Arts & Culture

Burning the Ones You Love

By Irina Reyn

How does a lover of great literature survive in an era in which writers are persecuted and manuscripts are burned? And what if that same person were forced to destroy the manuscripts of the great writers he venerates? This is the dilemma faced by Pavel Dubrov in Travis Holland’s lyrical first novel, “The Archivist’s Story,” which takes place in the Soviet Union during the late 1930s. It is a time of denunciations and purges, when the infamous Moscow prison, Lubyanka, welcomes a steady stream of innocent prisoners transported by black NKVD vans in the middle of the night.Read More

Peering Inside A Jewel Box Of Judaica

By Jeannie Rosenfeld

Walking down the leafy side streets of Philadelphia’s Center City, one could easily pass the Rosenbach Museum & Library amid a row of elegant townhouses. But it is a cultural jewel box, with more than 30,000 books and 300,000 pages of manuscripts amassed by legendary dealer Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach, as well as 18th- and 19th-century antiques and fine art acquired by his brother and business partner, Philip. From the 1920s to the ’40s, A.S.W. Rosenbach, as he was commonly called, shaped some of the leading American libraries and also compiled the first American Jewish bibliography, which included many examples from his personal collection. But he donated the bulk of this to the American Jewish Historical Society in 1932, and today the institution that bears his name isn’t particularly known for its Judaic books.Read More

A Catalog of Defiance

By Joshua Cohen

‘Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust,” a catalog published to accompany an exhibition of the same title that recently opened at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, begins with an arresting image of opposition, and pride. Taken by Rachel Posner, wife of Rabbi Akiva Posner, who was the last rabbi of prewar Kiel, Germany, the photograph is framed from the interior of their home looking out, foregrounding a menorah in the windowsill, while beyond the window’s pane, from the balcony of an opposite building, hangs a swastika flag. It is Hanukkah 1932. Subsequent pages and galleries host a trove of similarly improbable and miraculous truths: a Passover Haggadah handwritten in Hebrew script in the Unterluss labor camp in 1944, an underground typewriter and copies of underground newspapers and bulletins, a homemade radio from the Jasenovac concentration camp, and, perhaps most disturbingly, photographic evidence of the systematic murder of European Jews — taken, developed and reproduced as early as 1942.Read More

Cold Mount Sinai

By Gabriel Sanders

Few chapters of American history have inspired as many novelists as the Civil War. If, as the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has said, it is our “Iliad,” then we’ve been graced with not one, but hundreds of Homers. What America has been without is an Isaac Babel, a writer who could filter the country’s defining conflict through a Jewish lens. That is, until now. In his lush debut novel, Peter Charles Melman tells the story of Elias Abrams, a richly drawn representative of the roughly 2,000 Jewish men who fought for the Confederacy.Read More

South vs. North

By Juliet Lapidos

Historians of Southern Jewish culture fit roughly into two camps: those who believe that the Jewish experience in the South was fundamentally different from the Jewish experience in the North, and those who argue that similarities overwhelm differences. The Forward interviewed one representative from each camp. Mark I. Greenberg, co-editor of “Jewish Roots in Southern Soil” (Brandeis University Press, 2006) thinks that, for scholarly purposes, it’s more fruitful to explore the differences between Southern and Northern Jews. On the opposing side is Mark Bauman, editor of “Dixie Diaspora” (University of Alabama Press, 2006). Greenberg and Bauman were interviewed separately, but their answers are printed side by side.Read More

How One City Gal Found Faith — and Herself

By Caroline Lagnado

With candor, poignancy and a hint of neurosis, writer Jennifer Anne Moses recounts the past 12 years of her life in Louisiana in her new memoir, “Bagels and Grits.” The product of a privileged Washington, D.C., upbringing — complete with ski vacations, private schools and a second house in Maine — Moses, a self-proclaimed East Coast liberal, gives readers a window into how a move to the heart of the South changed her life.Read More

Exploring an Atlanta Tragedy

By Juliet Lapidos

In April 1913, 14-year-old Mary Phagan was found raped and murdered in the basement of an Atlanta pencil factory. The police botched the initial forensic investigation and were casting about for leads when suspicion fell upon the Jewish factory manager, Leo Frank. Local journalists, who practiced Hearst-style yellow journalism, sensationalized the ensuing trial. A mob outside the courtroom chanted “Hang the Jew,” and Frank was convicted solely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. When the Georgia governor commuted Frank’s death sentence to life imprisonment, an antisemitic mob of prominent citizens kidnapped and lynched the alleged murderer.Read More

Gematria and the Ouroboros

By Philologos

Marc G. Schramm writes: “I read recently that there is a relationship between the Hebrew letter Chet (gematria of 8) and the ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. The latter is a double zero, ‘the head and the body, the Moebius strip of the soul. It is the sideways sign of infinity.’ “Can you say anything more about this supposed connection?”Read More

The Tribe in Texas

By Julia Oestreich

New York City has long been the focus of American Jewish history. In recent years, however, acclaimed works by such scholars as Deborah Dash Moore and Eva Morawska have begun to shift focus onto Jewish populations in other geographic areas. Now, an anthology constituting the latest scholarship on Texas Jewry has been published. “Lone Stars of David: The Jews of Texas” contains an impressive array of thoroughly researched pieces that cover various individuals and aspects of Jewish communal life in Texas, from the period in which Jews first trickled into the state to the present day. This book is edited by Hollace Ava Weiner, author of “Jewish Stars in Texas: Rabbis and Their Work,” and by Kenneth D. Roseman, a rabbi in Corpus Christi.Read More

Boy, Interrupted

By Elissa Strauss

In the hands of the wrong filmmakers, child protagonists can easily pull the audience into a world too nostalgic, too sweet. They move through magic worlds, purportedly enchanting us along the way. Thankfully, in “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation,” Mauro, the 12-year-old protagonist, does no such thing.Read More

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