The Arty Semite

Master Potter Daniel Bellow

By Gary Shapiro

Gary Shapiro
Daniel Bellow (left) and his brother Adam Bellow at the New York International Gift Fair.

Colorful tumblers, bowls, vases and pitchers beckoned viewers to come close and examine their artisanship. The handmade creations were the work of Daniel Bellow, whose pottery was on display at the recent New York International Gift Fair at the Javits Center in New York. The potter had traveled from the Berkshires to show his high-fire porcelain to the crowds of people who visit the show each year.

Bellow’s interest in pottery dates to when he was about 15. He had walked into a pottery studio at his prep school, Northfield Mount Hermon, where he said he had been “sent to when I was having too much fun in New York during the CBGB punk rock days.”

“There was this big, hippie dude spinning pots,” he recalled. “A semicircle of teenage girls were sitting around in amazement.” Bellow remembered thinking, “I have to have this.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pottery, Gary Shapiro, New York International Gift Fair, Daniel Bellow, Saul Bellow

Jewish Novels From the Finnish Saul Bellow

By Benjamin Ivry

The modern history of Finland’s Jews, who during World War II fought on the Nazi side to combat the Russians, is genuinely surreal. It seems appropriate that the leading novelist of Finland’s tiny Jewish population — today estimated at around 1,500 people — should be equally expressive of a surrealist sensibility.

Daniel Katz, born in 1938 in Helsinki, is a prolific author, whose books have been translated in many languages, but not English. His 2009 story collection, “The Love of the Berber Lion,” was published on March 9th by France’s Gaïa Editions, in French as “L’amour du lion berbère.” Its offbeat sensibility follows in the tradition of his previous books, such as 1969’s “When Grandpa Skied to Finland”, an autobiographical novel in which his grandfather Benno goes through the First World War unscathed but then is injured when a mohel’s knife slips during his grandson’s bris.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Dina Kantor, Daniel Katz

Out and About: Saul Bellow's Politics; iTalmud, Reviewed

By Ezra Glinter

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Suze Rotolo, Saul Bellow, Ruth R. Wisse, Roger Waters, Rahm Emanuel, James Levine, JQ Wingate Prize, iTalmud

Out and About: Iran beats Israeli Chess Record; Thorstein Veblen on Jewish Intellectualism

By Ezra Glinter

Detail from a mural by Maurice Sendak, now at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Morgan Library and Museum, Saul Bellow, Sami Rohr Prize, Safed Klezmer Festival, Roger Ebert, Out and About, Maurice Sendak, Just Go With It, Jennifer Aniston, J.D. Salinger, Grammy Awards, Eve Arnold, Cynthia Ozick, Chess, Bob Dylan, Avett Brothers, Albert Brooks, Adam Sandler, Thorstein Veblen, William Shatner

Leon Kirchner, a Sometimes-Grumpy, Permanently Inspired Composer

By Benjamin Ivry

Contemporary American composers have few able defenders, and once out of sight, composers are often forgotten, so it is good to have a biographical tribute, out in November, from University of Rochester Press to Leon Kirchner, who died in 2009 at age 90.

“Leon Kirchner: Composer, Performer, & Teacher” by Robert Riggs recounts the life and work of the Brooklyn-born composer, whose father, Samuel Kirzner, was an embroiderer from Odessa. As Kirchner wrote in a lapidary 1970 essay, the elder Kirzner was:

[a] prodigy. By the age of fourteen [Kirzner] had embroidered an elaborate gown for the Czarina… There were pogroms. He came to America in a cattle boat.

Kirchner’s own works, from those for solo piano (see video below) to his scandalously overlooked and still-unrecorded 1977 opera “Lily,” based on Saul Bellow’s “Henderson the Rain King,” continue in the family tradition of stern attention to detail. Uncompromising thorniness is a hallmark of many Kirchner compositions, and indeed a source of their integrity and strength, as one would expect after his studies with Arnold Schoenberg and Ernest Bloch, two great Jewish composers who would never be confused with the Sunshine Boys.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Saul Bellow, Leon Kirchner, Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman, Franz Kafka

A Restless Photographer in Chicago

By David Chesanow

© Art Shay
John F. Kennedy addresses farmers in South Dakota.

From the celebrated to the marginalized, from the heat of a summer antiwar protest to the searing cold of a Windy City winter, Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has been capturing unique, often strikingly ironic images for more than six decades. Thirty two of them, including pictures of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin and Marlon Brando, are currently in display in an exhibit titled “That Was Then” at Chicago’s Thomas Masters Gallery through December 23.

There’s a picture of writer Nelson Algren — who Shay photographed over a 10-year period — waiting for a bus on a rainy Chicago street in 1949. (A Shay photo of Algren graces the jacket of his 1956 novel “A Walk on the Wild Side,” and Shay’s famous shot of Algren’s lover, Simone de Beauvoir, fresh out of a bath, is the subject of a book to be published in Paris next year.)

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Time, Thomas Masters Gallery, Sports Illustrated, Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan, Simone de Beauvoir, Saul Bellow, Photography, Newsweek, New York Times, Nelson Algren, National Portrait Gallery, Muhammad Ali, Marlon Brando, Life, John F. Kennedy, Jessica Origliasso, James Baldwin, Fortune, Erica DeGlopper, David Chesanow, Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Cassius Clay, Bobby Kennedy, Art Shay, Art Institute of Chicago, Alex Miteff, A Walk on the Wild Side

Short Friday

By Avi Steinberg

Earlier this week, Avi Steinberg wrote about Kafka in Tel Aviv and shared a horribly embarrassing memo. His first book, “Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian,” was just released. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Winter Fridays in Jewish day school were the moments that made you proud to be of Israelite stock. I speak, of course, of early dismissal. Shabbes starts early, really early, and so the school day ends up being just a class or two in the morning — and one of those classes is Hebrew, which totally doesn’t count. For the uninitiated, Hebrew class in Jewish schools, at least where I went, is taught by some churlish Israeli mom who reeks of cigarette smoke and has neither the qualification nor the slightest inclination to teach the language. Typically, she would use Friday’s early dismissal as an excuse to whip out the accordion and have a sing-a-long.

I mention this by way of introduction. While I cannot offer you an accordion sing-a-long, I will, in honor of the great Jewish tradition of early Friday dismissal, be relatively brief.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Running the Books, Philip Roth, My Jewish Learning, I.B. Singer, Jewish Book Council, Books, Franz Kafka, Avi Steinberg, Author Blog Series, Saul Bellow

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

By Ezra Glinter

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yiddish Song, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Sex and the City, Saul Bellow, Salomon Maimon, Prostitution, Out and About, Matisyahu, KlezKamp, Lee Siegel, Jewish Quarterly, Jerry Stiller, Ingrid Pitt, Hanukkah, Ezra Glinter, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Dylan

Out and About: The Canadian 'Herzog'; Weimar Cinema at MoMA

By Ezra Glinter

  • Meet Morris Schutt, the Mennonite “Herzog.”

  • David Samuels interviews Noam Chomsky.

  • The Arc Project for Palestine, a plan for a future Palestinian State, was named “Future Project of the Year” at the World Architecture Festival in Barcelona.

  • “Weimar Cinema, 1919-1933: Daydreams and Nightmares” opens this week at the Museum of Modern Art.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: World Architecture Festival, Weimar Cinema, Saul Bellow, Out and About, Noam Chomsky, MoMA, Leonard Bernstein, Herzog, Hershey Felder, David Samuels, Arc Project for Palestine

Jews and Baseball, by the Numbers

By Eitan Kensky

Getty Images
Tommy Hunter of the Texas Rangers during Game Four of the World Series.

The Fox camera kept returning to Jon Daniels, the Texas Rangers’ Jewish General Manager, during Game Two of the World Series last Thursday. Texas’s bullpen was collapsing in spectacular fashion for the second time this postseason, and Daniels was struggling to stay expressionless. Struggling, but you could see him suffering the frustration that comes from having your worldview confirmed.

Like many GMs, Daniels is known for using sabermetrics, a data-driven approach to baseball. Sabermetricians believe that reserving the team’s best reliever for the ninth inning is ludicrous. Yes, the game technically ends in the ninth, but more often the crucial moment comes with runners on and few outs in the seventh, or eighth; the team should use its best reliever then to shut the opposing team down instead of waiting until the game is essentially decided. These two Rangers’ postseason games could easily be exhibits A and B in the case against the closer.

Jews have always been interested in baseball, playing it and aestheticizing it through literature. But what’s different about the work of GMs like Daniels, Theo Epstein of the Red Sox, and Cleveland Indians President Mark Shapiro is that their approach to the sport is driven by a vibrant intellectualism that emphasizes debate and developing new methodologies.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: fivethirtyeight, World Series, Value over Replacement Player, Theo Epstein, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, String Theory, Saul Bellow, Sabermetrics, Red Sox, Partisan Review, New York Intellectuals, Nate Silver, Matthew Arnold, Mark Shapiro, Lionel Trilling, Leslie Fiedler, Jon Daniels, Howard Megdal, Hillel, Eitan Kensky, Chaim Bloom, Cleveland Indians, Baseball Talmud, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball

This Week in Forward Arts and Culture

By Ezra Glinter

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

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

  • Philologos talks italics.

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

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: This Week in Forward Arts and Culture, Saul Bellow, Precious Life, Kate Bernheimer, Asaf Hanuka, Ezra Glinter

Chabon and Alter: Is it Esprit d'escalier or Trepverter?

By Mark Cohen

Robert Alter discussed “tough Jews” with Michael Chabon on March 18 as part of the Berkeley Seminars in Modern Jewish Culture Lecture, but there seemed to be a gap in the Jewishness.

Alter, the Berkeley professor and great critic of Jewish writing, interviewed the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon and asked about the author’s exuberant style, the inspiration for Chabon’s novel, “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” (his counter-historical novel of a Yiddish homeland in Alaska that the Coen brothers are reportedly filming) and other topics that those who have been following Chabon’s career — and that seemed to be just about all of the 200 or so attendees — had probably heard before.

But one expression spoke volumes about the writers of Jewish literature today, and what cultural touchstones they reach for most naturally.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Saul Bellow, Robert Alter, Michael Chabon, Mark Cohen, Herzog, Esprit d'Escalier, Books, Coen brothers, Berkeley, Alaska, Trepverter, Yiddish




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