News of iconic Israeli singer-songwriter Arik Einstein’s sudden death November 26 at age 74 spread quickly throughout Israel and around the globe. Israelis and Jews the world over, including political leaders and famous artists, poured out their shock and grief, many saying that the iconic entertainer’s passing signaled the end of an era.
While he had not performed live for quite some time, Einstein maintained a special status in Israeli popular culture. Many believe that had he not come on the scene when and as he did, Israeli music would not have developed as it had. “Einstein was the harbinger of Hebrew rock n’ roll, the man who, with a small group of talented friends, absorbed the sounds of the Sixties and translated them into Israeli,” wrote Liel Leibovitz in Tablet.
“A part of Israel passed away on Tuesday night. A slice of its soul has departed. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, possibly millions, have lost a close personal friend, an intimate lifelong companion. A voice of Israel — the voice of Israel, for many – will sing no more,” wrote Chemi Shalev in Haaretz.
As preparations for Einstein’s funeral Wednesday afternoon at Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor cemetery were being made, news of his passing continued to lead Israeli news websites. Social media feeds were clogged with posts of personal reminiscences about the singer, as well as videos of his performances.
Cheb i Sabbah, a DJ, producer and composer known for combining Asian, Middle Eastern and African influences into his global electronica music, died November 7 at age of 66. The San Francisco-based Sabbah was born Haim Serge El Baz in Constantine, Algeria to a working-class Jewish family with some Berber ancestry.
Major music publications have published articles mourning Sabbah’s passing from stomach cancer and celebrating his artistic contributions. Billboard referred to him as “the Godfather of global house” in its memorial piece. The San Francisco Chronicle called him “a master of music and life.”
Sabbah, recognizable by his long hair and round Ghandi-style glasses, got his start in 1960s Paris, where he would spin American soul records. From there, he went on to New York, and finally on to San Francisco, settling there in 1984. In 1989, he assumed the “Cheb I Sabbah” moniker, which means “young of the morning” in North African Arabic. Friends called him Chebiji, adding the Hindu honorific to the first part of his name.
His debut album in 1994, “The Majoon Traveler” consisted of cut-up remixes of pieces by jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, jazz musician Ornette Coleman, and Velvet Underground drummer Angus Maclise with the poetry of Ira Cohen. (He had met Cherry in New York and was greatly influenced by him.)
Yiddish folksong expert, researcher and anthologist Chana Mlotek died on November 4 at age 91. Mlotek maintained a decades-long association with the Forverts and with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, where she was the institute’s music archivist.
When I worked with Mlotek at YIVO, people would come to the archives and say, “I only remember one Yiddish song from my mother, and of that song I only remember one line. And, unfortunately, from that one line I only remember two or three words.” When visitors told her the two or three words, you couldn’t even be sure they were speaking Yiddish. But Mlotek, who was once dubbed the “Sherlock Holmes of Yiddish song,” always took the matter seriously, and almost always found what the person was looking for.
On many occasions I was also one of those inquirers, searching for obscure songs. And Mlotek often found copies of them, not in printed books, but in collections she had cultivated over many years.
Mlotek, together with Ruth Rubin, reestablished the field of Yiddish folksong research in America after the Holocaust. Before the war the field had been in bloom — the YIVO Ethnographic Commission collected more material than any other YIVO commission or department. The idea of collecting folklore inspired dozens of folklore circles and hundreds of collectors in cities and towns across Eastern Europe, starting from the founding of YIVO in 1925, until 1939.
I first heard those eerie xylophone notes that open the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” when I was 14, sitting on the rug of my friend Mollie’s bedroom. A moment later, I heard Lou Reed’s voice for the first time, and everything changed.
That day, we were two Upper West Side Jewish girls who showed up to Hebrew school each week; only two years beforehand we’d been playing with paper dolls on the same rug. But at that moment we were self-styled rebels. The album gave us the chills and fit in perfectly with our other nascent explorations: the still-seedy shops on St. Marks Place, smoking cigarettes and eventually pot, and also, more crucially, the cruelty of adolescent and adult life — a darkness that I heard emitting from every note of that album. In its melancholy and relentless tracks, we heard the sonic reflection of a disordered world indifferent to our pain.
That deep identification explains why Reed’s death, at 71, feels so personal to so many. For me, embracing the Velvets was the beginning of giving up on the idea of fitting in (it’s a lifelong process, still ongoing). So I grabbed on to his music that day and never let go, because he demonstrated that being on the margins of acceptability was not only okay, but actually cool. I bought a baby tee emblazoned with his face and wore it regularly to school, so I could sneer at the kids who sneered at me — or more accurately, when I felt the urge to cower, I could let Lou’s mug do the sneering for me.
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
When Dov Noy would lecture, often without notes, he would look upwards and seemingly draw his inspiration from the upper spheres. But Noy, who was expert in the folklore of numerous Jewish “tribes,” including Ashkenazim, Sephardim and Middle Eastern Jews, developed his profound knowledge from earthbound ethnography and research.
Noy contributed most significantly to the collection and analysis of Jewish folk literature, both written and oral. The Hebrew terms ba’al peh (oral) and biksav (written) are usually applied to the modes of transmission of the Torah. Noy’s extensive and successful efforts to record the oral folktales of the Jews resulted in a folk Torah, if you will, one that revealed the inner heart and soul of diasporic communities throughout the world.
Dov Noy (Neuman) was born in Kolomyia, Poland, in 1920 and died on September 29, less than a month short of his 93rd birthday. He immigrated to Palestine in 1939, studied at Hebrew University, and began teaching Jewish folk literature in 1955. For his dissertation, which he received from Indiana University, he created a motif-index of talmudic-midrashic tales which was soon incorporated into Stith Thompson’s six-volume motif-index of the world’s folk literature, greatly raising the status of Jewish folklore in the field.
If you saw Richard Parks’ 2011 documentary short, “Music Man Murray,” then you’ll know that Murray Gershenz was looking for a long time to sell his famous used record business (also called Music Man Murray) and its collection of more than 300,000 records.
Gershenz, who opened his landmark store on Los Angeles’ Santa Monica Boulevard in 1962, did finally manage to find a buyer. This past June, four tractor-trailers showed up and hauled away the records to New York, where Gershenz was born in 1922.
Believing that his beloved collection was in good hands and would be kept together, Gershenz passed away just a couple of months later. The New York Times reported that he died at the age of 91 on August 28, leaving behind two sons, a daughter, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren — and, of course, countless customers who appreciated his vast knowledge and extreme love of music of all genres. His wife Bobette Cohen Gershenz, who encouraged him to open the store and worked in it alongside her husband, died in 1999.
Those who did not turn to Gershenz in search of some rare vinyl might have instead seen him on television or in a movie. In addition to being a music maven, Gershenz was also a sought-after character actor. His credits included “Will & Grace,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Sarah Silverman Show” and “The Hangover.”
Apparently, acting came as naturally to him as his lifelong love of music. “He was just saying the lines as if it was him. Murray was the character. He didn’t have to act,” said Corey Allen Kotler, his manager.
Just watch “Music Man Murray” to see for yourself:
Music promoter Sid Bernstein, who worked with legends from Judy Garland to Jimi Hendrix and orchestrated the Beatles’ historic concert in New York’s Shea Stadium in 1965, died on Wednesday aged 95.
Bernstein, an agent and manager who according to his friend, publicist Merle Frimark, died in New York, worked with some of the biggest names in show business, including Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones and Ray Charles.
But it was through his concept of staging concerts at stadiums, and his help launching the so-called British invasion by first bringing the Beatles to the United States, that he made his biggest mark.
Bernstein once said of managing the Beatles that he had to convince Carnegie Hall and his financial backers to take a chance on “this then-unknown group” after he became “fascinated with the hysteria that surrounded them.”
Other top acts Bernstein worked with over the years included Tito Puente, Fats Domino and Tony Bennett.
Gary David Goldberg died June 23 after a long battle with brain cancer. Now the world is short a talented television writer, and also a mensch.
I met Goldberg in the fall of 1996, at a rehearsal for his new TV show, “Spin City.” I was a reporter and he was a legend. The deal with the ABC PR person was that I could watch the rehearsal from the studio seats, and I might be able to meet Goldberg — briefly — if there was a break. The interview was scheduled to take place on the phone the following day.
There was a break in the rehearsal, and a nervous publicist took me to meet him. She clearly wanted to get me away and back into my seat as quickly as possible. But Goldberg had a different idea. We chatted for 10 or 15 minutes. He took me over to meet the show’s star, Michael J. Fox, who, as I recall, was having a cigarette under a No Smoking sign.
Fox joined the conversation, spending most of that time praising his boss. In fact, he said, he wouldn’t have returned to the grind of series television for anyone else.
When they had to get back to work, Goldberg said “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
See me? We were supposed to do a telephone interview. They told me in-person was impossible.
They’re just being overprotective, Goldberg said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
In the outpouring of obituaries and appreciations of actor James Gandolfini, who died yesterday at age 51, there’s been a tendency to confuse the man with his most famous character, Tony Soprano. That’s a pretty obvious mistake — an actor isn’t the same as the role he plays — but it’s also kind of understandable. When Jason Alexander eventually goes (not that it should happen anytime soon), I’m pretty sure we’ll all be talking about George Costanza.
And, truth be told, Gandolfini didn’t seem to mind putting on the Soprano act, even in a not-strictly “Sopranos” context. Here, for example, he appears basically as Tony Soprano, in an ad for the Israeli satellite channel YES. So here’s to you, James Gandolfini.
Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk died after a long battle with cancer yesterday at Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv. The renowned writer was 83.
Kaniuk was born in Tel Aviv on May 2, 1930. The list of people associated with his early childhood reads like a who’s who of the early days of Tel Aviv’s cultural life and society. His father, Moshe Kaniuk, was the personal secretary of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, and became the first curator of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His godfather was the poet Haim Nahman Bialik; his kindergarten teacher was the wife of pioneer and poet Joseph Haim Brenner; his school doctor was the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky.
In his youth, he was a member of the prestate Jewish underground Palmach, and was part of the Palyam − the Palmach’s naval force. He fought in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a time of his life that provided much inspiration for his later work.
Read more at Haaretz.com
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here. Translated by Ezra Glinter.
On May 18 writer, activist and longtime Forverts columnist Tsirl Steingart died in a car accident in Palm Beach, Florida. She was 97 years old.
Steingart was born March 11, 1916 in Bialystok, where she was an active participant in the Bundist children’s organization Sotsyalistishe Kinder Farband, or S.K.I.F.
In 1938 Steingart emigrated to France, where she helped found a local S.K.I.F. branch. During the Second World War she was a member of the French Resistance, helping to rescue children from Vichy and German authorities.
Following the War, in 1951, Steingart left Europe for Montreal. There she served as principal of the Avrom Reisen School before moving to New York in 1960.
Steingart began writing for the Forverts in 1964, and became a regular contributor in 1967. She edited a section titled “Eat in Good Health” under the pen name Nina Blum, and for many years authored a column about fashion.
Steingart also wrote widely about social issues, and was a pioneering journalist in the Yiddish press on subjects affecting women.
In 1969 artist Channa Horwitz got an insulting review titled “Valley Housewife Makes Pretty Drawings” for a complex show that would make history today. She was the only woman in the Art and Technology Exhibition at the Los Angles County Museum in 1971, but was confined to the catalog and not allowed to realize her piece in the exhibition. This set off a furor in the feminist community that helped fuel the movement in Los Angeles.
Horwitz died April 29 at age 80, and is going out with laurels. Her work is being featured in this summer’s Venice Biennale. She just won a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she has a show up at the Francois Ghebaly Gallery, in Los Angeles. For a woman who worked in relative isolation with no support from the art world until she was in her 70s, it is a considerable achievement.
Over her long career, Horwitz worked primarily with drawings, creating a complex body of works on paper, including her iconic “Sonakinatography” (1968-2004) series. Using a system based on eight numbers associated with eight colors, the works reinterpret the traditional minimalist grid with a sensual twist, featuring meticulous hand drawings of complex geometric patterns with alternating colors and symbols on graph-ruled Mylar.
E.L. Konigsburg, the author of more than 20 beloved children’s books, died April 19 at 83. She was a two-time winner of the Newberry Medal, and the only author to receive the Newberry Medal and the Newberry Honor in the same year.
Her best-known book, “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,”published in 1967, has become a classic. School Library Journal named it one of the “Top 100 Chapter Books” of all time. It tells the fictional story of 12-year-old Claudia Kincaid (many of Konigsburg’s protagonists are 12-years-old, “Because it is at that age that the serious question of childhood is asking for an answer,” she once said), who runs away from home with her younger brother in tow. The two set up housekeeping at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and engage in a mystery having to do with an angel sculpture, possibly made by Michelangelo, purchased at auction from one reclusive Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
Among Konigsburg’s other works is “About the B’nai Bagels” published in 1969, and like “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” illustrated by the author. The protagonist of this book is Mark Setzer, a boy preparing for his bar mitzvah whose life is complicated by his mother’s becoming his Little League baseball team’s manager.
Actress Bonnie Franklin, best known as a single working mother in the hit CBS comedy “One Day at a Time” in an era when U.S. television was redefining families in pop culture, died March 1 at age 69.
She died at her Los Angeles home of complications from pancreatic cancer, surrounded by relatives and friends, according to a statement issued by the CBS network on behalf of her family.
Franklin, a petite redhead, had acted on Broadway before being cast as the harried divorcee Ann Romano in “One Day at a Time,” which debuted in December 1975 and ran for nine seasons on CBS. It co-starred Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips as her two head-strong daughters.
Franklin’s performance on the series garnered her an Emmy nomination in 1982. She previously earned a Theatre World Award and a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut work in the 1970 musical “Applause,” in which she sang the title song.
During a career spanning six decades, she starred in more than 30 television series and made-for-TV movies while continuing her work in live theater. But she was best remembered for her work on the Norman Lear-produced sitcom “One Day at a Time.”
Joseph Friedenson, the founder and long-time editor of the Agudath Israel organ Dos Yiddishe Vort, passed away February 23 at his home in Manhattan, the Forverts reported. Friedenson, a survivor of the Holocaust, founded the monthly Yiddish journal in the Feldafing and Landesberg displaced persons camps in Germany, and edited it continually in New York since 1953.
Friedenson was born in Lodz in 1922. His father, Eliezer Gershon Friedenson, was one of the leaders of the Beis Yaakov school movement in Poland. After the outbreak of World War II the family fled to Warsaw where they were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. There Friedenson married his wife, Gittel Leah Zilberman, who passed away in 2006. They both survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Szydlowiec Ghetto, the Starachowice labor camp and Auschwitz, and were reunited a few months after the end of the war.
In a 2007 profile of Friedenson for the Forward, Toby Appleton Perl described him as “an avid newspaperman” who read multiple publications daily in several languages. During its heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s, Dos Yiddishe Vort boasted a readership of up to 8,000 people and published many highly regarded Yiddish writers, including Friedenson himself.
Watch Forverts editor Boris Sandler interview Joseph Friedenson in 2011:
Radio personality Isaiah Sheffer died today in New York at age 76. Sheffer was co-founder and artistic director of the performing art center Symphony Space on the upper west side of Manhattan, and was known nationally as the long time host of the public radio series “Selected Shorts,” which began in 1985. Sheffer started Symphony Space in 1978 with the conductor Alan Miller, and turned a run down theater into one of the most active cultural centers in New York. Sheffer stepped down from the post in 2009.
Isaiah Sheffer was born in the Bronx and was a child actor in the Yiddish theater. He had a lifelong connection to both Yiddish and English radio. His uncle was the noted actor and Yiddish radio personality Zvi Scooler. Starting as a young man in the 1960s, Sheffer’s sonorous voice could be heard on radio station WEVD, the station of the Jewish Daily Forward, where he was the English language host and newscaster. Sheffer was also the author of numerous plays and musicals including “Yiddle with a Fiddle,” “The Rise of David Levinsky” and “Dreamers and Demons: The Three Worlds of Isaac Bashevis Singer.”
Iconic comic book artist and writer Joe Kubert spent most of his life drawing brawny super heroes, lionhearted jungle men and rampaging dinosaurs. But at age 75, Kubert began a journey back to his roots that led him to illustrate Warsaw Ghetto fighters, Holocaust survivors, and ethical mini-lessons for the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement. Kubert, who passed away August 12 in New Jersey at age 85, left behind an enormous fan base in the comic book world as well as a growing audience of admirers in the Jewish community.
“I’ve known and interviewed many older comic book artists, and I usually find that their abilities diminish after a certain age,” noted comics historian and publisher Craig Yoe. “But the amazing thing about Joe was that in his 70s and 80s he was at the top of his game, still constantly and passionately drawing new comics and graphic novels of the highest caliber.”
Kubert’s most recent phase was his immersion in his Jewish roots. While keeping up a heavy schedule of comic book illustration he began making time for a number of Jewish projects. He helped design “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust” for the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, a traveling exhibit of 1940s political cartoons from American newspapers about the Jews in Nazi Europe, and served as a judge in a student cartooning contest. For the Lubavitch magazine “Moshiach Times” he drew a series of two-page adventures with moral lessons called “The Adventures of Yaakov and Isaac.” He also wrote and illustrated “Jew Gangster,” a graphic novel about the Jewish underworld figures of yesteryear.
I can think of three popular ideas about what God actually looks like: the bearded man wearing a white robe who sits on a cloud deciding when to make earthquakes and who sometimes shows up in a burning bush; George Burns in “Oh God!” and, long before he actually played God in “Bruce Almighty,” many of us believed that when we left this mortal coil it would indeed be the voice of Morgan Freeman welcoming us to the afterlife. But I’m of the very tiny minority that believes that when God speaks, he sounds just like David Rakoff did.
Rakoff, who passed away last night at the age of 47 after a battle with cancer, had a distinctly clever voice in his writing and his speech. He was the sort of writer who didn’t need to try and be funny; instead, it came out in his essays like quick flashes of color — albeit dark colors, since his humor could be described as “black.” He didn’t dwell on how witty or intelligent he was, he just kept producing works that proved he had these qualities in spades.
Ulrike Hessler, the first woman to be appointed intendant of the historic, four-century old Saxon State Opera in Dresden, popularly known as the Semper Opera, died July 30 in Munich, after a 19-month battle with cancer. She was 57.
I first met Hessler eight years ago, when she was the director of the press office of the Bavarian State Opera for its then-intendant, Peter Jonas, and about to become intendant there herself. She worked her way up after being hired in 1984 by General Director Wolfgang Sawallisch as a press assistant. An extremely tall, friendly woman with an irrepressible sense of excitement and good humor, Hessler was thrilled by everything about opera, and loved sharing her enthusiasms.
On that first visit to Munich’s historic National Theater, I was stunned to see what they were doing with Wagner’s “Tannhäuser” (the opera which, incidentally, inspired Theodor Herzl’s Zionism). It was a nightmarishly confrontational production by David Alden, the last act of which was set in the ruins of a concentration camp instead of in the valley of Wartburg as Wagner originally intended. In the very theater where Wagner himself had introduced so many of his operas, and the city which was the “cradle” of the Nazi movement, here was a production which deliberately and successfully reversed the way in which the Nazi machine propagandized with Wagner’s work.
My Facebook feed blew up last night with appreciative status updates in tribute to Nora Ephron. The burst of activity made me wonder whether everyone’s Facebook feed was full of Ephron’s urbane wit, or if things were quieter in places where people prefer NASCAR to Zabar’s.
Today, the day after her untimely death from illness at age 71, Nora Ephron will be eulogized by many, many appreciative people. They will write heartfelt tributes to the writer, journalist and filmmaker who gave the world films like “When Harry Met Sally…” and books like “Heartburn.”
But no one will write a tribute as well as Ephron would have written it herself. And that is the true depth of our loss.