Arts & Culture


Kafka in the Countryside

By David Kaufmann

In the summer of 1917, Franz Kafka suffered the first symptoms of tuberculosis. Paradoxically enough, the onset of the disease liberated him. It freed him from his agonized and agonizing engagement to Felice Bauer, from the oppressiveness of his job, from the anxieties of life in Prague. It freed him to write.Read More


How ‘Fiddler’ Became Folklore

By Alisa Solomon

Last February, I attended the Bet Shira Congregation in Miami during the synagogue’s official celebration of Tu B’Shvat, or the New Year for Trees. Festivities for this particular Jewish holiday usually involve the planting of trees, a discussion about the environment or some other similarly agriculturally themed event. But at Bet Shira, synagogue president Ron Rosengarten put on an old vest and a short-brimmed cap. Rabbi Micah Caplan pasted a long gray beard to his chin. And congregant Martin Applebaum donned a puffy-sleeved peasant shirt and stuffed his pants cuffs into the top of his socks. Applebaum also brought 20 rubber chickens to distribute among the audience so they could throw them into the air on the appropriate cue. This was no tree planting. It was a singalong to “Fiddler on the Roof.”Read More


Happy Is as Happy Does

By Darrin McMahon

Amid the otherwise maudlin confessions of her 1994 best-seller, “Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America” (also published by Houghton Mifflin), Elizabeth Wurtzel stumbled on a happy insight: Tolstoy’s famous first line from “Anna Karenina” — “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” — is a crock. “He’s got it totally wrong,” Wurtzel observed, “completely ass-backward. Happiness is infinite in its variety, and happy people, happy families, can find their joy in so many different ways.”Read More


A Century Later, A Jewish Pioneer Gets His Due

By Glenn C. Altschuler

Moses Levy has waited more than100 years for his biographer. Levy died in 1854, virtually unnoticed. Pilgrimage, his utopian colony in Florida and the first Jewish communitarian settlement in the United States, was long gone and forgotten. His anti-slavery pamphlet, “A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery, Consistently With the Interest of All Parties Concerned,” the earliest anti-slavery document written by an American Jew, was published anonymously and had disappeared without a trace. And Levy’s pro-slavery son, whom he disinherited, dismissed his father as impractical, irascible and insane. The son would later become the first person of Jewish descent to serve in the United States Congress, but not before changing his name to David Yulee.Read More


A Different Kind of Kosher

By Rebecca Reich

In the opening pages of her new book, “Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939,” Anna Shternshis introduces us to Sara F., an elderly Soviet Jewish émigré living in Brooklyn. Born in the Ukraine around 1917, Sara loves Yiddish songs and Yiddish theater, trembles at the thought that her 25-year-old American grandson might marry a gentile and judges all current events according to the question, “Is it good or bad for the Jews?” At the same time, she celebrates Soviet holidays rather than Jewish ones, considers a religious education “fanatical” and insists that, contrary to the religious taboo on pig, making pork “kosher” is actually quite simple: All it takes is a cook with a “Jewish soul.”Read More


On Auction: A Bookbinder’s Private Collection of Rare Hebrew Books

On September 12, the New York-based auction house Kestenbaum & Company will open its fall 2006 season with a sale of intricately bound Hebrew books dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The items are from the personal library of Berlin-born Joseph Gradenwitz, who immigrated to London after fleeing Germany to escape World War II. In addition to collecting, Gradenwitz learned the craft of bookbinding, and later he personally bound and restored nearly all the books in his own collection (as well as those of some of his fellow collectors).Read More


Dictionary Writers Hope Words Can Heal

By Claudia Z. Carlin

In the south of France, two religious leaders are taking steps to heal the rifts between Jews and Muslims in their country. Rabbi Haïm Harboun and Habib S. Kaaniche, an imam, are planning to launch an unusual dictionary in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and French, followed by biographical sketches of great figures of Judaism and Islam.Read More


Border Crossing and Cross-dressing

By Saul Austerlitz

In Tomer Heymann’s new documentary, “Paper Dolls,” opening September 6 at New York’s Film Forum, viewers are introduced to a group of transvestite Filipino workers in Tel Aviv, who perform in a cross-dressing group called the Paper Dolls. But the real cross-dresser here may be Heymann, who garbs his film in one set of clothing, only to strip it off without warning and then reveal something far starker, and more affecting.Read More


Greek Tragedy

By Sarah Abrevaya Stein

The German occupation of Greece, begun in April 1941, was accompanied by organized plunder, rampant inflation and a famine in Athens in the winter of 1941 to 1942 that claimed at least 300,000 lives — all before the deportations of Greek Jews to the Nazi death camps had even begun.Read More


New Book Reveals Darker Chapters In Hasidic History

By Allan Nadler

Of all the literary genres to emerge from the 19th-century Haskala, or Hebrew Enlightenment, one of the most popular was anti-Hasidic satire. And the most notorious of these parodies was “Megaleh Temirin” (“Revealer of Secrets,” Vienna 1819), a ribald lampoon written by Joseph Perl that recounts a series of desperate, bungled attempts by fanatic Hasidim to seize and suppress a dangerous anti-Hasidic German book that they feared had the potential to inflict great harm on their revered rebbe and their sect.Read More


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