Arts & Culture


Arrested Development?

By Chanan Tigay

For Americans of a certain age, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was formative: It’s by now axiomatic that most will never forget where they were at the time they received word of the shooting. Similarly, though probably less axiomatically, there’s a legion of Jewish males who will never forget where they were sitting (or lying) when they read the scene in Philip Roth’s masterpiece “Portnoy’s Complaint,” in which our young hero, um, makes love to a piece of liver that his family’s about to eat for dinner. (As I write this, 37 years after the book’s publication in 1969, I still fear that even this euphemistic characterization will not make it past my editors.) It’s not that it was the first or the last literary instance in which perishables were used as sexual aids. Nor was it the first — or last — time a character engaged in strange sexual congress with himself. But a nice Jewish boy? And for all the world to see?Read More


The Big Chill

By Alisa Solomon

Last month, in an unusual show of unity around “the fundamental principle of debate in a democracy,” some 113 scholars and intellectuals with a wide range of passionate opinions about the Middle East signed a letter to the New York Review of Books in objection to the abrupt cancellation of a planned October 3 talk on “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” to have been given by New York University historian Tony Judt. The signatories — among them, more than a few hawkish Zionists — rebuked Jewish organizations for producing “a climate of intimidation” that stifles open debate on Israel.Read More


The Reel Deal

By Saul Austerlitz

Annette Insdorf can hardly believe it has been 20 years since she launched her popular cinematic interview series, “Reel Pieces,” and so she is consequently in the mood to reminisce. For the Columbia University professor who is also a film scholar and a master interviewer, the occasion of her series’ anniversary offers the opportunity to reflect on its legacy, and on the nature of her longstanding association with its host, New York City’s 92nd Street Y.Read More


Closing Time In Queens

By Josh Norek

‘What a drag it is getting old,” I hear Mick Jagger croon distantly in the back of my head as I exit the R train at 67th Avenue in Forest Hills, Queens. Stepping out of the dank subway air, I look across Queens Boulevard and wonder whether I will ever return to this block again — not exactly one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in the city. I still feel a vague sense of nostalgia as I take in the remaining landmarks that harken back to working-middle class Jewish New York. Knish Nosh is still there. So is the bagel place on the corner of 66th Road.Read More


Defining the ‘WikiJew’

By Zackary Sholem Berger

Who is a Jew? Let’s see what Wikipedia says about it. Or, rather, what the Wikipedias say, since the online encyclopedia is available in more than 100 languages. The answer to our question in English neither offends nor omits anyone: “[A] follower of Judaism, or [a member] of the Jewish people, an ethno-religious group descended from the ancient Israelites and from converts who joined their religion. The term also includes those who have undergone an officially recognized formal process of conversion to Judaism.” The Hebrew version (“Jews are an ethnic group of Semitic origin, in which membership is based on the Jewish religion”) is clearer, with a refreshing Israeli directness, but one will look in vain for the word “convert” — it isn’t mentioned in the article. And in Yiddish: “A Jew is a person who belongs to the Jewish people.” QED.Read More


The Iconic Blue Box Gets a Makeover

By Malka Percal

When Yael Golan’s mother was a girl in Uruguay, she’d drop a few coins into the Keren Kayemet box every Friday at her Jewish day school and sing a little song: “Dunam by dunam, shekel by shekel, building the land of Israel.” Recently, 35 years after immigrating to Israel, Golan’s mother sang that song again, when Golan told her she was curating an art exhibition based on the blue box.Read More


Probing Brown’s Dark History

By Amy Sohn

Last month, Brown University released the results of a three-year study of its historical relationship to slavery and the slave trade, and suggested several steps to inform the public about this dark chapter in its past, including the creation in Rhode Island of a memorial to the slave trade. Surprisingly, although the report has a section titled “Confronting Historical Injustice: Comparative Perspectives,” it includes no mention of the history of another form of hateful bigotry: Jewish quotas in its admissions from the 1920s to 1940s.Read More


Reinventing Politics, With Language

By David Kaufmann

‘This is the time for political invention,” writes Benjamin Hollander halfway through “Rituals of Truce and the Other Israeli,” his imaginative meditation on the impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians: “There is no other time.” Look at the way the last sentence is phrased and you will see that he is right. For us there is no time but the present. This is our time, our only time. What shall we make of it?Read More


Gershwin’s American ‘Rhapsody’

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Once upon a time, Harry Von Tilzer, Irving Berlin, Sophie Tucker, Sid Caesar, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Billy Rose, Marcus Loew and “Mr. Television” himself, Milton Berle, were the reigning kings and queens of American popular culture. The sons and daughters of Jewish immigrants or, in many instances, recent immigrants themselves, they changed the way Americans laughed, danced and pursued pleasure.Read More


The Jewish Sylvia Plath?

By Jessica George Firger

Oscar Wilde adored her, calling the young writer “a girl of genius,” while modern critics, in their flippancy and an attempt to articulate who this virtually unknown Victorian author was, have coined Amy Levy the “Jewish Sylvia Plath,” referring to both her precocious talent and her early, tragic demise (Levy committed suicide by charcoal asphyxiation at the age of 27). And yet, to most of her readers her life and work remain unknown.Read More


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