Arts & Culture


New Book Incites Scholarly Fracas

By Gabriel Sanders

As a book that that seeks to upend commonly held historical notions, Robert N. Rosen’s “Saving the Jews” is by its very nature a combative work. But even by Rosen’s standards, his 17th chapter is a confrontational one. It is here that he engages FDR’s detractors most directly, in language that prompted 55 scholars to sign a petition condeming the book.Read More


The Wicked Witch and the Straw Man

By Lawrence Bush

The world of Jewish identity is a buyer’s market. Those of us who “do Jewish” for a living or as an avocation (rabbis, writers, editors, artists, organizational pros, philanthropists) know that half our audience is only half-interested, while the rest have a fortune’s worth of Jewish resources from which to choose. We try to cajole their attention with nostalgia and humor, intellectual acuity, spiritual fervor, ethical teachings, political activism, personal charisma, free trips to Israel, nimble variations on Kabbalah.…Read More


Found in Translation: A Round-up

By Joshua Cohen

Language, our first barrier, now also seems our last. Babel is one bookend of human communication; today’s instantaneous transmission of Babel through a baffling array of technologies is the other. Perhaps one of the oldest occupations, after the making of towers, is translation — that utopian and often invisible task of making one word mean another is now more important than ever: important politically, socially and, as a means of enriching our native expression, important aesthetically, too. Allowing us to know worlds outside our own, any translation is an attempt to go beyond this last bookend, an ingathering of all Babels both technologically literal and existentially metaphoric, becoming a preview of the once and future Eden, in which, according to midrash and the Prophet Zephaniah, we will all speak the same language again.Read More


Redrawing Family History

By Gabriel Sanders

Early in her new memoir, author-illustrator Bernice Eisenstein recalls the experience of having seen the 1982 Holocaust drama “Sophie’s Choice,” which arrived in theaters when she was in her early 30s. Eisenstein describes her deep, visceral response to the picture and the visit she paid her father afterward, while she was still very much in the film’s grip. She arrives with eyes red and swollen from crying. Alarmed, her father asks what happened. “After I described the movie,” she writes, “he had only one question: Why would you want to see something that did this to you?”Read More


Notes From the Edge

By Ethan Kanfer

On Broadway, late summer is known as the off-season. But in the downtown theater world, life begins in August. Every year at this time, the kaleidoscopic burst of creativity known as the New York International Fringe Festival lights up Lower Manhattan. Now in its 10th year, North America’s largest multi-arts festival hosts hundreds of performances that range from traditional drama to experimental dance, from Dadaist puppetry to alternative standup. Though performances ended last month, reverberations from the fringe will continue to be felt. After launching downtown, some of the more successful shows invariably transfer to new venues and enjoy longer runs.Read More


As Modernity Beckoned

By Ilan Stavans

Until the end of the 15th century, the Iberian Peninsula was not only a Muslim enclave but also a site of dialogue between three religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The expulsion of Jews and Arabs irrigated their communities throughout the Mediterranean Basin, in what eventually became the Ottoman Empire. There, again, Jews and Muslims coexisted — or better, they thrived.Read More


Upstart Wineries Drench Previously Arid Country

By Noga Tarnopolsky

As the war battered the prime vineyards of Israel’s cool, hilly north in Lebanon last month, Micha Vaadia, the Galil Mountain winemaker, found himself defying the army’s curfew and donning a helmet and flak jacket to inspect the growing ripeness of his grapes. His fruit survived intact, but a Lower Galilee winery, Dalton, ended up sacrificing a few lines of its vineyards to Hezbollah missiles.Read More


Remembering Israel’s James Joyce

By Menachem D. Rotstein

With the August 21 passing of Yizhar Smilansky, Israeli literature lost a voice of moral conscience and modern Hebrew lost one of its most gifted virtuosos. (He wrote under the name S. Yizhar, as he was and is universally known in common parlance as Samekh Yizhar.) Dubbed the James Joyce of Hebrew literature, Smilansky — who received numerous literary awards, including the prestigious Israel Prize — died one month shy of his 90th birthday.Read More


Climbing the Family Tree

By Mark Oppenheimer

Although he had begun teaching himself ancient Greek when he was 10, Daniel Mendelsohn was not interested in the Hebrew he had to memorize for his bar mitzvah in 1973, nor in the Jewish faith that the Hebrew conveyed. It was the reception after the bar mitzvah ceremony that changed his life: “For as I was passed from relative to relative to be kissed and slapped on the back and congratulated, the confused mass of unknown and similar-looking faces bothered me, and I began to wonder how it was I came to be related to all those people, to the Idas and Trudys and Juliuses and Sylvias and Hildas, to the names Sobel and Rechtschaffen and Feit and Stark and Birnbaum and Hench.” Young Daniel became the gardener of the family tree, learning and tending to its roots and branches, interviewing relatives and keeping notes on index cards, and later with genealogy software. He always had an especially keen interest in his maternal grandfather’s brother Shmiel and in Shmiel’s family, the ones that, Mendelsohn knew, had been killed by the Nazis. In 1980, after his grandfather’s death, Mendelsohn and his mother found letters from Shmiel to his brother, the grandfather. The letters’ heartbreaking quality, with their desperate, futile pleas for help to get to America, enhanced Mendelsohn’s curiosity about the fate of Shmiel’s family.Read More


Tevye, Today and Beyond

By Alisa Solomon

Earlier this year, an unidentified video clip made its virtual way around the world. The recording — which soon turned up on the Web site YouTube — shows professional actors in Tokyo rehearsing “Shikitari,” or “Tradition,” the opening number in “Fiddler on the Roof.” The clip typically arrived in my email inbox accompanied by a terse comment of amusement: LOL — Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud.” What was so hilarious? Nobody said, but the answer was implied: How funny to see Japanese people as shtetl Jews, circling around in Jerome Robbins’s famous choreography in their tzitzit and babushkas.Read More


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