The Arty Semite

Why Medieval Art Is So Unflattering To Jews

By Robert Chazan (Haaretz)

Derick Baegert, ‘Crucifixion,’ Dortmund, ca. 1475. Propsteikirche, Dortmund.

“Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography,” by Sara Lipton, Metropolitan Books, 416 pages, $37

Those wishing to gain insight into the maturation of Jewish studies over the past few decades would be well served to immerse themselves in Sara Lipton’s recent book, “Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography.”

Lipton has amassed a rich trove of Christian art as data for her study, and has brought to bear on these materials the eye and mind of a well-trained and sophisticated art historian. She has analyzed Christian art and iconography from multiple and original perspectives, and used them to buttress some recent and important themes in the history of Europe and its Jews. At the same time, Lipton has raised serious questions with respect to well-worn and widely accepted perspectives on the history of Europe and its Jews.

Lipton’s early observations about the book’s title serve as a fitting introduction to the complex thinking that readers will encounter in its pages: “It is perhaps more than a little ironic that a book that often seeks to modulate the too-blackened canvas of medieval Jewish history with shades of gray should be entitled ‘Dark Mirror.’ I have chosen this title, overworked metaphor and all, in part because it acknowledges that Christian images of Jews were indeed often dark and hostile.

But it is also intended as a warning that these images provide only a distorted view of the period: that Christian art must not be seen as transparently ‘mirroring’ either prevailing Christian attitudes or actual Jewish status. Indeed, I argue throughout this book that anti-Jewish imagery was a significant factor in the creation of the attitudes and conditions it is often held to reflect.”

These ruminations serve as a warning to readers that they are about to be exposed to complicated and astute observations on the relationship of art to life, to the reinforcement of many prevailing modern stereotypes of anti-Jewish attitudes in medieval Christian Europe, and to the undermining of some of these stereotypes of ubiquitous and implacable Christian hatred of Jews.

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Why Ayelet Tsabari's Sami Rohr Win Is a Victory for Arab Jews

By Sigal Samuel

Sami Rohr Prize winner Ayelet Tsabari / Elsin Davidi

Ayelet Tsabari, author of the short story collection “The Best Place On Earth” (HarperCollins 2013), has won the prestigious Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature — and I couldn’t be happier about it.

A couple of months ago, I issued one of those pre-New-Year’s calls for a cultural shift in focus, titled Let’s Make 2015 the Year of the Arab Jew. “I’m often dismayed by how ‘Ashkenazi’ becomes a stand-in for ‘Jewish,’ while Sephardic and Mizrahi voices fall by the wayside,” I wrote. “What if Arab Jewish artists decided to make art that represents us?”

That’s exactly what Tsabari has done in “The Best Place On Earth.”

Here’s how I summed up her project when I reviewed the book for The Daily Beast in 2013:

An Israeli of Yemeni descent, Tsabari is not interested in writing, shall we say, your bubbe’s fiction. She’s interested in cataloguing the experiences of the Mizrahi community — a population rarely represented in Israeli literature, never mind Jewish Canadian literature. In her stories, you won’t find matzo ball soup, Yiddish, or the Holocaust. Instead, you’ll find fenugreek, Arabic, and tales of forced conversion to Islam at the hands of Yemeni authorities. You’ll also see the effects of longstanding discrimination against Mizrahim, and of some Israelis’ refusal to even recognize “Arab Jew” as a category.

Tsabari, who identifies as an Arab Jew and finds the term “romantic and wonderfully controversial,” tackles Israeli resistance to it in her story “Say It Again, Say Something Else.” When teenage narrator Lily tells her friend that “my grandparents came from Yemen, so we are Arabs in a way, Arab Jews,” her friend immediately dismisses the category with a laugh. “No, that’s impossible,” she says. “You’re either an Arab or a Jew.”

Tsabari’s stories dissolve that false dichotomy, giving voice to an underrepresented and marginalized community. And writing stories about that kind of community is not easy. First, you have to get over the fact that you’ve got almost no models in contemporary literature to help inspire or guide your work. Then you’ve got to get over the fear that your work won’t be seen as marketable, and won’t be well received even if and when it does get marketed, because people like to read and review what they know, and they know what they’ve already had modeled for them, and… Are you sensing a vicious cycle here?

It takes a lot of guts to break that cycle — to decide that yours is a book that the world needs, even if the world doesn’t quite know it yet. And it takes even more guts to do this when what you’re working on isn’t your gazillionth book, but your first, your debut.

The good news here is that when the rare writer comes along who’s willing to do this, and when a major establishment voice like the Jewish Book Council rewards her gutsiness (and also, of course, her damn good writing), the cycle gets broken down even further as other writers begin to sense that hey, maybe they can write about this stuff, too. Maybe they’re actually allowed to write from their own experience, instead of trying to achieve what Zadie Smith ironically calls “the mythical ‘neutral’ voice of universal art.” (Read: white, Western art.)

That’s why Tsabari’s victory isn’t just a victory for her (though of course it is that, too!) — it’s also a big win for all of us Arab Jews.

Let’s keep it coming, 2015 — so far, we’re off to a great start!

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'Censored Voices' of '67 War Speak Out at Sundance

By Anthony Weiss

Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

(JTA) – In the wake of Israel’s seemingly miraculous triumph in the Six-Day War in 1967, the country’s victorious soldiers were lionized as heroes.

But in private, even just one week after the conflict, many of them didn’t feel that way. One describes feeling sick to his stomach in battle and collapsing into a trench.

“I wanted to be left alone,” he says. “I didn’t think of the war.”

Another talks about watching an old Arab man evacuated from his house.

“I had an abysmal feeling that I was evil,” the soldier says.

The voices come from tapes made just weeks after the war’s conclusion and now presented, some of them for the first time, in the powerful new documentary “Censored Voices,” which premiered Jan. 24 at the Sundance Film Festival here.

Piece by piece and story by story, they tear apart the heroic narrative of Israel’s great victory in favor of something far messier, more chaotic and more human.

The tapes were made by fellow kibbutzniks Avraham Shapira and the novelist Amos Oz, who were driven by a sense that amid the triumphalism, more ambivalent emotions were not being expressed.

“It was a sadness that could only be felt in the kibbutz because we were living so close to each other,” Shapira recalls in the film.

Traveling from kibbutz to kibbutz with a borrowed reel-to-reel tape recorder, Shapira and Oz convinced fellow veterans to open up about their feelings, their memories and their misgivings from the war. But when they moved to publish what they had gathered, the Israeli government censored 70 percent of the material. Shapira published the remaining 30 percent in his book “The Seventh Day: Soldiers’ Talk about the Six-Day War.”

Now, thanks to the efforts of director Mor Loushy, who convinced Shapira to give her access to the tapes, all of the soldiers’ stories can be heard. Films in Israel can be subject to censorship, but according to producer Hilla Medalia, “We were able to release the film as we wanted it.”

The voices from the tapes are combined to great effect with archival footage, photographs, contemporary news accounts and film of the now-aged veterans to tell the story of the war and its aftermath.

What emerges is a vivid portrait of the war as it was lived by those who fought in it. In the tradition of soldier’s-eye narratives like “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Red Badge of Courage,” the movie allows the soldiers to depict themselves as confused, selfishly afraid, often stupefied by the sight of death and dying, and morally troubled when they encounter the enemy as fellow humans.

There is little doubt that prior to the war, the soldiers saw the build-up of hostile Arab forces on their borders as an existential threat.

“There was a feeling it would be a Holocaust,” one says.

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A Jewish David Foster Wallace? Welcome to Sundance

By Gabe Friedman

Getty Images

(JTA) – No, the late great writer David Foster Wallace was not Jewish – but the first actor to portray him onscreen is.

Jason Segel, the Jewish actor known for his roles in films such as “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Five-Year Engagement” as well as the popular TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” plays Wallace alongside fellow Jewish thespian Jesse Eisenberg in “The End of the Tour,” which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend.

“The End of the Tour” is an adaptation of the book “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself,” author David Lipsky’s account of a five-day road trip he took with Wallace on a book tour in 1996, just as the publication of “Infinite Jest” was turning Wallace into a literary rock star.

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Awards Announced for Best Jewish Books for Kids and Teens

By Forward Staff

Wikimedia Commons

The Jewish book award season is in full swing.

The winners of the 2015 National Jewish Book Awards were announced last week. Today, the Association of Jewish Libraries released the list of laureates of the Sydney Taylor Book Award that honors new books for children and teens about the Jewish experience.

In the Younger Reader category, the gold medal went to Jim Aylesworth and Barbara McClintock, author and illustrator of “My Grandfather’s Coat”, a tale about the recycling of a coat over four generations until it becomes its own story.

In the Older Reader category, authors and illustrators Loic Dauvillier, Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo, will be awarded the gold medal for “Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust”, a graphic novel about survival during the Holocaust with the help of righteous gentiles.

In the Teen category, Donna Jo Napoli, author of “Storm”, won the gold medal. “Storm” retells the Noah story from the perspective of Sebah, a teenage girl who hides on the ark.

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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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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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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

Winner:

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

Finalists:

“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

Winner:

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

Finalists:

“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
HarperWave

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

Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Winner:

“Spinoza: The Outcast Thinker”
Devra Lehmann
Namelos

Finalists:

“Storm”
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

Winner:

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

Finalists:

“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
HarperOne

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

Education and Jewish Identity

In Memory of Dorothy Kripke


Winner:

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

Finalist:

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

Fiction

JJ Greenberg Memorial Award

Winner:

“The Betrayers”
David Bezmozgis
Little, Brown and Company

Finalists:

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

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

“A Replacement Life”
Boris Fishman
HarperCollins

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

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Sorry Jon Stewart, Don't Quit Your Day Job

By Anna Goldenberg

Gael Garcia Bernal in ‘Rosewater’

“Listen, Jews do a lot of things out of guilt. Generally it has to do with visiting people, not making movies.” That was everyone’s favorite Jon Stewart (née Jonathan Stuart Leibovitz) talking to New York Magazine last month.

Stewart, 51, writer, producer and award-winning host of the satirical “The Daily Show” was referring to his latest project, which is also his first excursion into filmmaking: The full-length feature film “Rosewater” opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday. It’s based on the autobiography of Iranian-born, London-based journalist Maziar Bahari, who went to Iran to cover the Iranian presidential elections and the protests that followed. Voters believed that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory against the moderate Mir-Hossein Moussavi was due to election fraud in 2009.

Shortly after being interviewed by “Daily Show” correspondent Jason Jones in Tehran, a scene that is reenacted in the film, Bahari is arrested, and spends 118 days in Evin prison, accused of being a spy for America. Bahari is tortured and interrogated by a so-called “specialist” whose perfume preferences are reflected in the title of the film.

No question, “Rosewater” is a solid movie. There is some fine acting, with Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari, and Kim Bodnia as Rosewater. There are enough light-hearted moments, sophisticated editing and strong imagery to make the 103 minutes go by fairly fast. And the narrative has just the right amount of sadness and despair to make it feel serious, but not overly sentimental.

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That Time James Joyce Was Mistaken for His Jewish Character

By Gabe Friedman

It is widely known that James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” was not autobiographical. For one thing, the book’s protagonist Leopold Bloom was Jewish, and Joyce was raised as an Irish Catholic.

However, in 1940, when Joyce attempted to flee Vichy France to Switzerland during World War II, the Swiss government thought that he was Jewish. More accurately, as The New Republic explains, the Swiss thought Joyce was his character Leopold Bloom.

The Swiss government demanded that Joyce pay a fee of $7,000 ($120,000 today) to prove that he would not have to rely on the state financially. The majority of Joyce’s money was overseas, and as a foreigner in France, by rule he was cut off from outside sources of income.

The New Republic recently republished a letter to readers from the December 9, 1940 issue that asked for help for Joyce. His literary friends from around the world pitched in and appealed for others to donate to Joyce’s cause.

These appeals helped the Joyce family raise the necessary sum of money, and they made it to Switzerland in December of 1940. Unfortunately, Joyce died soon after in January of 1941 from surgical complications – but his story, and the revered story of Leopold Bloom, lives on.

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Getting It Right: How Hollywood Does Haredi

By Miriam Moster

(JTA) — When it comes to Hasidic characters in movies, film consultant Elli Meyer believes that the real deal trumps a random actor in costume.

But that approach isn’t without its challenges.

Meyer, a New York-based Lubavitcher Hasid, recounted one occasion when he was hired to cast extras for a film but refused upon learning that shooting would take place on Yom Kippur.

“Who told you to hire Jews?” one of the producers said, according to Meyer, though ultimately the shooting was postponed.

Meyer is among a handful of Jews from haredi Orthodox backgrounds who have carved out an unusual niche in show business as occasional consultants on films and TV shows aiming to authentically depict Hasidic life.

These consultants often find themselves having to dispel misconceptions about Hasidim as they advise on language, costuming and plot, sometimes even stepping into rabbinic roles as explainers of Jewish law.

Meyer, 59, has been doing this kind of work for a decade. In 2014 alone he has acted in, consulted on or done casting work for more than half a dozen TV shows or movies.

He said he was motivated to get into the consulting business because he was appalled by the sloppiness of many depictions of Hasidic Jews.

“They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid,” he said of directors and producers in general.

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'Rising Star' Is Surprisingly Short of Stars

By Rachel X. Landes

Now available to stream online: the premiere auditions of the newest reality singing competition, Rising Star, based on an Israeli reality show, HaKovkhav Haba, or “The Next Star” in Hebrew. The first episode of the American version debuted Sunday, June 22.

Now, I’ve seen my fair share of reality television shows. I watched American Idol when it premiered more than a decade ago, and more recently I’ve dabbled with the X-Factor, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice.

Basically, the premise for all these shows is the same. Sing a song, impress a judge or two, and then hopefully garner enough American viewers that the studio executives want to keep your show around.

Rising Star offers a new twist — or new twist to Americans, as it’s essentially a carbon copy of Israel’s original show — the public’s votes are counted via their smartphones. Oh, and there’s something about a two ton wall, too.

Viewers have to download the Rising Star application, and then swipe red for no and blue for yes in real time. If a singer attains at least 70% of yeses while they sing, then they move on to the next round.

Cool in theory, if not so cool in practice. Critics have noticed that some percentages seem staged to give voters on the West Coast a reason to vote. Rising Star airs live in three US time zones, but is pushed back for the West Coast. As a result, viewers in the California area can “save” contestants if they vote when they watch the show an hour later. Many contestants finished with ratings in the high 60s, and so needed West Coast votes to move on.

Celebrity judges Kesha, Brad Paisley and Ludacris counted for 7% if they swiped yes.

Like the case with many other celebrity judges, I am always skeptical in their ability to judge a person’s potential to become a ‘Rising Star.’ From what I’ve gathered from magazines and celebrity interviews, to succeed in the entertainment industry, you need talent, connections, and a whole lot of luck.

Celebrity judges might be able to make connections with contestants, but that’s just about it. On Rising Star, their advice mimics other reality-show judges and relayed the standard, “watch the pitch” and “I loved your attitude.”

As a result, if I ever watch judges’ commentary on these sort of shows, it’s for their anecdotes and jokes. On Rising Star, the judges lack the entertaining camaraderie of The Voice, and don’t have the definitive personalities of the newest season of The X-Factor. But, to be fair, it is Rising Star’s first season, so I’ll give them a little leeway to get their bearings.

As to the talent factor, frankly, most of the contestants were mediocre at best. Nobody seemed like the next Kelly Clarkson or the next Carrie Underwood. Rather, they seemed on par with Danielle Bradbury, who won The Voice two years ago, or Tate Stevens from The X-Factor. Remember them?

I didn’t think so.

One contestant chose a song that was half in Italian, which alienated her from the audience. The others were barely memorable.

Only the last contestant seemed to leave some kind of impact. Macy Kate, 17 from St. Petersburg, Florida, won the highest percentage at 93% of votes. She belted out a good cover of “Me and My Broken Heart” by Rixton.

Kate participated in a nation-wide audition via Instragram. To generate hype for the show, Rising Star, officials asked for people to submit clips showing why they are “Rising Stars.” Kate was told to come to the premiere, but just to watch.

Twenty-five minutes into the show, Kate was picked out from the audience to perform the finale.

Yet, she could have sprouted leaves for how planted she felt to the audience. After all, she seemed incredibly well composed for someone who didn’t know they would be on national television five minutes. Plus, she preformed phenomenally for someone who had maybe an hour to prepare.

I don’t deny that she’s got talent; I do call out the producers for staging the thing.

Overall, my opinion of Rising Star does not match the optimistic title. If you want funny banter from the judges, look to The Voice and if you want more, say, colorful acts, you’re better off with America’s Got Talent.

You can catch up on “Rising Star” at http://abc.go.com/shows/rising-star

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Cracow Crescendo

By Martyna Starosta

Cracow Crescendo from Jewish Daily Forward on Vimeo.

“We sing in Yiddish, we sing in Hebrew and sometimes we sing in Polish,” explains Zofia Radzikowska who joined the JCC choir in Cracow when it first opened two years ago.

At the beginning it was uncertain whether the choir would be able to attract enough members. Today the multigenerational ensemble is a lively proof of the small but vibrant local Jewish community.

Each singer has a slightly different reason to sing in this group: Some want to learn more about their Jewish roots whereas others recognize something in Jewish culture that was inextricably linked to Polish culture.

A big sign at the entrance of the local JCC trumpets: “Building A Jewish Future in Cracow.” That seems like a pretty bold undertaking if one considers the bigger historical picture of complicated Jewish-Polish relationships.

But choir member Paulina Skotnicka says the JCC is able to create a “non-judgmental place where nobody is maligned based on his or her background.” This welcoming approach inspires a lot of optimism.

Skotnicka sounds both down to earth and realistic when she says the choir is doing its small part to revive Jewish culture that was all but wiped out in the Holocaust.

“We can’t actually recover what is lost,” she says. “But we can certainly build something new.”

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Only Jews Could Shock Berlin Like This

By Martyna Starosta

Remember New York in the 80’s? Than you can imagine what certain parts of Berlin look like today. Here you can still see entire neighborhoods serving as battlegrounds for graffiti writers and street artists.

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Fracking and the Jews

By Doni Bloomfield

Josh Kuchinsky
Oil Boom: Gregory Zuckerman, author of ‘The Frackers,’ explores the history of fracking, the Jewish players in the industry and how Israel and the United States are shifting away from oil dependency.

Gregory Zuckerman, Wall Street Journal reporter and author of “The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History,” has just finished a new book. “The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters,” tells the story of the oilmen who led the charge in the recent American revolution in natural gas and oil extraction.

Since 2010, partly due to fracking, US oil production has increased, pushing America to surpass Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest energy producer. This eruption in extraction has U.S. dependence on foreign oil at a 20-year low and declining.

Former Forward intern Doni Bloomfield, who served as a research assistant on the book, spoke to Zuckerman about the surprising role Jews played in the surge, and what decreasing American reliance on Middle Eastern fuels may mean for Israel and beyond.

Doni Bloomfield: As someone who is not an energy reporter, what pushed you into this story?

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Why Philip Roth Is 'Too Jewish' for Nobel

By William Kolbrener (Haaretz)

farrar, straus and giroux

When the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded, I knew that Philip Roth had not won.

A colleague condescended: “I never liked Roth,” a put-down to me, a Miltonist and teacher of Renaissance literature, who really doesn’t know better. A couple of decades ago, someone would have mentioned the more elegant, supposedly more disciplined and intellectual – and Nobel Prize-winning - Saul Bellow.

Roth, as the story goes, is Bellow’s vulgar counter-part, obsessed, with his body, and when he’s long enough distracted from that, the bodies of women. Woody Allen was a spermatozoa in Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, and Roth – with a nod to Kafka – becomes a 155 pound “breast.” He’s the modern example of the celebratory, sometimes self-despising , Jew, and the Swedish judges, one can speculate, just find him uncouth.

Roth began his career masturbating in Portnoy’s Complaint. And then there is the persistent obsession of what he calls himself in Operation Shylock that “pervasive, engulfing, wearying topic…the Jews.” For the Nobel committee in Stockholm, Roth is undoubtedly not only too vulgar, but too vulgarly Jewish.

But saying that Roth is too Jewish is like saying the Leopold Bloom of James Joyce’s Ulysses is too Irish, or the London depicted in Eliot’s The Waste Land too English. Roth may not be Joyce or Eliot, but if the latter began to question our ideas of narrative and identity, Roth is their natural inheritor, and it’s not only in the boutique part of the college catalogue called “American Jewish Literature.”

For more go to Haaretz

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A 'God Bless America' Timeline

By Eileen Reynolds

From its creation in 1918 to its unofficial adoption as anthem for the fallen of 9/11, “God Bless America” has had quite a history. Here are some of the highlights.

August 19, 1918 Cut from the finale of “Yip, Yip, Yaphank,” which opened at New York’s Century Theatre.

November 10, 1938 Radio premiere, on “The Kate Smith Hour.”

February 1939 Sheet music published amid a battle between Berlin and Smith over performance rights to the song.

June 1940 God Bless America Fund established by Berlin to distribute the song’s royalties to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

January–October 1941 Banned from the airwaves, along with all songs licensed by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, of which Berlin was a founding member. (Broadcasters believe that royalties paid to ASCAP composers were too high.)

February 5, 1941 Performed by Eleanor Roosevelt and 1,200 striking Leviton Manufacturing Co. workers at a union rally in Brooklyn.

1943 Film debut, in “This Is the Army,” in a scene featuring Ronald Reagan playing Johnny Jones and Kate Smith playing herself.

May-June 1963 Performed by Young African-American students at school segregation protests in Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La.

March 16, 1974 Sung and played on the piano by Richard Nixon at the opening of the new Grand Ole Opry House, in Nashville, Tenn.

January 22, 1982 Sung by anti-abortion marchers at “Right to Life Day” in Buffalo, N.Y.

June 17, 1986 Kate Smith died. The New York Times ran a correction a few days after publishing an initial obituary that claimed Smith had “introduced a new song written expressly for her by Irving Berlin.”

September 22, 1989 Irving Berlin died at 101.

1998 Served as the soundtrack to a propaganda video by the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations.

September 21, 2001 Performed by Celine Dion in “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” a TV benefit concert for 9/11 victims.

November 5, 2008 Used as Oprah Winfrey’s entrance song for her TV special the day after Obama was elected president. (She yelled “Whoooooooo!” over the music.)

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All About 5 Jewish Drag Queens

By Elyssa Goodman

There is no shortage of Jewish contributions to the arts, even in the world of drag. Drag dates back to the days of Shakespeare, if not before, when women were not allowed to perform onstage and men would appear on their behalf in drag, or “dressed as girl.”

The Kinsey Sicks

Today, of course, women perform onstage and beyond. But drag queens have stayed.

The latest Jewish contribution to the drag world is Jinkx Monsoon — the Seattle-based “narcoleptic Jewish drag queen” who recently won “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” And Jinkx isn’t the only one.

Take a look at this list of other prominent drag queens who prefer kosher lipstick:

Virginia Ham

In Harvey Fierstein’s three plays that make up the legendary Torch Song Trilogy, Virginia Ham is the stage name of Jewish drag queen and main character Arnold Beckoff. Originally played by Fierstein himself, the series of plays follow Beckoff’s life in 1970s New York and offered one of the first theatrical insights into gay life at the time. First produced in 1978 off-Broadway at the now iconic La MaMa Theatre in New York, the play moved to Broadway in 1982. Fierstein consequently won the 1983 Tony Award for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play. In 1988, Torch Song Trilogy became a film, also written for the screen by Fierstein.

The Kinsey Sicks

The Kinsey Sicks, so named for biologist Alfred Kinsey’s designation of level six (homosexual) on his famed Sexuality Rating Scale, is billed as “America’s Favorite Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet.” The comedic acapella group was founded by Irwin Keller and Ben Schatz, two former lawyers who were actively involved in the gay rights movement and in fighting the AIDS crisis.

The Kinsey Sicks are made up of four members who perform in drag: Winnie (Keller), Rachel (Schatz), Trixie (Jeff Manabat), and Trampolina (Spencer Brown). Keller and Schatz play their roles with a comedic Jewish flair (Winnie is said to be releasing a Passover cookbook shortly, delightfully entitled “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Chometz!”). The Kinsey Sicks have performed internationally and been recognized by high-profile nominations with the Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel awards, as well as their famed extended run at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross

Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross

The creation of Israeli-born, Jewish educator Amichai Lau-Lavie, the Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross is an elderly Jewish Orthodox widow to six husbands, an expert who teaches traditional Jewish rituals and traditions, “a personal soul-trainer to the ultra-orthodox elite (and elitists from all faiths and backgrounds).” Lau-Lavie designed the Rebbetzin to broaden the scope of the way Judaism was taught, to make it more modern and engaging.

Lau-Lavie has performed as the Rebbetzin, “the first lady of Judeo-Kitsch,” internationally.

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Liz or Dick: Who Was More Jewish?

By Benjamin Ivry

Uni-France

Who was more Jewish — Elizabeth Taylor or Richard Burton? This question was the basis for squabbles between the married Hollywood superstars, according to Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger’s “Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century.” Taylor was a celebrated convert to Judaism, but Burton was proud of having a Jewish maternal grandfather in his native Wales. Burton further argued that the Welsh are the “Jews of Britain,” referring to ethnic stereotyping directed against his fellow Welshmen. By contrast, he told his wife, “You’re not Jewish at all. If there’s any Jew in this family, it’s me!”

Further evidence of Burton’s sympathy for Yiddishkeit is to be found in the newly published “Richard Burton Diaries.” (Yale University Press) Burton’s entry for June 6, 1967 reads that a friend had advised him that “war had broken out between Israel and Egypt and other Arab idiots.” On June 12, Burton noted with some hyperbole and underlinings, “The Israeli war is over. The Israelis completely destroyed the forces against them in 3 days with what seems a mopping-up action of two days… That clever idiot Nasser resigned and then ‘at the behest of his people’ returned to office 16 hours later.”

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