Arts & Culture

A Birthday Celebration for Curacao’s Historic Synagogue

By Samuel D. Gruber

As evening fell in Willemstad in Curacao on April 16, scores of well-dressed people headed to the narrow Hanchi di Snoa, and into the courtyard of the Snoa — Curacao’s venerable synagogue built in 1732, home to Congregation Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas, and one where no Sabbath or major holiday has gone uncelebrated in 275 years. Inside, through the arched entrance portal with the inscription from Psalm 26 “B’makhelim abarekh Adonai” (“In the congregations I will bless the Lord”), all 144 candles were burning in the three large chandeliers and the sconces attached to the four big columns. The great columns recall those in the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, the “mother” congregation of Curacao’s Jews, who first settled “on the island” in 1651, making Willemstad the oldest surviving Jewish community in the Western hemisphere. These columns have added significance, for when the Snoa was built these were dedicated to the four Matriarchs — an unusual but prescient nod to the strength of the women of the Curacao community.Read More

Life After Death

By Miriam Shaviv

For many non-Orthodox Jews, the concept of the physical resurrection of the dead has always been difficult. Prayers mentioning the doctrine — including such central texts as the second paragraph of the Amidah, in which God is addressed as “the one who revives the dead… and restores life” — have been translated in Reform and Conservative prayer books either very vaguely or completely misleadingly. In Abraham Geiger’s 19th-century German translation, for example, God simply “bestows life here or there”; in the Reform movement’s 1975 Gates of Prayer siddur, resurrection becomes “power over [one’s] own life.”Read More

Dangerous Sport

By Mindy Aloff

Next year, the Summer Olympic Games will take place in Beijing. This choice of location was a controversial decision by the International Olympic Committee, owing to concerns in the West that China could use the Olympics as a way to divert international attention from its grim record on human rights and as an excuse to crack down on internal political dissent for the purpose of protecting foreign visitors. Didn’t something similar happen in Nazi Germany during the 1936 winter and summer Olympic games, both of which the Nazis hosted? The question so engaged Steve Forman, an editor and vice president of W.W. Norton, that he asked David Clay Large, a scholar of modern Germany and a marathoner, to tackle this in a book.Read More

Susan Sontag: Juggler of the Moral and the Aesthetic

By Mark Oppenheimer

In his foreword to “At the Same Time,” the new collection of essays and speeches by his mother, the late Susan Sontag, David Rieff writes: “It is sometimes said of my mother’s work that she was torn between aestheticism and moralism, beauty and ethics. Any intelligent reader of hers will see the force of this, but I think a shrewder account would emphasize their inseparability in her work.”Read More

A Window on the Western Wall

By Jeannie Rosenfeld

The Western Wall may be the holiest Jewish site, but it isn’t commonly associated with high art. It is more the province of sentimental pictures and tourist trinkets. “Solomon’s Wall,” a majestic painting that commanded $3,624,000 at Christie’s New York last month, was an exceptional example, an emotional rendering by a non-Jew who was Russia’s foremost Orientalist. Measuring nearly 7 feet by 5 feet, the oil is among only a handful of works from the “Palestinian” series completed by Vasili Vereshchagin (1842-1904) between 1884 and ’85, following his yearlong sojourn in the Holy Land.Read More

S. Yizhar’s Birth of a Nation

By Joshua Cohen

A memoir of an extraordinary life written in an ordinary manner is no great memoir. A memoir of an ordinary life written in an extraordinary manner is no great memoir, either. But what of a memoir of an extraordinary life written in a manner so extraordinary, so loving and lavishly ravishing, that it transcends the genre of individual autobiography to become, instead, a biography of an entire nation, the true account of its most hidden soul?Read More

Building a New Middle East — Through Soccer and Weight Loss

By Juliet Lapidos

Coaches, take heart: Sports may promote peace. During the famous “Christmas Truce” of 1914, British and German soldiers called an unofficial cease-fire and played a game of soccer. In 1971, China and the United States came together over a game of table tennis. For the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, North and South Korean athletes competed for the same team.Read More

An Arts Space Rises by the Banks of Brooklyn’s Eerie Canal

By Jessica George Firger

From the outside, the structure resembles a fancy feed-storage bin: two converted oil silos overlooking Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal. Inside, the space recalls a rustic lodge.Read More

Looking Back at the Year in Pictures

By Steven Zeitchik

In an era in which choice threatens to overwhelm us, the overlooked film has become all too common. Jewish-themed films are, in this sense, doubly cursed. They cross into so many categories that unearthing them — and unearthing what makes them Jewish — is trickier than ever. And yet it is also technology that makes it easier both to produce and discover new films, as the indie filmmakers and the surprising number of viewers who seek them out could tell you. Read More

Remembering ‘Hair’ and The Tangle of the 1960s

By Rukhl Schaechter

Although no one celebrates it, a historic date in the American calendar was marked two weeks ago. On April 29, 1968, the musical that encapsulated the mood and spirit of the 1960s opened on Broadway. “Hair” both shocked and titillated its audiences with its in-your-face rejection of the values of the older generation, encouraging young people to experiment with hashish and LSD, and calling for the liberation of all societal constraints, epitomized by the now-famous scene in which the entire cast ripped off their clothes.Read More

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