The Arty Semite

Cantorial Music Gets Jumbotron Treatment

By Jon Kalish

When Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot take the stage of the Hollywood Bowl this evening for the latest stop on their Eternal Echoes tour, audience members who are not fluent in Hebrew, Yiddish or Aramaic will be able to follow the lyrics via English supertitles projected on giant screens located on both sides of the stage. This is all thanks to Hankus Netsky, the tour’s musical director and founder of the Klezmer Conservatory Band of Boston (KCB).

Netsky spoke to The Arty Semite yesterday en route to his hotel from the airport in L.A. in a van packed with his KCB bandmates, who will join members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the concert.

Netsky spent two weeks perfecting the supertitles for the repertoire, which includes cantorial selections, as well as Yiddish art songs and tunes from the Yiddish theater.

“One of the first things I said when the Eternal Echoes tour began was that we have to have supertitles because it’s like opera and it’s got to be treated like opera,” Netsky told The Arty Semite. “I think super titles will contribute a lot to the audience’s appreciation of this material.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yitzchok Meir Helfgot, Music, Jon Kalish, Itzhak Perlman, Hankus Netsky

Jazz Rabbi Gets a New Gig

By Jon Kalish

The Jazz Rabbi has a new gig. Saxophonist Greg Wall, who spent three years making klezmer and jazz concerts a staple at an East Village congregation, has a new pulpit in Connecticut. On August 1 Wall began work at Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport and Norwalk. The shul, which has 65 families, is located in Westport and is described as a traditional Orthodox synagogue with a very diverse membership.

“They are excited about a rabbi that could bring arts into their community,” the 53-year-old rabbi told the Forward.

Wall’s official installation will take place Saturday, November 23 and while there may not be angels with trumpets heralding his arrival, Wall promises the evening will include a musical blast with performances by the Unity Orchestra, Later Prophets and possibly Jon Madoff’s Zion 80.

Wall learned that the Westport shul was looking for a rabbi from a regular at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue in the East Village who grew up in Westport. One of three finalists for the job invited to celebrate Shabbos with the congregation, Wall walked into shul and saw Ricky Orbach, founder of the Jewish arts group Joodayoh Inc., who helped Wall land his first pulpit at the Sixth Street synagogue.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Jon Kalish, Jazz Rabbi, Greg Wall

End of an Era for Judith Malina's Living Theatre

By Jon Kalish

AZAD JAFARIAN

Judith Malina will not go gentle into that good night. The fiery 86-year-old director of the Living Theatre is losing both her apartment and the Lower East Side home of the world renowned theater troupe she co-founded 66 years ago. Later this week Malina will move into an elder care facility in New Jersey, but she’s vowing to commute into Manhattan a few times a week and work with the company that has championed her unapologetic anarchist-utopian vision.

“We did some great plays and we managed to keep a company going all those years,” Malina told The Arty Semite. “And it’s still going.”

The Living Theatre’s performance space on Clinton Street will host one last performance February 27 at midnight. Earlier that evening the veteran Lower East Side performance artist Penny Arcade is doing a benefit to raise money for Malina’s car fare, so she can get into Manhattan and continue working with the company.

“If this was France or Japan or almost anywhere else in the world, Judith would be considered a national treasure and she’d be supported,” Arcade said. “I think people don’t realize that she is one of the main architects of the counterculture and of experimental theater in this country.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theater, The Living Theater, Judith Malina, Jon Kalish

This Israeli Life

By Jon Kalish

A young Israeli grad student named Mishy holds up a cardboard sign that says “anywhere” as he hitchhikes out of Cambridge, England. He catches a ride with a Gypsy family bound for the ferry to France. In the vessel’s cafeteria Mishy meets a truck driver name Vladimir who agrees to take him to Spain. Only, when they start driving Vladimir neglects to make the turn into Belgium and informs Mishy, “No Spain, Ukraine.” At the Slovenian-Ukrainian border the two are arrested for smuggling counterfeit Barbie dolls. Sounds like it could be a story on the wildly popular public radio show “This American Life,” doesn’t it?

Courtesy Mishy Harman

It’s not. But it may end up being told — and broadcast — on “Israel Story,” a new program on Israel’s Army Radio. The similarity to “This American Life” (TAL) is no accident. Mishy Harman, the guy bound for “anywhere,” is the driving force behind the new show. And he makes no secret of the fact that he’s a huge fan of Ira Glass and company.

Harman was hipped to TAL by another Israeli, Ro’ee Gilron, who attended Brandeis University. After graduate school, Harman completed a teaching stint at Harvard and commenced a 13,000-mile road trip around the United States with his dog Neomi. He and the pooch (a Hungarian hunting dog known as a Vizsla) took along 200 episodes of TAL that Gilron downloaded for them. Harman was blown away by the TAL collection.

“It became totally clear to me that this was going to be our next project,” he told The Arty Semite.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Radio, This American Life, Mishy Harman, Jon Kalish, Israel Story, Ira Glass

Loving Look at Radio Pioneer

By Jon Kalish

Those of you who are up on your 1960s counter-culture know that the Yippies were formed, for the most part, by a group of Jewish troublemakers from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Some of those mischievous Yidden are no longer with us: Abbie Hoffman committed suicide in 1989, Jerry Rubin got hit by a car in 1994 and Stew Albert died of cancer in 2006. But Bob Fass is alive and well and living on Staten Island. Nearly a half-century after starting his late night radio program on WBAI-FM, Fass is still on the air keeping the movement alive.

Courtesy of Lost Footage Films

“Radio Unnameable” is the name of Fass’ free-wheeling live radio show and it’s also the title of a new feature length video documentary that tells its story. The night after Rosh Hashanah those who still have a bit of a freak flag flying will want to head over to Film Forum in Manhattan, where the doc begins a two-week run. On October 4 the film will open the Voices in Action: Human Rights on Film festival in Portland, Oregon (the Rose City screening is sponsored by KBOO, Portland’s version of WBAI). And just before Labor Day, Kino Lorber, Inc. announced that it had acquired North American distribution rights to the documentary, so the story of Fass and his free-form radio show will be screened in St. Louis, St. Paul and other cities in the coming months.

Full disclosure: this reporter began his radio career after being mesmerized by Fass on “Radio Unnameable” in the early 1970s. The tall Brooklyn-born broadcaster once attended a Seder at the Kalish loft where he screened a lengthy video of Abbie Hoffman making gefilte fish from scratch and TV footage of Bob Dylan performing at the Vatican. In Fass’s mind, this was totally appropriate Passover fare.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Radio, Jon Kalish, Film, Documentaries, Bob Fass, Radio Unnameable

Klezmer Musician Awarded Highest Folk Honor

By Jon Kalish

The National Endowment for the Arts announced today that klezmer clarinetist Andy Statman is among the recipients of its 2012 National Heritage Fellowships. The Brooklyn-based musician will be awarded the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts during a ceremony in the fall.

Courtesy of Andy Statman

Reached at his home in Midwood, the 61-year-old bluegrass and klezmer virtuoso told The Arty Semite, “To be placed in the same league as my heroes Bill Monroe, Dave Taras and B.B. King is a tremendous honor.”

Statman is an Orthodox Jew and the decision to schedule the National Heritage Fellowships ceremony and concert on Thursday, October 4, rather than on a Friday night, was made in part to accommodate Statman, according to Liz Auclair, a spokesperson for the National Endowment for the Arts. Auclair said there will be kosher food at the banquet for Statman and his wife, Basha.

Statman and his band went to back up his teacher Dave Tarras at a concert in Washington, D.C. in 1984 when Tarras won the National Heritage Fellowship. The elderly klezmer clarinetist collapsed and suffered a heart attack during the first song, so Statman stood in for him during the performance.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish Music, Music, National Endowment for the Arts, Yiddish, National Heritage Fellowships, Jon Kalish, Awards, Andy Statman

Radio Legend Larry Josephson Takes the Stage

By Jon Kalish

Dana Ullman

Larry Josephson’s first foray into the world of performance is titled “An Inconvenient Jew: My Life In Radio.” And the public radio legend promises that tonight’s monologue at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village won’t be his last stab at public performance.

When he was dubbed “the original bad boy of morning radio” in the New York Daily News, Josephson grumbled that “Howard Stern stole my act.” In the press release for this evening’s performance the 72-year-old curmudgeon notes that when he started doing his live morning show, “In The Beginning,” on WBAI-FM in the late 1960s, Stern “was crawling around Levittown in leather diapers.” Stern, being Stern, is loathe to admit that any of the broadcast personalities on the counter culture outlet had any influence on him, but it’s hard not to assume otherwise.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: WBAI, Theater, Radio, Pacifica Radio, Larry Josephson, Jon Kalish

In the Recording Studio with Itzhak Perlman

By Jon Kalish

Photo by Mark Berney

Itzhak spoke to Yitzchok in Hebrew. Hankus spoke to Yitzchok in Yiddish. The conductor made puns in English with a heavy Australian-South African accent. And this all happened in the recording studio where Bruce Springsteen recorded “Born to Run” and Madonna laid down her vocal tracks for “Like A Virgin.”

We’re talking, of course, about Itzhak Perlman, Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot, Hankus Netsky of Boston’s Klezmer Conservatory Band (KCB) and conductor Russell Ger, who is Helfgot’s musical director at Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue. Last week they were joined by a 20-piece chamber orchestra composed primarily of the violin virtuoso’s former students and several members of KCB to record a new album of cantorial and Yiddish music at Avatar Studios in midtown Manhattan.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yitzchok Meir Helfgot, Yiddish Music, Yiddish, Soul of Jewish Music, Hazanus, Itzhak Perlman, Jon Kalish, Music, Hankus Netsky

The Jews of Def Jam

By Jon Kalish

Image Courtesy of the Adler Archive

This week “Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label” arrives in book stores. The 300 page hardcover tome is 12” X 12,” the same size as an old school LP and has a cover price of $60. It may be chock full of characters from the ‘hood but it is published by the tony art house Rizzoli. The book is being hyped as an insiders’ telling of the storied label’s history accompanied by a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes photos, flyers, ads and album cover art. What the press doesn’t mention is the pivotal role Jews played in the legendary hip-hop label’s creation and growth.

There are pictures of label founder Rick Rubin, who made Def Jam’s first hit record while living in the dorm at NYU. In one shot, Rubin is seen at a Vanity Fair Oscar party sporting a graying beard that would be the envy of many a Hasid. He’s with Def Jam mogul Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen, the son of Israeli immigrants and grandson of an Israeli Army general. Cohen initially ran the artist management side of Def Jam, before becoming president of the label. He’s now an executive with the Warner Music Group.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, Public Enemy, Professor Grif, Music, Lyor Cohen, Julie Greenwald, Jon Kalish, Hip-Hop, Def Jam, Bill Adler

Tennessee Sculptor Makes Bid for Anne Frank Tree

By Jon Kalish

Getty Images

The remains of the tree that Anne Frank saw in her neighbor’s yard while she was in hiding from the Nazis is in legal limbo while the foundation organized to preserve it battles the contractor they hired to do so. Ever since it fell last August, Jewish museums in Berlin, New York and Amsterdam have been said to be interested in obtaining remnants of the 150 year old chestnut tree. But a local contractor named Rob van der Leij is owed close to $50,000 and won’t release the remains of the tree until the legal mess is resolved.

Now a world class sculptor named Brad Sells of Cookeville, Tenn., has made a bid for a portion of the famed tree, which was 70 feet tall and was suffering from a fungal infection when it came down. Sells wants to make a sculpture and donate it to a Holocaust museum.

“It’s a pretty stable wood. I think I could make a beautiful piece of art out of it,” Sells told The Arty Semite in a phone interview.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Todd Jarrell, Tree Safari, Rob van der Leij, Sculpture, Jon Kalish, Brad Sells, Anne Frank Tree, Anne Frank

The Secret History of Women's Klezmer

By Jon Kalish

A new radio drama titled “The Witches of Lublin” is being offered to public radio stations as a Passover special. Written by Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Schwartz and Yale Strom, the hour-long production features original klezmer music by Strom and the handiwork of Long Island-based audio drama producer Sue Zizza. The cast includes the prolific audiobook narrator Barbara Rosenblat, author Neil Gaiman and Tovah Feldshuh as the protagonist Rivka, a 18th-century klezmer musician who is a single mom, a weaver of lace and a Talmudic scholar to boot.

Ilene Winn-Lederer

“We definitely approached the story from a feminist point of view,” said Schwartz, who also sings in the radio drama. She has collaborated with her klezmer musician husband Strom on films, books and musical projects since the mid-1990s.

As the story unfolds, listeners learn that Rivka and her two daughters, Leah and Sorele, have a reputation as some of the best klezmer musicians in Poland. Enter the anti-Semitic Count, who commands the women to perform at a celebration in honor of his son. It’s an untenable choice because women performing in public would be scandalous in the world of 18th-century observant Jews. But declining to perform might trigger a pogrom against the entire Jewish community of Lublin.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish, Yiddish Music, Yale Strom, Tovah Feldshuh, The Witches of Lublin, Sue Zizza, Sprocket, Slavic Soul Party, Radio Drama, Radio, Peter Stan, Passover, Neil Gaiman, Music, Klezmer, Jon Kalish, Hot Pstromi, Ellen Kushner, Elizabeth Schwartz, Barbara Rosenblat, Alexander Fedoriouk

Itzhak Perlman in the Cantor's House

By Jon Kalish

Getty Images

It’s the Itzhak and Yitzchok show! Violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman is teaming up with cantorial superstar Yitzchok Meir Helfgot for a concert tour and recording project titled “The Soul of Jewish Music.” The inaugural concert takes place March 30 at the Saban Theatre in Los Angeles and will benefit Bet Tzedek Holocaust Survivors Justice Network.

The collaboration is Perlman’s first foray into Jewish music since “In the Fiddler’s House,” his klezmer tour and recordings in the mid-1990s. In a press release from L.A.-based producer Dan Adler, Perlman gushes that teaming up with Helfgot is an “historic project” and declares, “It excites me to my kishkas!”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Abraham Goldfaden, Ben-Zion Schenker, Yitzchok Meir Helfgot, Yiddish Music, Yiddish, The Soul of Jewish Music, Saban Theatre, Park East Synagogue, Music, Moyshe Oysher, Klezmer Conservatory Band, Klezmer, Jon Kalish, Itzhak Perlman, In the Fiddler's House, Hazanus, Hankus Netsky, Cantorial Music

Will Film's Nudity Keep Hasidim Away From 'Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish'?

By Jon Kalish

Courtesy Eve Annenberg

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.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Walter Reade Theater, Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish, New York Jewish Film Festival, Mendy Zafir, Lincoln Center, Malky Weisz, Lazer Weiss, Isaac Schonfeld, Jon Kalish, Film, Eve Annenberg, Cholent, Boro Park, Yiddish

Xmas Jollies for Jews

By Jon Kalish

Courtesy Bill Adler

In the subculture of Christmas mixtapes Bill Adler is a very important Jew. For close to 30 years, the Manhattan music maven has put out “Xmas Jollies,” which just may be the most eclectic Yuletide mixtape on the planet. Adler has what musicians refer to as very big ears and for many of his 300 or so friends — Jews, as well as gentiles — his Jollies mixtape is a major part of the holiday soundtrack.

“My northern star in this has always been Santa Claus, not Jesus,” Adler told The Arty Semite.

A Detroit native who married outside the tribe (his wife is the TV chef and cookbook author Sara Moulton), Adler decided to create his own Christmas soundtrack in the early 1980s when he started celebrating the holiday with his in-laws in New England. The goal was to assemble an hour of music that would serve as an antidote to what he felt was “the oppressive corniness of the holiday.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yogi Bear, Xmas Jolies, Xmas, WFMU, The Three Weissmen, Silent Night, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, Sara Moulton, Santa Claus Express, Run DMC, Nation of Islam, Public Enemy, Music, Murry the K, Mojo Nixon, Mixtape, Mae West, Julia Childs, Jon Kalish, Johnny Cash, Jingle Bells, Jew On the Brain, Jack Benny, Ice Cube, Howdy Doody, Duke Ellington, Dread Zeppelin, Def Jam, Daniel Rubin, Crusty the Clown, Christmas Music, Christmas, Bill Adler, Big Maybelle, Betty Boop, BBC Orchestra




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