Arts & Culture

At 96, A Writer Is Born

By Juliet Lapidos

Walls and barriers have made front-page news lately. There’s the concrete wall going up between Israel and the Palestinian territories, and the reinforced fence along the United States-Mexico border. These recent developments make Harry Bernstein’s memoir, “The Invisible Wall,” especially pertinent.Read More

 Judaism’s Green Roots

By Daniel Orenstein

An exciting Jewish environmental movement has been developing in recent years, with its foundations firmly established in tradition and modern environmental knowledge. The latest rung in this developing ladder is the publication of a new book by Jeremy Benstein, associate director of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership. “A Way Into Judaism and the Environment” is an exploration that weaves Jewish texts, from the ancient to the modern, and environmental literature, with one convincing argument: that environmentalism and Judaism share a common vision.Read More

The Kitbag Question

By Philologos

Reporting on a visit by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to Sderot, the town near Gaza repeatedly hit by Qassam rockets, the Hebrew newspaper Ha’aretz had this to say about her meeting there with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.Read More

Dr. Ruth’s Other Interest: Ethnography

By Daniel Treiman

Ruth Westheimer is best known as “Dr. Ruth,” the tiny Jewish woman who dispenses sex advice in a distinctive German accent. But the renowned psychosexual therapist also happens to be an accomplished amateur ethnographer, having studied groups ranging from the Ethiopian Jews to Trobriand Islanders, often with a particular focus on family dynamics.Read More

Writing in Four Dimensions

By Joshua Cohen

Avram Davidson was a midcentury, American writer of fantastic fiction whose imagination would inherit the galaxy, and more. His stories and novels of time travel and alternate universes transcended almost everything earthly, even as their author was bound to poverty and mainstream neglect. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction called Davidson the genre’s “most explicit literary author,” but such “explicit literacy” just meant that Davidson was far more than a writer of mere science fiction: He not only contained multitudes, he invented them. He wrote in four dimensions.Read More

A Birthday Celebration for Curacao’s Historic Synagogue

By Samuel D. Gruber

As evening fell in Willemstad in Curacao on April 16, scores of well-dressed people headed to the narrow Hanchi di Snoa, and into the courtyard of the Snoa — Curacao’s venerable synagogue built in 1732, home to Congregation Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas, and one where no Sabbath or major holiday has gone uncelebrated in 275 years. Inside, through the arched entrance portal with the inscription from Psalm 26 “B’makhelim abarekh Adonai” (“In the congregations I will bless the Lord”), all 144 candles were burning in the three large chandeliers and the sconces attached to the four big columns. The great columns recall those in the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, the “mother” congregation of Curacao’s Jews, who first settled “on the island” in 1651, making Willemstad the oldest surviving Jewish community in the Western hemisphere. These columns have added significance, for when the Snoa was built these were dedicated to the four Matriarchs — an unusual but prescient nod to the strength of the women of the Curacao community.Read More

Life After Death

By Miriam Shaviv

For many non-Orthodox Jews, the concept of the physical resurrection of the dead has always been difficult. Prayers mentioning the doctrine — including such central texts as the second paragraph of the Amidah, in which God is addressed as “the one who revives the dead… and restores life” — have been translated in Reform and Conservative prayer books either very vaguely or completely misleadingly. In Abraham Geiger’s 19th-century German translation, for example, God simply “bestows life here or there”; in the Reform movement’s 1975 Gates of Prayer siddur, resurrection becomes “power over [one’s] own life.”Read More

Dangerous Sport

By Mindy Aloff

Next year, the Summer Olympic Games will take place in Beijing. This choice of location was a controversial decision by the International Olympic Committee, owing to concerns in the West that China could use the Olympics as a way to divert international attention from its grim record on human rights and as an excuse to crack down on internal political dissent for the purpose of protecting foreign visitors. Didn’t something similar happen in Nazi Germany during the 1936 winter and summer Olympic games, both of which the Nazis hosted? The question so engaged Steve Forman, an editor and vice president of W.W. Norton, that he asked David Clay Large, a scholar of modern Germany and a marathoner, to tackle this in a book.Read More

Susan Sontag: Juggler of the Moral and the Aesthetic

By Mark Oppenheimer

In his foreword to “At the Same Time,” the new collection of essays and speeches by his mother, the late Susan Sontag, David Rieff writes: “It is sometimes said of my mother’s work that she was torn between aestheticism and moralism, beauty and ethics. Any intelligent reader of hers will see the force of this, but I think a shrewder account would emphasize their inseparability in her work.”Read More

A Window on the Western Wall

By Jeannie Rosenfeld

The Western Wall may be the holiest Jewish site, but it isn’t commonly associated with high art. It is more the province of sentimental pictures and tourist trinkets. “Solomon’s Wall,” a majestic painting that commanded $3,624,000 at Christie’s New York last month, was an exceptional example, an emotional rendering by a non-Jew who was Russia’s foremost Orientalist. Measuring nearly 7 feet by 5 feet, the oil is among only a handful of works from the “Palestinian” series completed by Vasili Vereshchagin (1842-1904) between 1884 and ’85, following his yearlong sojourn in the Holy Land.Read More

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