two States of Israel.”

  • Philologos talks italics.

  • Mark Cohen reads through all 708 of Saul Bellow’s witty and malicious letters included in a new collection.

Read more


Holocaust Filmmaker Responds to R Rating

By Ezra Glinter

Yael Hersonski at the Sundance Festival in January, 2010.

In May 1942, around three months before some 300,000 Jews were sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka, Nazi filmmakers shot 62 minutes of propaganda footage intended to illustrate the inhumanity of their victims. Staged scenes showed rich Jews living in luxurious indifference to the poverty and death around them, purportedly demonstrating their callousness, even toward their own people.

Chances are you’ve seen this footage, though not in its entirety. One of the only film documents to emerge from the Holocaust, bits and pieces of it have been used in nearly every Holocaust documentary ever made. But only recently has a filmmaker undertaken to examine the footage as a whole, as well as the circumstances in which it was produced.

Read more


Margaret Atwood Rejects Cultural Boycott of Israel

By Ezra Glinter

As we saw with the Batsheva Dance Company in 2009 and the Jerusalem Quartet in March, when it comes to Israel, even the most straightforward arts organizations have the potential to become the subjects of political controversy. The most recent flare-up centered around Canadian author Margaret Atwood, who accepted the Dan David Prize for literature on Sunday at Tel Aviv University, despite protestations from Palestinian groups who urged her to turn it down.

“By accepting the prize at Tel Aviv University, you will be indirectly giving a slight and inadvertent nod to Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide,” read an open letter issued on April 4 by “the Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel.”

Read more


Armond White's 'Greenberg' Problem (And Ours?)

By Ezra Glinter

Focus Features
Ben Stiller in “Greenberg.”

“Greenberg,” a new movie by director Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding”), doesn’t open until tomorrow, but it’s already stirred up a furor among the critics. Well, one critic, anyway.

The movie stars Ben Stiller as the eponymous Roger Greenberg, a miserable musician from Los Angeles who has returned from living in New York after having a nervous breakdown. In a recent piece in the New York Times, film critic Dennis Lim declared the movie to be “an often bruising character study, notable for its emotional violence.”

Read more


The SoCalled Movie at SXSW

By Ezra Glinter

It’s hard to articulate what makes Canadian artist SoCalled special. To say, as I did in a recent article, that he blends klezmer with hip hop, hardly does him justice. To add that he plays the accordion and performs magic tricks makes him sound like something of a sideshow. None of this conveys the way in which he is able to take the contributions of virtuoso musicians in a dozen different genres and meld them into something uniquely his own. Fortunately, thanks to Montreal director Garry Beitel, there is a now a film that better conveys what SoCalled is all about.

Having followed SoCalled around, camera in hand, for the better part of the last three years, Beitel unveiled “The SoCalled Movie” on March 16 at the South by Southwest music festival, where it was launched on YouTube’s new video rental site.

Read more


A Gangster Grows in Brooklyn

By Ezra Glinter

Somehow I missed this when it appeared in November, but Purim seems as good a time as any to catch up on a book whose title character (sort of) is named “Shushan Cats.”

“The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats” is a novel by Hesh Kestin (previously the European bureau chief for Forbes), which takes place in 1963 New York. The story’s narrator is Russell Newhouse, a 20-year-old orphan and feckless student at Brooklyn College who apprentices himself to Cats, a Jewish gangster of fearsome repute. As Emily St. John Mandel describes the book in The Millions:

Read more


Taking Lessons from Leonard Bernstein

By Ezra Glinter

Bernstein conducting the New York City Symphony in 1945 (Wiki Commons)

Revealing the secret behind a magic trick is usually not a good thing, but when it comes to real artistry, uncovering the nitty-gritty details of creation can often deepen our appreciation of an artist’s genius. In the case of Leonard Bernstein, a few recent and forthcoming releases help pull back the curtain on the composer and conductor’s creative methods.

The first of these, and the subject of a recent New York Times article by Allan Kozinn, is the release on DVD of seven appearances by Bernstein on the “Omnibus” TV series that ran from 1952 to 1961. The program “made the details of music and music making accessible, usually without dumbing down, to a broad audience,” Kozinn writes.

Read more



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.