Arts & Culture

Total Recall

By Noga Tarnopolsky

After seeing Michael Verhoeven’s new movie, “The Unknown Soldier,” and Paul Verhoeven’s new movie, “Black Book,” both of which were presented last month at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, one arrives rapidly at the conclusion that it is a very bad idea to lie to anyone by the name of Verhoeven.Read More

Master of the Arts

By Jeannie Rosenfeld

This past November 6, on a mild autumn evening, some 150 people gathered in Manhattan at the Spain Restaurant on West 13th Street to toast the publication of Lindsay Pollock’s “The Girl With the Gallery.” It was 80 years to the day since Edith Gregor Halpert, the subject of Pollock’s first book, opened her historic Downtown Gallery in that spot, promoting American modernists when their European counterparts overshadowed them. The bohemian Greenwich Village of the day, with its bootleggers, brothels, smoky tea rooms and long-haired artists, would be unrecognizable to the eatery’s loyal patrons and staff, none of whom even knew of Halpert until Pollock started frequenting the place.Read More

Primo Levi’s First Draft Of History

By Stanislao G. Pugliese

Although best known for his seminal work, “Survival in Auschwitz,” Primo Levi’s searing memoir was actually his second attempt to grapple with the enormity of Nazi extermination camps. After the Auschwitz system of camps was discovered by the Soviet Army on January 27, 1945, Levi and another Turinese Jew, Leonardo De Benedetti, a 46-year-old medical doctor, were charged by Soviet authorities to draft a report on the sanitary and medical organization of Auschwitz. The Russians’ motives — notwithstanding their chaotic but essentially humane portrait in Levi’s second memoir, “The Truce” — were not entirely altruistic: They wished to document the unspeakable crimes of the Nazi regime not just for posterity but also for propaganda purposes.Read More

Fighting for Survival

By Gerald Eskenazi

Every book about the Holocaust seems to open up a new world of horrors. The problem, though, is that we are, in many ways, beyond surprises. You mean they’d shoot a Jew because he is too weak to work? Yes, I’ve heard that. They pulled the gold out of the teeth of the dead? I remember reading that somewhere.Read More

A Hip-Hop Hitmaker, Straight Outta Shaker Heights

By Allison Hoffman

The young guys who stop Jerry Heller in the street these days never ask if he can make them into pop icons like Elton John, or legends like Creedence Clearwater Revival. The young guys who stop Jerry Heller don’t even want to be latter-day Marvin Gayes.Read More

Eyeing the Headlines, From the Ivory Tower

By Gabriel Sanders

In the field of Jewish studies, academic conferences aren’t exactly known for their timeliness. But one panel at last month’s Association for Jewish Studies conference — the largest annual gathering of scholars in the field — proved remarkable for its topicality.Read More

Haven in the Hollows

By Glenn C. Altschuler

Neither religion nor Yiddishkeit played a significant role in the life of young Harry Schwachter. A prosperous merchant in Williamson, W.Va., during the early 20th century, Schwachter ate fried apples and country-cured ham every Sunday morning. He “crashed the society set” by giving dancing lessons, and he appeared in amateur theatricals in an act called “Schwachter and Crank.” But, like more than a few others, Schwachter’s sense of Jewish identity received a big boost from a little persecution: In the mid-1920s, a friend heard him speak in his native Hungarian and “apologized,” because “I allus thought you was a damn Jew!” Hurt and stunned, Schwachter threw himself into a campaign to build a synagogue for Williamson’s 130 Jews. When the cornerstone was laid, he told the gentiles in the crowd that the temple proved that “we did not come for the purpose of filling our bags and baggage, but rather to live with you, work with you, and serve with you to the end of time. A handful of Jewish people have found a veritable haven in this community.”Read More

Rembrandt Revised

By Beth Schwartzapfel

As Jewish devotees of Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn are fond of noting, he lived and worked in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter during the “Golden Age” of the 17th century. He painted dozens of portraits of Jews and had a relationship with at least one prominent Jewish figure — Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel. As conventional wisdom goes, he must have had a deep connection to his Israelite neighbors.Read More

Abe’s World: Rereading ‘The Rise of David Levinsky’

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

It’s not often that I get the chance to reread a novel, especially a big, sprawling novel like “The Rise of David Levinsky,” a cautionary tale about the immigrant experience that Abraham Cahan, longtime editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, had published, to much acclaim, way back in 1917. But thanks to an initiative of the Downtown Kehillah, an organization designed to strengthen Jewish life for those New Yorkers who live and work below 14th Street, hundreds of people were invited to delve deeply into the book and to share their opinions of it with one another on a wintry Saturday evening in December. Most of the participants were new to “Levinsky,” as the book is commonly called; a few others, among them Marshall Berman, the distinguished CUNY professor; J.J. Goldberg, this paper’s editor, and me, had met up with the book and its characters years before, but in preparation for the evening’s give-and-take we were giving it a second look.Read More

Varian Fry’s Mission of Mercy

By Iris Blasi

Varian Fry arrived in France in 1940 with $3,000 taped to his leg and a list containing the names of 200 European intellectuals believed to be wanted by the Nazis. He planned on staying three weeks. He left 13 months later, having tested his own resourcefulness, befriending like-minded activists and saving the lives of thousands in the process.Read More

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