Arts & Culture


Dancing with Demons

By Marina Harss

By all accounts, Jerome Robbins, the man behind “Fancy Free,” “Dances at a Gathering,” “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof” — and, for many years, George Balanchine’s number two at the New York City Ballet — was a perfectionist, an obsessive tinkerer, an uncompromising taskmaster and, generally speaking, a pain in the neck. He was described variously by collaborators as an “agony” to work with, “venomous,” and “crushing” to the psyches of his dancers. All this is known, and yet somehow still comes as something of a surprise when one thinks of the deep humanity, and empathy, that comes through in his works. And there is no doubt about Robbins’s central place in the world of American ballet. Eight years after his death, his works are in the repertory of most of the major ballet companies in the United States; just this past season, the American Ballet Theatre performed two of his works, and New York City Ballet will be presenting eight — including a major revival — in its upcoming winter season.Read More


After Years of Decline, Cantorial Music Gets a Second Act

By Gabriel Sanders

This past Sunday, a concert featuring a Hasidic cantor and 64 members of the New York Philharmonic drew 4,000 listeners to a sold-out Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Tickets went for as much as $250, and those on the waiting list numbered more than 1,000.Read More


Tiny Ninja Talmudists

It doesn’t even start out like a normal puppet show. The puppeteer — yes, there is a puppeteer — stands behind the table. He lays out a clock, a prayerbook, a pair of smiley-face finger puppets (yes, there are puppets, at least), and a plate of, uh, plastic food and chattering teeth.Read More


An Eastern European ‘Exodus’

By Irina Reyn

‘I think our ghosts are everywhere, all the time,” a young Polish man tells a visiting American Jew in Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum’s deeply heartfelt first novel. “The past does not leave us. And we do not leave the past.” “A Day of Small Beginnings” loosely revisits the story of Exodus through the lives of three generations of Polish Americans, and tells of the ghost who longs to reunite them with their Jewish identities. But the novel’s destination is less a concrete place than an internal state — a spiritual spark, lodged within us, that can be ignited by returning to and confronting a very unfinished past.Read More


Remembering the Y.U. of Yore

By Jerome A. Chanes

With all the hoopla surrounding last year’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Yeshiva College, the most interesting retrospective came about through the efforts of two recent graduates of Yeshiva University, the central institution of Modern Orthodoxy. Menachem Butler and Zev Nagel pulled together a tour de force of 64 short essays (originally published in the student newspaper The Commentator) in which former students, teachers and administrators share their reminiscences. The result is a highly idiosyncratic, often moving, frequently provocative collection illuminating an institution that has been both hyped and hissed over the years.Read More


Back to Berlin

By Cara Joy David

What would happen if, in our time, a German chancellor urged 6 million Jews to relocate to Germany? That is the question posed by Israel Horovitz’s play “Lebensraum,” which will enjoy a limited engagement at off-Broadway’s Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row from December 13 through December 30.Read More


Absurdity Returns to Chelm

By Rukhl Schaechter

Because Jewish folk humor depicts Chelm as a town inhabited by naive fools, few people realize that Chelm is actually a real town in Eastern Poland that was once home to 18,000 Jews and was highly regarded as a center of Torah study.Read More


A Cantor’s Tale

By Alexander Gelfand

He was a vaudeville star who was offered $100,000 to appear in Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer.” He toured North America, Europe and Palestine to tremendous acclaim, earning record fees and a kiss from Enrico Caruso. When he died in 1933, at the age of 51, more than 5,000 people attended his funeral in Israel, and more than 2,500 came to his memorial service in New York City’s Carnegie Hall.Read More


Arts-or-Crafts

By Menachem Wecker

When a friend’s 4-year-old son embraced one of Ruth Duckworth’s pots and said “Mama,” the sculptor made an unusual choice: She let the name stick. Duckworth, who has always resisted labeling her pieces, now calls some of them “Mama Pots.”Read More


Punky Town

By Joshua Cohen

The day the Bowery birthplace of punk CBGB’s closed last month, New Yorkers could open their New York Times and read an obituary for it — an article whose most shocking attribute was its byline. Richard Hell, the nom de punk and poetry of Richard Meyers, frontman for the Voidoids and the face of the 1980s so-called Blank Generation, had turned hack journalist for the most established of establishment papers. As Hell once asked in song, “Who says it’s good to be alive?”: If the underground still exists, it does so now at ground level, if not at a day-job worked 30 floors high above midtown.Read More


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