Arts & Culture


Blitzkrieg Flop

By Alexander Gelfand

By turns entertaining and infuriating, Steven Lee Beeber’s “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s” is a study in contradictions: Rarely have so many carefully researched facts been placed in service of such deeply flawed arguments.Read More


A Jew Walks Into a Bar...

By David Kaufmann

Funny is hard. Everyone knows that. And everyone, including Freud (especially Freud — what a joker!), knows that funny is not about what you say. It’s about how you say it. What nobody knows, and it’s a scandal, is how to bottle it, how to get it just right. It’s easier to figure out where and why it goes wrong.Read More


Jazzing Up Ancient Texts

By Mordechai Shinefield

In 2000, Ayelet Rose Gottlieb had just moved to Boston from Israel to attend the New England Conservatory when she received a care package from her mother. In it was a copy of ShirHaShirim, one of the five scrolls that constitute the third book of the Tanach. Many believe that King Solomon, born in Jerusalem in 1000 BCE, wrote the cycle of ancient poetry that deals with erotic love, expressed in the dialogue of a bridegroom and bride. Sitting down to absorb the book, Gottlieb found that King Solomon’s themes resonated, from the lush descriptive language to its story of a love affair.Read More


Reassessing FDR’s Legacy

By Gal Beckerman

In his counterfactual vision of the United States during World War II, “The Plot Against America,” Philip Roth imagines a world in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator turned America Firster and Nazi sympathizer. President Lindbergh soon signs a nonaggression pact with Hitler, and pogroms and persecution ensue for the Jews of the Weequahic section of Newark, N.J. All throughout this nightmare scenario, Roosevelt is the savior waiting in the wings. It’s an FDR we hadn’t seen in a long time, a “bulwark against oppression,” as Roth describes him, “the first living American I was taught to love.” How different this Roosevelt is from the one I grew up with.Read More


New Book Incites Scholarly Fracas

By Gabriel Sanders

As a book that that seeks to upend commonly held historical notions, Robert N. Rosen’s “Saving the Jews” is by its very nature a combative work. But even by Rosen’s standards, his 17th chapter is a confrontational one. It is here that he engages FDR’s detractors most directly, in language that prompted 55 scholars to sign a petition condeming the book.Read More


The Wicked Witch and the Straw Man

By Lawrence Bush

The world of Jewish identity is a buyer’s market. Those of us who “do Jewish” for a living or as an avocation (rabbis, writers, editors, artists, organizational pros, philanthropists) know that half our audience is only half-interested, while the rest have a fortune’s worth of Jewish resources from which to choose. We try to cajole their attention with nostalgia and humor, intellectual acuity, spiritual fervor, ethical teachings, political activism, personal charisma, free trips to Israel, nimble variations on Kabbalah.…Read More


Found in Translation: A Round-up

By Joshua Cohen

Language, our first barrier, now also seems our last. Babel is one bookend of human communication; today’s instantaneous transmission of Babel through a baffling array of technologies is the other. Perhaps one of the oldest occupations, after the making of towers, is translation — that utopian and often invisible task of making one word mean another is now more important than ever: important politically, socially and, as a means of enriching our native expression, important aesthetically, too. Allowing us to know worlds outside our own, any translation is an attempt to go beyond this last bookend, an ingathering of all Babels both technologically literal and existentially metaphoric, becoming a preview of the once and future Eden, in which, according to midrash and the Prophet Zephaniah, we will all speak the same language again.Read More


Redrawing Family History

By Gabriel Sanders

Early in her new memoir, author-illustrator Bernice Eisenstein recalls the experience of having seen the 1982 Holocaust drama “Sophie’s Choice,” which arrived in theaters when she was in her early 30s. Eisenstein describes her deep, visceral response to the picture and the visit she paid her father afterward, while she was still very much in the film’s grip. She arrives with eyes red and swollen from crying. Alarmed, her father asks what happened. “After I described the movie,” she writes, “he had only one question: Why would you want to see something that did this to you?”Read More


Notes From the Edge

By Ethan Kanfer

On Broadway, late summer is known as the off-season. But in the downtown theater world, life begins in August. Every year at this time, the kaleidoscopic burst of creativity known as the New York International Fringe Festival lights up Lower Manhattan. Now in its 10th year, North America’s largest multi-arts festival hosts hundreds of performances that range from traditional drama to experimental dance, from Dadaist puppetry to alternative standup. Though performances ended last month, reverberations from the fringe will continue to be felt. After launching downtown, some of the more successful shows invariably transfer to new venues and enjoy longer runs.Read More


As Modernity Beckoned

By Ilan Stavans

Until the end of the 15th century, the Iberian Peninsula was not only a Muslim enclave but also a site of dialogue between three religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The expulsion of Jews and Arabs irrigated their communities throughout the Mediterranean Basin, in what eventually became the Ottoman Empire. There, again, Jews and Muslims coexisted — or better, they thrived.Read More


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