Arts & Culture

‘The Ethiopian Jews of Israel’

By Alexa Bryn

‘The Ethiopian Jews of Israel: Personal Stories of Life in the Promised Land” (Jewish Lights Publishing), a new book of interviews conducted by Len Lyons and containing photographs by Ilan Ossendryver, explores the complexities of the modern Ethiopian-Israeli experience. For years, thousands of Ethiopians waited to be airlifted to a land of milk and honey, only to learn that Israel’s milk is sometimes spoiled, its honey bittersweet. Now, students, professionals, kessim (high priests), artists and soldiers speak of leaving behind an ancient life of farming and shepherding, and of being thrust into bustling modernity. Though they broach painful issues — second-class status, illiteracy, professional integration and the search for acceptance — the book celebrates their achievements. Most remarkably, even after encountering disapproval of their kessim and rituals, Ethiopians feel a deep love for Israel, where they can be openly Jewish, have choice in matters of religion and are presented with better professional opportunities. Lyons feels that Ethiopians, in this land that has both saved and rejected them, are “undergoing a tug of war internally,” as they try to reconcile their worlds of old and new.Read More

A Legend Looks Back: A Visit With Kirk Douglas

By Rebecca Spence

Over the course of an illustrious Hollywood career spanning more than five decades, Kirk Douglas has played many parts: Vincent Van Gogh, Spartacus and boxer Midge Kelly, to name just a formidable few. But the one character he has never played — to his deep regret, he now says — was that of Issur Danielovitch, his own former self.Read More

Comic Artist Remembers, Sort of

By Paul Buhle

Every Forward reader, it is safe to say, knows Ben Katchor’s work, and almost as many would recognize the contributions of Art Spiegelman. Since the 2000 publication of Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” the in-house story of Jewish predominance in the comic book trade has become part of literary folklore. The rise of comic art to respectability has brought new interest toward what should be considered an artistic genre all of itself, with veteran artist Peter Kuper smack dab in the Jewish American corner.Read More

In the Presence of Genius

By Rodger Kamenetz

What is there to say? Prodigious, brilliant, David Shapiro has lived in many worlds of art, including music and painting. Shapiro is also the author of four books of criticism: on poet John Ashbery, and on artists Jim Dine, Jasper Johns and Piet Mondrian. In total, there are 20 books to his name, including translations, editions, and collaborations with painters and poets and philosophers and aestheticians. But poetry is at the center of his work — not poetry simply as a formal activity, but as a way of thinking and a way of feeling, and even of being. This new collection is a chance to look back at the published work of the past 40 years, since it includes a selection from his previous nine books, and a sheaf of new poems.Read More

Who’s Your Daddy?

By Jay Michaelson

For most people, what the Bible says about homosexuality begins and ends with two verses in Leviticus. What those verses mean is subject to interpretation, of course. Some people see them as a blanket prohibition on any male or female same-sex behavior; others see them as restricting only one sexual act between men, while others still see them as applying only in exceptional cases, such as violence or idolatry. And plenty of nonreligious readers see them as simply obsolete. But it’s safe to say that, whatever one’s reading of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, it’s those two verses, for those people, that are most important.Read More

Upside-Down Coffee

By Philologos

Adam Chanes of New York City, who at age 11 is probably the youngest person ever to address a query to this column, recently returned from a vacation in Israel with his parents. While he was there he asked me why, when Israelis order coffee in a café, they often ask for kaffei hafukh, which means, literally, “upside-down coffee.”Read More

Norman Mailer, Auteur

By Akiva Gottlieb

There is quixotic, and then there is Norman Mailer: the author of numerous best-selling loose, baggy monsters that tackle every important issue and icon of the 20th century, but also a guy who stabbed his second wife (out of six) with a penknife at a party, head-butted Gore Vidal in response to a suggestion that he was violent and ran for mayor of New York City in 1969 on a platform advocating that the city sever itself from the United States. The 84-year-old literary lion has burnished his legend by pursuing every whim to its pathological extreme.Read More

‘Fighting Back’

By Alexa Bryn

A new book “Fighting Back? Jewish and Black Boxers in Britain,” and Ghetto Warriors, a related exhibit at the Jewish Museum of London, offer a new look into British minority boxers’ fight for identity and acceptance, both in and outside the ring.Read More

Time To Bring the Forward Back Home

By Tony Michels

If you stand at the lower Manhattan corner of East Broadway and Essex on just about any spring weekend, you’ll see tour guides leading groups around the neighborhood. They follow different routes, but all come to East Broadway at some point. Once the intellectual center of immigrant Jewish life, the street still hosts a number of functioning Jewish organizations: the Educational Alliance, the Bialystoker Home for the Aged, the Orthodox weekly Algemeiner Zhurnal and several Orthodox synagogues.Read More

Singer, Sung

By Alexander Gelfand

Years ago, the director of the Hebrew school where I briefly taught in Portland, Ore., offered to introduce me to a composer she knew at Reed College. For a variety of reasons — most having to do with sloth and misanthropy — I never pursued the connection. I’ve regretted it ever since. The guy my boss had in mind was David Schiff, a prolific composer who somehow finds the time to write insightful essays about music for The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times. And, as demonstrated by the first complete recording of his opera “Gimpel the Fool,” put out by Naxos, Schiff also writes fantastic music.Read More

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