Arts & Culture


When Reality Overwhelms Creativity

By Mark Oppenheimer

‘Awake in the Dark,” Shira Nayman’s collection of short stories about American children of Holocaust survivors, is being launched into the chain stores with the highest of book-club hopes. The publisher’s press release features praise from Ursula Hegi (“brilliant and mystical stories”), and printed on the reviewer’s galleys is a strangely obtuse encomium from Mary Gordon: “Shira Nayman’s stories risk strong emotion and always clear the sentimental.” Is that good? It must be, because, according to the press release, when the lead story, “The House on Kronenstrasse,” was printed in The Atlantic Monthly’s 2005 fiction issue, composer Ben Moore was so moved that he created “an original piece of music to tell the story alongside the words.” Moore’s piece debuted October 10 at Nayman’s book party in Brooklyn, where actress Andrea Masters also gave a dramatic reading of the story.Read More


Il Duce’s Own Idea

By Alessandro Cassin

In 1934, Benito Mussolini famously declared that “there has never been antisemitism in Italy.” A mere four years later, after abandoning his Jewish mistress of 27 years, he passed his infamous racial laws.Read More


Baghdad Blues

This month, Free Press publishes “Last Days in Babylon: The History of a Family, the Story of a Nation,” by British journalist Marina Benjamin. In “Last Days in Babylon,” Benjamin follows the decline and near destruction of a once-thriving Iraqi Jewish community through the story of her grandmother, the daughter of a proud Iraqi family forced to leave its home as anti-Zionist fueled anti-Jewish feelings among their countrymen. In advance of the publication, Benjamin discussed the importance of tracing one’s roots, her family’s reaction to the book and the twilight of Iraqi Jewry with the Forward’s Ariel Beery.Read More


Mafia Jews: Inside a Genuine Cabal

By Lisa Keys

The Jewish people are instructed to be a “light unto the nations” — and what society could use more illumination than the underworld? So goes the story of mob lawyer Sidney Korshak, whose partnerships with Chicago gangsters led him to be named the most powerful lawyer in the world by the FBI. As part of his, er, “covenant,” he steered the mob toward a path of respectability, serving as its go-between with the white-collar world.Read More


Deconstructing Philip

By Michael Z. Wise

When the synagogue that Philip Johnson designed free of charge to atone for his antisemitic past added a canopy over its entry two decades ago, the celebrated architect complained that the vinyl overhang was a blot on his creation.Read More


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


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