The Arty Semite

Meet the Brain Behind the Jerusalem Biennale

By Renee Ghert-Zand

“This is the first major event I have ever produced,” said Ram Ozeri about the Jerusalem Biennale, taking place in Israel’s capital until October 31. “Well, the first major event other than my wedding,” he quipped.

‘My Daughter’ by Neta Elkayam and Michael Elkayam. Photo by Amit Shai Cohen.

All joking aside, it was no easy task to put together six simultaneous exhibitions of contemporary Jewish art in the Holy City. Having decided three years ago to study art at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, after completing an MA in economics, the 33-year-old Ozeri was looking for a way to bring together his two major interests. Then, he got the idea for a Jerusalem biennale when he visited the Berlin Biennale in 2010.

“I kept the idea on a low fire, and then I started working seriously on it beginning last November. The past few months, the work became very intensive,” Ozeri explained in a phone interview with The Arty Semite.

Ozeri put together a team of curators from various disciplines including design, photography, installation art, fine arts, dance, and music. The goal was to represent all of these, but to also make certain that different Jewish streams, backgrounds and approaches would be included.

Rather than issuing an open call, the curators reached out to their circles and invited artists to participate. More than 50 artists, mainly from Israel but also some from other countries, are participating in the six exhibitions being held at five different locations around Jerusalem.

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Philip Levine Wins $100k Prize

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Former United States poet laureate Philip Levine has been awarded the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement. The award, which comes with a $100,000 prize, is given annually for “outstanding and proven mastery of the art of poetry.”

Levine was 83 when he was named poet laureate in 2011. Although he now lives in Fresno California and lived for some time in New York, he is most closely associated with the working class experience of his native Detroit. Levine began writing poetry during breaks between shifts as an autoworker, and his first collection, “On The Edge,” was published in 1963. “From the beginning of his career he has considered the assumptions of the American ruling class — especially those they have successfully transmitted to the rest of the country — with a degree of skepticism,” wrote Dan Friedman about him in the Forward.

Levine is known for his poetry collections, including, “What Work Is,” which won the 1991 National Book Award and “The Simple Truth,” which won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize. His “News of the World” was published in 2009.

“I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own,” Levine wrote about his motivation for becoming a poet. “I thought too that if I could write about it I could come to understand it; I believed that if I could understand my life—or at least the part my work played in it—I could embrace it with some degree of joy, an element conspicuously missing from my life.”

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'Music Man Murray' Gershenz Dies at 91

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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:

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Read Pittsburgh Jewish Newspapers From 1895

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Courtesy of The Jewish Chronicle

The Pittsburgh Jewish Newspaper Project is making it easier for genealogists and historians to do their research. Begun in 2004 and completed last year, the digital archive stores and makes accessible every edition of four different local Jewish publications dating from 1895 to 2010.

Anyone with an Internet connection can access the archive, which contains 8,700 issues and more than 230,000 images from the Jewish Criterion (1895-1962), the American Jewish Outlook (1934-1962), the Jewish Chronicle (1962-present), and the Y-JCC series (1926-1975).

The Jewish newspaper archive is a project of the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. “Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in digitization of library and archival materials,” said Gabrielle Michalek, head of the libraries’ archives and digital library initiatives. “We were on the vanguard of all of this, building the first and largest digital archives, beginning back in 1995 with the Senator H. John Heinz Archives.”

Carnegie Mellon tracked down all the back issues of the Criterion in Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Congregation’s archive, those of the Outlook and Y-JCC at the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center, and those of the Chronicle at that paper’s offices.

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Watch: Jerry Lewis's Holocaust Movie

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Footage from a never-released Jerry Lewis Holocaust film buried since the early 1970s was unearthed on YouTube on Saturday. The now-87-year-old Jewish comedic actor had promised that no one would ever see what he admitted was the “bad, bad, bad” film titled, “The Day the Clown Cried.”

YouTube

Seven minutes of footage from a 1972 Flemish documentary about the making of the film were uploaded to YouTube. The drama centers on a non-Jewish German circus clown, played by Lewis, who ends up in a Nazi concentration camp for making fun of Adolf Hitler in a bar. In the camp, he performs for enthusiastic Jewish children. The SS guards use the clown to help load the children onto a train to Auschwitz, but he accidentally ends up on the train. The clown is assigned to lead the children to the gas chambers, and he decides to join them in the chamber to entertain them as they are killed.

According to The Times of Israel, Lewis visited Auschwitz and lost 40 lbs. before beginning work on the movie. The behind-the-scenes and interview footage in the Flemish documentary indicate how dedicated to his craft Lewis was, and how seriously he took the making of the film.

After several disastrous test screenings, Lewis spiked the film, vowing never to let it be shown again.

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Taking Another Look at 'Suspicious Objects'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Moving around Jerusalem you always have to be on the lookout for suspicious objects, and to keep your distance from them. The Tower of David museum, however, has a collection of suspicious objects you’ll actually want to take a closer look at.

‘The Golden Dome’ by Ellia Nattel. Image courtesy of The Jerusalem Design Center.

Conceived together with “Threads,” a companion fashion exhibition, “Suspicious Objects” brings contemporary design to the museum this summer. High up in what was once the Ottoman governor’s room in the ancient citadel’s Phasael Tower, sit some 30 practical design objects and installation art pieces commenting on life in modern Jerusalem.

“It’s a commentary on Jerusalem being made not only in Jerusalem, but in the heart of the city,” said Tower of David spokeswoman Caroline Shapiro, making reference to the museum’s location near the Jaffa Gate, inside the walls of the Old City.

The exhibition highlights the creative work of 31 up-and-coming Israeli industrial designers (or design teams), who were asked to create pieces — preferably of practical application — inspired by Jerusalem. The objects they came up with either use humor in an attempt to deal with complex issues, reduce serious problems to manageable proportions, or approach the city in a poetic fashion.

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Feminist Fashion in the Tower of David

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Tamar Karavan

It’s a striking experience to enter a hall dating to the Crusader period deep in the bowels of the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem, and to encounter mannequins draped in haute couture by some of the Israel’s top contemporary fashion designers.

This is exactly the effect desired by new museum director Eilat Lieber and the exhibition’s curator, fashion photographer Tamar Karavan. “It’s a groundbreaking exhibition for this museum,” said Tower of David spokeswoman Caroline Shapiro, about the institution, which is known more for its archeologically excavated layers of the Holy City than for layers of fabric draped over models.

“Threads,” as the exhibition is titled, invites visitors to “experience contemporary fashion embroidered by history.” On view are exquisite garments created by 10 of Israel’s leading fashion designers — all women — inspired by 10 remarkable women from Jerusalem’s past. It’s a fashion show and feminist history lesson all rolled in to one.

“The brief to the designers was, ‘This historical character walks into your studio — dress her,’” explained Shapiro. “That’s it. The designer did not have to be historically accurate in any way, or even be historically inspired. She was free to interpret the woman in any way she wished.”

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Opera

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

If all goes according to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s plan, we’ll be seeing her on the bench next term. And if all goes according to Derrick Wang’s plan, we’ll also be seeing her on stage. To be precise, it won’t be the Jewish Justice herself in the spotlight, but an opera performer playing Ginsburg.

Wang, a musician and recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s Carey School of Law, is composing an opera titled “Scalia/Ginsburg,” based on Justice Ginsburg and Justice Antonin Scalia’s legal opinions. Somehow, when Wang read the opinions, he heard music — despite (or possibly, because of) the passionate positions Scalia and Ginsburg have taken from opposing wings of the Court.

“I realized this is the most dramatic thing I’ve ever read in law school… and I started to hear music — a rage aria about the Constitution,” Wang told NPR about Scalia’s dissents. “And then, in the midst of this roiling rhetoric, counterpoint, as Justice Ginsburg’s words appeared to me — a beacon of lyricism with a steely strength and a fervent conviction all their own. And I said to myself, ‘This is an opera.’”

It turns out that irrespective of their views on constitutional interpretation, Scalia and Ginsburg are good friends who happen to share a love of opera. (Ginsburg often lectures on the intersection of opera and the law.) When Wang requested the Justices’ permission to use their words for his opera’s libretto, they both happily gave it. However, they pointed out that in view of the First Amendment, there was actually no need for Wang to ask their permission.

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18 Ways to Look at Jerusalem

By Renee Ghert-Zand

What one person sees is not necessarily what another sees — even if they are both looking at the same thing. In the case of Israeli designer Tal Erez’s new “A Point of View” exhibition, that thing is Jerusalem.

Renee Ghert-Zand

Erez’s work on this project has given him a new perspective on the city. Now, with the interactive exhibition on view until July 28 at First Station, (Jerusalem’s recently renovated historic train station turned arts and entertainment venue) Erez is giving the public a chance to see Israel’s capital in a different way.

More precisely, visitors can look at Jerusalem in 18 ways — through specially made View-Master reels curated by Erez for the 3rd annual Jerusalem Season of Culture. Each reel has a different theme, a different interpretive narrative of the city. According to Erez, he originally had 30 themes, and whittled the number down to a more manageable number.

“As I got to know Jerusalem better, I realized that the city is all about clichés. Everyone here adopts a single narrative of the city and sticks to it. In Jerusalem, narrative seems to equal cliché,” the 31-year-old noted in an interview with The Arty Semite as he attended to final details of the exhibition’s installation.

“I began to think that maybe there was nothing beneath the clichés I could work with, so I decided to go for what is above them, to create a super-narrative,” he explained.

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100 Years of Kibbutz Quilting

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Julia Avrahami, 'Valley Fields'

An exhibition of 21 quilts showing until July 3 at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., stitches together a century of kibbutz life. Some of the quilts, full of colorful fields and small houses, celebrate the 100th anniversary of Israel’s kibbutz movement, while others are embroidered with a more critical eye toward the collective agricultural communities.

The quilts are a selection of a total of 56 that were created by members of the Israel Quilters Association for the centennial in 2010. They were shown together at the 2011 Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England, marking the first international group exhibition of Israeli quilts.

While the individual quilts reflect the artistic choices and skill of each crafter, they also indicate the lens through which she chose to look back upon an institution that has been the backbone of building of the Jewish State, but has also faced enormous challenges in recent decades. While some of the quilts stand out due to their technical sophistication, others are more noticeable for the statements they make. The few that combine the two attributes capture the most attention.

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The Banality of Movies About Google

By Renee Ghert-Zand

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange stole my intended headline for this post: “The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil.’” Or maybe it was a New York Times copy editor, who gave that title to Assange’s opinion piece accusing Google of technocratic imperialism. Either way, now I can’t use it for fear of plagiarism… or at least, a perceived lack of creativity.

The headline, a riff on the search giant’s motto, would have been perfect to sum up my impression of the new comedy, “The Internship.” “Wedding Crashers” duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play nearing-middle age buddies and out-of-work analog-era watch salesmen, who manage to get into Google’s internship program, improbably prove themselves (who says you can’t teach an old dog some new hi-tech tricks?), and teach a group of geeky misfit college students some life lessons along the way. The movie is such a banal, formulaic and predictable comedy that it most certainly did not merit rushing to catch an advance screening at a movie theater located literally next to the Google campus in Mountain View, California.

I guess I was hoping for a meta-experience akin to the one I had while watching “The Social Network” at the very same theater, which is also not far from Facebook headquarters. But then again, what was I thinking? This is a story co-written by Vince Vaughn and directed by Shawn Levy of “Night at the Museum” and “Date Night” fame. Director David Fincher, Academy and Emmy Award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin and Oscar-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg came nowhere near this production.

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Israeli Composer Appointed Cleveland Music Director

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Israeli-born composer Avner Dorman has been appointed Music Director of CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, which is set to celebrate its 10th anniversary season.

CityMusic Cleveland is a professional chamber orchestra that seeks to develop audiences by presenting free concerts in neighborhood venues. It presents four or five concerts per year and devotes most of its time and resources to building relationships with the leadership of the communities in which it plays, and on developing and delivering music education programs for the residents of those neighborhoods.

Dorman, a praised and prolific 38-year-old composer, who was recently profiled on The Arty Semite, has also worked as a conductor, interpreting classical and contemporary repertoire, including his own works.

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Gold Rush Synagogue Went From Bust to Boom

By Renee Ghert-Zand

It’s all because he looked up one day during services and noticed a crack in the ceiling of Congregation Emanu-El that Major General (ret.) Ed Fitch, an engineer with the Canadian Forces, ended up spearheading the 150th anniversary celebrations for the Victoria, British Columbia synagogue. Emanu-El is Canada’s oldest synagogue building still standing and still in use as a synagogue, and Fitch intends to ensure that it stands for another century and a half.

“For me, it’s all about the building,” Fitch told The Arty Semite about the rare Romanesque Revival building, considered one of the three most significant buildings in British Columbia. It was designed by Wright & Sanders, architects who went on to build many large and prestigious San Francisco buildings, most of which were destroyed in the city’s 1906 earthquake.

In addition to fundraising for the repairs and restoration required because of the shifting of the building’s roof supports over time, Fitch and other members of Emanu-El have been hard at work preparing for an all-day, high-profile celebration marking the congregation’s sesquicentennial on June 2.

Congregants and other locals will dress up in period costume to parade through town to the synagogue’s location at the corner of Pandora and Blanshard, where there will be a reenactment of the laying of the building’s cornerstone.

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Howard Jacobson Wins a Pig

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Author Howard Jacobson tried to be discreet about what he had eaten for breakfast while being interviewed about winning the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction. He’d had bacon and eggs, and the prize was a 10-year-old kunekune sow named Zoo Time, after Jacobson’s winning novel about a writer distracted from writing.

This was not the first time that the Man Booker-winning British writer has been awarded a Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse pig. He received his first one in 2000, and it was named Mighty Walzer, after his winning book that year. Jacobson admitted to having never gone back to visit Mighty Walzer, but promised to develop a closer relationship with Zoo Time.

The Wodehouse prize, which “captures the comic spirit of the Jeeves creator,” was presented to Jacobson at the Telegraph Hay Festival, a six-day arts and literature festival, considered to be Britain’s foremost event of its kind.

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Jewish Languages from Bukhori to Juhuri

By Renee Ghert-Zand

When asked to name Jewish languages, most people would say Hebrew and Yiddish. Some might also mention Ladino or Aramaic. It’s unlikely that they would know about Juhuri, Bukhori and Judeo-Median — and that is precisely why the Jewish Languages Project of the Endangered Language Alliance has come into being.

Juhuri, Bukhori and Judeo-Median are among the several dozen distinct languages Jews have spoken across the world throughout the millennia. Most of them are no longer spoken, and those that are still in use are in danger of disappearing.

“Scholarship on Jewish languages has been sporadic, and no one has focused on endangered ones,” said Ross Perlin, assistant director of the Endangered Languages Alliance and director of its Jewish Languages project. (Perlin is also a Forward contributor and was named to the 2012 Forward 50.) He, together with ELA executive director Daniel Kaufman and Persian language expert Habib Borjian, is trying to document, describe and preserve these languages, beginning with Juhuri, Bukhori and Judeo-Median. All three languages have Persian connections, with Juhuri spoken by Jews from southwest Iran and Caucasian Jews of Russia and Azerbaijan, Buhkori from southwest Iran and Central Asia, and Judeo-Median spoken by Jews from northwest-central Iran.

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There Will Be No Second 'Lebowski'

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Jeff Bridges, with his new “The Dude and the Zen Master” book, may be having a hard time saying goodbye to his “Big Lebowski” alter-ego.

But that is not at all the case with the Coen brothers, who recently said quite definitively that there would be no sequel to the 1998 cult classic, whose popularity continues to grow.

“No, I don’t see it in our future,” said Ethan Coen at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival last Monday. “I don’t think it’s going to happen … I just don’t like sequels,” added his brother Joel.

While Bridges and co-star John Turturro are game for a reprise of their roles in the film, the Coens are more focused on current and future projects — none of which are likely to involve hippie bowlers.

The filmmakers were in Cannes promoting their new film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a melancholy comedy about a struggling folk singer in 1961 New York. John Goodman, whose “Big Lebowski” character Walter Sobchak will not be reminding us again that he doesn’t roll on Shabbos, has a role in the film.

“Big Lebowski” fans will surely not be pleased with the Coen brothers’ decision, but it looks as though they will just have to abide.

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First Israeli Exhibit at the Louvre

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Perhaps the Mona Lisa is smiling about the fact that for the first time, an Israeli exhibition is on view at the Louvre in Paris.

Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

Visitors to the museum between now and mid-August will be able to see a 1,700 year-old mosaic floor that is believed by antiquities experts to have been part of a wealthy man’s house. The mosaic was recovered from under a garbage dump in Lod in central Israel in 1996, and was excavated by Miriam Avissar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in 2009.

It is believed that the mosaic, measuring approximately 50 by 27 feet, was laid around 300 C.E., and that it was the floor of a large reception room in a private home. At the time, Lod was known as Lydda (or by the Roman name Diospolis) and was a Roman Christian city. The mosaic was preserved by the house’s fresco-covered mud-brick walls, which had collapsed on to it.

With its depictions of colorful fish, birds and animals, the floor is highly unusual in that it shows hunting and marine scenes (including sailing vessels) without human figures.

The relic, which has been previously displayed in Israel and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is being exhibited in the Louvre’s Roman art and antiquities gallery.

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Rihanna Will Perform in Tel Aviv on Election Day

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

Making Tel Aviv’s upcoming municipal election day even more exciting, Rihanna will be giving a public concert in the city’s Park Hayarkon as the ballots are being counted. Scheduled for October 22, the concert will be the pop star’s first public performance in Israel.

Rihanna has been to Israel before, but in a more low-key capacity. During the summer of 2010, she performed at a relatively small venue in Jaffa as part of a deal with a local cellular company. That concert was open mainly to the company’s subscribers. Although details about her upcoming concert in Tel Aviv are not yet available and tickets are not yet being sold, it is believed that tens of thousands of fans will come out to see her perform in October.

The singer’s star power has cranked up considerably since her last visit to Israel, with her “Loud” (2010), “Talk That Talk” (2011), and “Unapologetic” (2012) albums having zoomed to the top of the charts. Billboard has ranked her as one of the best-selling artists of all time, and Forbes named her the fourth most powerful celebrity or 2012 on the basis of her having earned $53 million between May 2011 and May 2012.

While many residents of metropolitan Tel Aviv are looking forward to an entertaining election day, some local authorities are somewhat less enthusiastic about the timing of Rihanna’s show. They are worried that the extra road traffic that will be generated by concertgoers will deter voters from trying to get to polling stations.

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Barbra Streisand To Receive PhD From Hebrew U

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Getty Images

Another event has been added to Barbara Streisand’s busy schedule during her upcoming visit to Israel. In addition to singing at President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday party and giving two public concerts in Tel Aviv, she will receive an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The honor will be bestowed upon her on June 17, during the 76th Hebrew University International Board of Governors Meeting.

The honor recognizes Streisand for her professional achievements, human and civil rights leadership, philanthropy, and devotion to Israel and the Jewish people. In 1986, she established The Streisand Foundation, which is dedicated to fostering women’s equality and health, protecting human and civil rights, advancing the needs of at-risk children in society and preserving the environment. Since its inception, it has granted $25 million to more than 800 non-profit organizations around the world.

“Barbra Streisand’s transcendent talent is matched by her passionate concern for equality and opportunity for people of every gender and background. Equally important, her love of Israel and her Jewish heritage are reflected in so many aspects of her life and career. We are deeply proud to honor an individual who exemplifies these values which we at the Hebrew University share and uphold,” stated Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University.

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Renee Zellweger's Favorite Laundry Lady

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Not everyone has Zack Galifianakis renting an apartment for them, or Renee Zellweger paying to furnish it. But then again, not everyone is Mimi.

Mimi is an 88-year-old woman who, until very recently, lived in a laundromat on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, Calif. She is the subject of a film being made by Israeli actor and director Yaniv Rokah. Now entering post-production thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, “Queen Mimi” tells the story of how this feisty octogenarian, who was once a San Fernando Valley housewife, ended up living on the streets of Los Angeles for almost a decade before taking up permanent residence at Fox Laundry 18 years ago.

“When I first came to L.A. seven years ago, I would be heading every morning to work at Caffe Luxxe on Santa Monica Avenue. It was 5 a.m. and the street would be dark and empty, but I would always notice Mimi waking up in the laundromat,” Rokah recalled in a phone conversation with The Arty Semite.

“I started talking to her, and we became friends. She is such an interesting person, and I decided I’d better capture this before she’s no longer with us.”

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