Arts & Culture


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


Curating Casablanca

By Eric Trager

A t first glance — given the recent history of Jews in Arab lands — the statistics for Morocco’s Jewish community are unsurprising, even if startling. A population of roughly 265,000 in 1948 has dwindled to merely 5,000, as most Moroccan Jews have immigrated to Israel, Europe and North America. Yet Morocco, almost an entire continent removed from the Arab-Israeli conflict and Gulf-based radicalism, maintains a decidedly different outlook toward Jews when compared to most other Arab states. Copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” prominent staples of any newsstand in Beirut or Amman, are not noticeably available on the streets of Rabat or Casablanca. Old Jewish quarters, virtually forgotten and replaced in Alexandria and Damascus, have been meticulously preserved in Marrakech and Fez. And synagogues — heavily guarded in Egypt, even when not in use — stand without patrols in all of Morocco’s major cities. Jewish schools and synagogues in Morocco receive government subsidies, while King Mohammed VI retains the counsel of a Jewish senior adviser — a truly remarkable gesture in this part of the world.Read More


Where the Borscht Sounds Like the Sea

By Jay Michaelson

What a great idea! Most people who know of Woody Guthrie associate him with Dust Bowl ballads of economic hardship, or with the lefty patriotism of “This Land Is Your Land” (like many such songs, its political bite has been dulled by repetition). But not many know that, from 1942 until his slow decline into Huntington’s disease in the 1950s and ’60s, Guthrie lived with his family in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, mixing with New York City’s vibrant folk and blues scene, connecting with union organizers and left-wing political activists, marrying a Jewish dancer (and daughter of one of those activists) named Marjorie Greenblatt, becoming a part of the Jewish community of 1940s Brooklyn — and writing hundreds of songs that have never been recorded.Read More


The Bloody History Of a Disastrous Libel

By Saul Austerlitz

‘It is obvious to me… that you killed him to take his blood and that that’s your custom. Don’t you know about the expulsion from Spain and other expulsions, and about the thousands of Jews killed because of this issue? And yet you stick to this custom of killing people secretly!”Read More


Inspired by Henson — and Schneerson

By Sara Trappler Spielman

Dovid Taub has two main inspirations: Jim Henson and the Lubavitcher rebbe. Through his ability to knit threads of holiness and ancient kabbalistic wisdom into the fabric of his puppetry, Taub has created a comedy sitcom to which fellow Hasidim return every week. The “Itche Kadoozy Show” features a Hasidic rabbi and his troublemaking young neighbor who poke lots of fun at each other and see the world through very different eyes, yet ultimately learn life’s mystical lessons from each other. Through these opposing characters, Taub brings a new dimension to his genre — secularism and sacredness mingled into one — leaving all types of fans begging for more.Read More


Paying Tribute to a Living Legend

By Joshua Cohen

Novelist, story-writer and memoirist Jakov Lind turns 80 on February 10. No longer a refugee and no longer writing, for the past decade he’s been unwillingly rooted in London, slowly dying from a motor neuron disease. He is scandalously under-read in his native Austria, and ignobly neglected, too, in the countries of his second written language, which is English; his birthday will be marked most notably with silence. Which would be unfortunate if his were a lesser talent. As it is, such silence is unforgivable. “Never forget” has literary implications, as well: Jakov Lind is the greatest living writer of Jewish Europe.Read More


The Jewish McLuhan

By Menachem Wecker

As a wakeup call to “an indifferent world” and “Jews with their heads in the sand,” Mel Alexenberg designed a Holocaust memorial to honor the 6 million Jews in Israel “incinerated by an Iranian nuclear bomb that is Iran’s prelude to global conquest in the service of a mad ideology.”Read More


A Historian-Soldier Bridges His Identities

By Gal Beckerman

Sitting on a stage in a mahogany-paneled study of the townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that contains the venerable Council on Foreign Relations, Michael Oren, the historian, was getting frustrated with the questions the standing room-only audience was lobbing at him. He had come to talk about his new book, a history of America’s relationship with the Middle East from 1776 to the present, but all anybody wanted to ask him about was evangelicals.Read More


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