Leon Botstein Wows at YIVO

On the Go

By Masha Leon

Published January 20, 2012, issue of January 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“If, in the future, [Yiddish] will have the same status and [culturally] stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Latin and Greek, we won’t be doing so badly,” Bard College president Leon Botstein said at the January 9 launch of the YIVO-Bard Institute for East European Jewish History and Culture Winter Intercession Program. “We are not involved in this for nostalgic reasons,” he continued. “We tend to define ourselves through the eyes of anti-Semites [overlooking] the richness and artistic legacies of a civilization of a culture that is diverse beyond our own Yiddish language, which is not only a language of jokes.” As an afterthought, Botstein quoted the late social critic and historian Irving Howe: “In the good old days, all the really great students knew Yiddish.”

In his welcoming address, Jonathan Brent, executive director and CEO of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, addressed institute students from Mexico, Israel, France and Ukraine, and mused, “This is a civilization [which may be] invisible to us, yet its essence persists.” He also noted the influence of German and Russian literature on “the richness of the [Yiddish] culture,” and that “Sigmund Freud, who was born in 1856 [to] Yiddish-speaking Galician Jews, moved to Germany and then to Vienna. Yet when writing about him, it is within the context of German civilization.”

The three-year YIVO-Bard program is designed to equip a new generation of scholars, teachers and communal leaders with a deep knowledge of Eastern European Jewish history and culture. Following Bard professor Cecile Kuznitz’s lecture on “The History of YIVO,” the evening’s second speaker, Benjamin Harshav, Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Yale University, remarked that though “YIVO was founded by intellectuals, it was open to all.” The author of several books about Marc Chagall, Harshav recalled, “When I was 12 and a half, I was asked to act as a guide at the [Vilna] YIVO and I did it!” When I later spoke with Harshav, he explained that one of the highlights at that time was the YIVO exhibit about the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz. I told him that in 1940, when he was attending YIVO, I used to go after school to visit my father, Matvey Bernsztein, who worked at YIVO.

The evening was enhanced by two exquisitely performed musical interludes: “Reb Nakhmen’s Nign” (“Rabbi Nakhmen’s Melody”) by Leo Zeitlin (1884–1930) and “Klezmer’s Wedding Music” by Joachim Stutschewsky (1891–1982). The music was performed by young musicians Caeli Smith and Gabrielle Fischler (violins), Charlotte Steiner (viola), Jennie Brent and Laura Kegeles (cellos) and Robert Buxton, piano. They are all members of YIVO’s Sidney Krum Young Artists Concert Series.

N.Y. Jewish Film Festival’s “Mabul” Has Opening Nighters Awash in Emotion

Mabul” (“The Flood”) was nominated for six Ophir Awards — the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Awards — and was chosen as the New York Jewish Festival’s January 11 opening night selection. And it’s no wonder: That a film about a dysfunctional family dealing with an autistic son would prove mesmerizing and uplifting is a tribute to the film’s screenwriters, Noa Berman-Herzberg and Guy Nattiv (who also directed the film). Berman-Herzberg and Michael Moshonov (who portrays Tomer, the autistic 17-year-old) were present at the film’s January 10 preview screening and reception, held at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. The audience was greeted by Rose Kuo, executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center; Claudia Gould, Helen Goldsmith Menschel Director of The Jewish Museum, and Aviva Weintraub, associate curator and director of the New York Jewish Film Festival, who moderated the post-screening question-and-answer session.

Michael Moshonov and Noa Berman-Herzberg
karen leon
Michael Moshonov and Noa Berman-Herzberg

The fragile 13-year-old [Yoni] (Yoav Rotman) is preparing for his bar mitzvah. His Torah portion is Noah and the Flood. Yoni is inundated with woes of his own: He is a smart, young entrepreneur who is being bullied by a gang of kids that stiffed him on the pay they owed him for doing their homework assignments. His bar mitzvah tutor is an insensitive, rigid man. His father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), formerly a pilot, is in a depressive fog, and his mother, Miri (magnificently portrayed by the stunning Ronit Elkabetz), runs a day care center while trying to keep the family from imploding. She places Yoni in charge of his 17-year-old autistic brother, Tomer, who was “dumped” with his family when the facility where he’d been living shut down for financial reasons.

The bar mitzvah is in peril. The gang threatens Yoni. Tomer is completely uncommunicative and cannot be left alone for a second. Neither parent considers Yoni’s predicament or his angst. Yet, it is a real-life flood that jolts the family into a new dynamic. The bar mitzvah becomes a transcendent catalyst for the healing of both the family and the community.

During the Q&A, Weintraub asked Berman-Herzberg, “How did you come to write this?” The screenwriter explained: “It was based on a 28-minute short in film school in 2001. It took 10 years to develop into a feature film.” Moshonov described his own journey to inhabit the character: “I met with autistic children in Israel. I learned how they moved.” Berman-Herzberg added, “When Michael auditioned for the part, he had everyone crying.” I was not the only one furtively dabbing at my eyes at the film’s end.

The Jewish Museum and the Film Society of Lincoln Center present the New York Jewish Film Festival, which takes place from January 11 to January 26.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.