Arts & Culture


Kafka, Divided and Onstage

By Dara Horn

It is mainly Jewish readers who think of Kafka as a Jewish writer. This isn’t a matter of possessiveness, the way one claims a sports hero for an ethnic group — after all, if one wanted to claim a writer to carry the Jews into world literature, would it be asking too much to pick someone, well, happier? — but rather a matter of Kafka’s work itself. Jewish readers cannot help but hear the echoes of the Dreyfus Affair in “In the Penal Colony,” or those of the blood libel in “The Trial”; such readers see in Kafka’s famous cockroach a horrifying caricature of the way others have so often seen them — and worse, the way they sometimes see themselves. Nor is this awareness mere suspicion. Though none of his published works mention it explicitly, Kafka’s private letters and diaries reveal an interest in Jewish identity verging on obsession.Read More


What’s the Right Course for the Religious Left?

By Michelle Goldberg

Christian right thinkers often argue that secularism is itself a religion. Enlightenment rationalism, they’ll say, is based on the same kind of faith as biblical literalism. In their 2005 book “Lord of All: Developing a Christian World-and-Life View,” televangelist D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe write that every worldview “is based on some kind of assumptions and presuppositions that we probably have never proved…. Scientists operate by faith. Some have had the candor to admit it; others would deny it vehemently.” Evolution, Kennedy and Newcombe insist, is a religion that “is based upon belief in the reality of the unseen — belief in fossils that cannot be produced, belief in embryological evidence that does not exist, and belief in breeding experiments that refuse to come off.” Purporting to defend absolute verities, Kennedy and his ilk push an odd kind of relativism that allows them to dismiss inconvenient truths as the tainted product of hostile ideologies. This epistemological trick has been at the heart of many a right-wing crusade against the reality-based community.Read More


The Restless Opera Company

By Alexander Gelfand

Many musicians can trace their choice of career to an act of teenage rebellion. But Eric Stern may be one of the few whose youthful bad-boy urges led him to opera — though, to be fair, his Vagabond Opera ensemble is not your standard opera company. Nor is Stern your standard opera singer.Read More


Angels & Demons

By Gabriel Sanders

On the eve of the release of Freida Lee Mock’s new documentary “Wrestling with Angels,” a glimpse into the post-9/11 world of playwright/activist Tony Kushner, the Forward’s Gabriel Sanders caught up with the writer to see what he thought of the film. One problem: Kushner can’t stand seeing himself on tape and hadn’t yet brought himself to watch it. “It’s not like I think I’m hideous or anything,” he said, “I just don’t like the way I look or sound particularly.” And so, the conversation shifted elsewhere: to spontaneity in acting, writerly solitude and the spiritual costs of the literary life. In between, the Forward told Kushner a little bit about his movie.Read More


Celebrating Steve Reich

By Raphael Mostel

Few composers in history have had the broad and diverse influence on music enjoyed by Steve Reich, whose 70th birthday this month is being celebrated literally around the globe. In his birthplace, New York City, for example, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music are collaborating to present a month of performances. Such universal acclaim and respect is coming only after a decades-long struggle to gain recognition for his unique, outside-the-box musical magic.Read More


‘Stardust Lost’

By Stefan Kanfer

On a pleasant June evening that year, Manhattan’s original odd couple strolled down Second Avenue. The tall man with black beard and dark, deep-set eyes was Jacob Gordin, now a dominant presence on the Lower East Side. With loud voice and spirited gestures, the Russian immigrant went on about his adaptations of Shakespeare and his interpretations of Tolstoy’s thought.Read More


Stage Killing

By Faith Jones

A little more than a century ago, New York’s Yiddish-speaking world was rocked by an attempted murder-suicide involving a member of one of the leading theatrical families of the day. Some 102 years later, I came across an elliptical mention of the incident but could find no more information about it in English. To figure out what really happened, I realized, I would have to delve into the archives of the era’s Yiddish newspapers.Read More


End of an Era

By Iris Blasi

Who owns history? That question has proved to be a thorny one regarding the treasure trove of archives that once lived in New York City at 31 East 7th Street. The contents of that building are the remnants of the now-defunct Hebrew Actors Union, and, with the union officially disbanded, issues of ownership of the building and the items within have been complex.Read More


Between Yiddishland and Broadway

By Edna Nahshon

Not long ago, I went to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center to examine some old Yiddish theater photographs. Historic photos must be viewed in the inner sanctum of the library — a separate space where you can’t bring in personal paraphernalia, can’t use pens, can’t even whisper. When the requested materials are brought over, you’re required to wear white cotton gloves, as if handling sacred objects, and your compliance to the rules are punctiliously supervised by the great priest/ess of scholarly conduct seated at the room’s main desk. Waiting for my file to arrive, I looked at the person at the desk — a beautiful black woman of a certain age. Her voice was musical; her figure tall, trim, projecting such elegance that there was no doubt this octogenarian was a former actress or dancer. When the file was delivered and she summoned me to the desk, she looked down at the photos and her face lit up. “This is Maurice Schwartz, isn’t it?” she exclaimed. “He was wonderful. We used to go see him all the time. What a great actor!” Before I could ask who “we” were and what she remembered, someone else came to the desk with his request, her attention shifting.Read More


A Marquee for the Ages: The First Season of Maurice Schwartz’s Theater

The first season (August 1918 - May 1919) of Maurice Schwartz’s Yiddish Art Theater opened at the 900-seat Irving Place Theatre, built as a German theater, in New York City’s Union Square. Schwartz’s repertory company lasted more than 30 seasons. The original cast of 15 principals (plus often dozens of extras) included Schwartz, Celia Adler, Bertha Gersten, Jacob Ben-Ami, Ludwig Satz, Boris Rosenthal, Annie Meltzer, Anna Appel, Madame Nadolski, Klara Rosenthal, Yekhiel Goldsmith, Max Wilner, Julius Erber, Madame Rosenthal and Nadolski. In 1922, Schwartz moved the company to the 2,000-seat theater built especially for his Art Theater on Second Avenue and 12th Street, now a Loews cinema multiplex. (Actors who performed with Schwartz throughout his career include Academy Award Winner Paul Muni, Joseph Buloff, Stella Adler, Luba Kadison, Isaiah Sheffer and Leonard Nimoy.)Read More


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