Arts & Culture


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


A Dance Pioneer Gets Her Due

By Joseph Carman

Anna Sokolow’s name may not seem familiar, not even to diehard New Yorkers. But her legacy has been felt — directly or indirectly — by nearly every choreographer since the mid-20th century. An artist who probed deeply into social and political issues, Sokolow also demonstrated a startling versatility: as a teacher and mentor at The Juilliard School; as a choreographer who scrutinized events, from the Holocaust to the alienation of youth in the 1960s; as an instrumental advocate for establishing modern dance in Israel, and with her groundbreaking input as a choreographer and director for such Broadway theater hits as Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” and the rock musical “Hair.” On December 10, Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y presents the Sokolow Theatre Dance Ensemble in “70 Years of Sokolow at the 92nd Street Y,” a tribute to the long-term partnership, which began in 1936, between the institution and the late choreographer.Read More


Lighting the Way

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

As the days get shorter and Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, draws nearer, I’ve been thinking about illumination or, more precisely still, about electricity and its relationship to religious ritual. At first blush, electricity and religion made for unlikely companions: One, after all, was bound up with the laboratory and the process of experimentation; the other was bound up with the home and the synagogue and the elements of faith. One had to do with technology, the other with tradition.Read More


Pretty In Ink

By David Kaufmann

Because it is really too easy to forget just how talented Jules Feiffer really is, consider the following. He has won an Academy Award (in 1961 for the animated short “Munro”) an Obie (for the 1967 play “Little Murders”) and yes, a Pulitzer Prize (in 1986 for cartoons). He wrote the screenplay for “Carnal Knowledge” and for “Popeye.” He has written a bunch of plays, some graphic novels and at least seven children’s books. Did I mention that he illustrated Norton Juster’s classic, “The Phantom Tollbooth”? And of course he did most of this while penning a weekly strip for The Village Voice that ran for 41 years.Read More


Spies Like Us: The Jews’ Answer to Bond

By Eddy Friedfeld

Mounted on the dashboard of my black convertible there are two plastic switches, “Grenade Launcher” and “Ejector Seat.” They amuse friends and concern wary parking lot attendants. I own high-tech gadgets ranging from a big-screen television that can do virtually everything except hover, to an IBM laptop with a Celeron processor, to the George Foreman Grill, which can broil a steak in eight minutes. But I have never disarmed a thermonuclear device with seven seconds left to detonation and I have never killed or otherwise disabled a dozen enemy agents while skiing backward down the Swiss Alps. I have never devised a creative escape from a windowless room as two spike-laden walls closed in on me, and I have never enjoyed even one archenemy with plans for world conquest.Read More


The Hidden and The Manifest

By Jay Michaelson

Scholars, like artists, need community — people who see the world in ways similar enough to be supportive but different enough to provoke thought, controversy and inspiration. For me, Rabbi Jill Hammer has long played all those roles. When we teach together, she always seems to “get it,” and to come up with insights or rituals that I would never have dreamed of. Last week, for example, I was asked to create a Jewish component for an interfaith Halloween service. Jewish Halloween? But I sent Jill an e-mail, and within minutes came the perfect response, drawing on Sukkot’s ushpizin ritual, integrating the harvest elements of the original Halloween holidayRead More


Redefining What Makes A Jewish Story

By Emily Hauser

On a recent fall evening, a bunch of Jews got together to tell some stories for a Chicago audience. Most of them were Jews, at any rate. Except the Palestinian. And one of the African Americans. The other African American, National Public Radio commentator Aaron Freeman, converted to Judaism years ago.Read More


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