Arts & Culture

Two Soldiers, Lonely Together

By Saul Austerlitz

For some young Israelis, the idea of army service still holds romantic possibility: serving one’s country with the promise of adventure, and the opportunity to discover one’s self far from home. The reality is often quite different, with drudgery and endless repetition of dull tasks the markers of another day in the Israel Defense Forces. Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager’s quietly forceful film, “Close to Home,” offers a look at a rarely seen side of the IDF, replacing the often overblown masculine warrior-worship of other military films with a distinctly subtler, more patient feminine gaze.Read More

Being a Jew Among the Genteel and Gentile

By Steven G. Kellman

The ordeal of civility, as defined by sociologist John Murray Cuddihy in his 1974 book, is “the ritually unconsummated courtship of Gentile and Jew.” This phenomenon is a recurrent theme throughout the fiction of Louis Begley. Even more than in his first novel — “Wartime Lies” (1991), the story of a Jewish boy who survives the Nazi occupation of Poland by passing as Catholic — Begley’s eighth novel, “Matters of Honor,” is shaped mainly by “all the Jewism” that one of its characters desperately seeks to escape.Read More

German Book Redefines ‘Victimhood,’ Problematically

By Jack Fischel

In the aftermath of World War II, Germany attempted to come to terms with the Holocaust. But ultranationalists were not contrite about the recent past, and contended that the killing of hundreds of thousands of German civilians during the Allied air offensive was the moral equivalent of the mass murder of the Jews. This argument, however, remained on the periphery of political discussion until recently, when the claims of moral equivalency entered the mainstream of German political culture with the publication of Jörg Friederich’s best-seller, “The Fire” (“Der Brand”).Read More

Hitler’s Jewish Counterfeiter

By Katharina Goetze

Although life in the “golden cage” of Sachsenhausen was deceptively comfortable for Adolf Burger, he believed that the secret he shared with the Nazis was too precious for him to survive. Yet survive the Jewish printer did, and at 89 he is still around to tell his tale. Now, Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky has made a new movie based on Burger’s memoirs. The film, “Die Fälscher” (“The Counterfeiters”), which will come to German cinemas next month, tells the extraordinary story of the Nazi forging factory that changed the Czech printer’s life — and saved it.Read More

The Radical Rationalism of Maimonides

By Allan Nadler

Moses Maimonides (Rambam, in traditional parlance) has been widely lionized as the greatest mind in Jewish history. Even before his death in 1204, the Jews of Yemen went so far as to include his name in their version of the Kaddish, imploring that God’s kingdom be established “in our lives, in ours days, in the lives of thy children Israel and in the lifetime of our master, Moses ben Maimon.” The Jews’ reverence for Maimonides’s unmatched rabbinic learning earned him the title “the great Eagle,” just as their appreciation for his great communal leadership was reflected in his moniker, “the Mordecai of his generation.”Read More

You Don’t Have To Be Hungarian, But It Helps

By Gabriel Sanders

After the death of his 95-year-old father, Imre, and the birth of his first grandchild, Ulysse, Hungarian-born French writer Adam Biro decided to write a book about his family. He called it “Les Ancêtres d’Ulysse” (“Ulysses’s Ancestors”); fearing, however, that the American reader knows little of the glories of the Hungarian past — and worried, perhaps, that an unknowing bookstore clerk might shelve the title alongside Homer’s “Odyssey” — Biro added a new introduction to the English edition and changed the title.Read More

Journalist Profiles Nine Extraordinarily Influential Emigres

By Edward Serotta

My grandmother used to satirically refer to “Die Grossen Ungarischen Jüdischen Übermenschen,” or “The Great Hungarian Jewish Superhumans,” because this subset of Jews were always so relentless in praising their own. But though we rolled our eyes at the bias espoused by some Hungarians, Kati Marton has offered some dazzling proof that at least some of it is deserved.Read More

A Historical Novel About Ruth, Minus The Sappiness

By Elissa Strauss

Novels based on the Old Testament have become quite popular in the past 10 years. While the religious tone and the style tend to vary — some can be read as parables, others as Harlequin romances — one consistent thread has been the highly detectable feminist undercurrent. In books like Anita Diamant’s widely read “The Red Tent,” and Rebecca Kohn’s “The Gilded Chamber: A Novel of Queen Esther,” the writers use their creative license to surmise the female-centered universe of ancient times.Read More

The Personal And the Political

By Stephen Marche

At the beginning of Aharon Appelfeld’s new novel, “All Whom I Have Loved,” 9-year-old Paul Rosenfeld is on summer vacation with his mother, enjoying what are perhaps his last moments of undiluted happiness. He remembers, “Once she put some squares of halva-covered chocolate on her palm and said, ‘Take it my love, it’s tasty.’” That night, the nearby town celebrates a Christian festival with a mass slaughter of pigs and cattle, and Paul dreams of a sky filled with blood. The entire novel is in that juxtaposition: small moments of sweetness and light collected under the glare of oncoming horror.Read More

God on the Mind, and on the Mic

By Matthue Roth

‘God has changed since Genesis,” sings Romy Hoffman, aka Macromantics, on her new album — and then follows it up with a sly vocal wink at the listener: “Haven’t we all?”Read More

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