Arts & Culture

America’s First Cultural Jew

By David Kaufmann

Emma Lazarus has been having a good run recently. Eighteen months ago — some 117 years after her early death from Hodgkin’s disease — John Hollander’s judicious selection of her poetry demonstrated that she was one of the most talented American poets of the 19th century, and far and away the best Jewish one. And now, Esther Schor’s intelligent, passionate and deeply sympathetic literary biography argues that Lazarus is a vitally important — even prophetic — writer, “more of our time than her own.”Read More

Walking Away From Icons

By Menachem Wecker

Although artist Lazar (El) Markovich Lissitzky flirted with numerous movements — including Suprematism, the Bauhaus, De Stijl and Constructivism — to some he will always be doomed to remain the artist whose work resembles that of Marc Chagall.Read More

Speakeasy Jews

By Ethan Kanfer

With its irresistible blend of innocence and envelope-pushing, the Jazz Age — an era of bootleggers, flappers and silent-movie stars — still holds a mythical fascination for today’s audiences. To this end, Ted Merwin, an assistant professor at Dickinson College and chief theater critic for the New York Jewish Week, has written “In Their Own Image: New York Jews in Jazz Age Popular Culture.” As suggested by the title, Merwin’s new book chronicles the increasing visibility of Jewish creative talent in the dynamic America of the 1920s. Impressively researched and entertainingly presented, this lively volume shows how the twin forces of immigrant acculturation and the quickening social pace of the Jazz Age helped put Jewish entertainers at the center of the new popular culture.Read More

France’s 900-page Cause Célèbre

By Joshua Cohen

Parisians are all in a fury, they’re reading in the streets. The newest cause célèbre of the French fall publishing season? A 900-page novel about the Holocaust, written in French by an expatriate Jewish American, 38-year-old Jonathan Littell.Read More

Matzo on the Merchandise Table

By Ben Levisohn

Ira Kaplan doth protest too much. The guitarist for indie rock band Yo La Tengo — a New Jersey trio known for their encyclopedic knowledge of pop music and for their jazzlike interplay — demurs when asked about his ties to Jewish tradition.Read More

Soldier GirI

By Karen Iris Tucker

In the comic-book frame, we can see the heroine: a squat, somewhat disheveled contrast to the smooth, self-possessed Israeli soldiers by whom she is surrounded. Her eyes, etched with a couple of ink dashes, nevertheless betray both vulnerability and alienation. Peering out of a pouchy Ashkenazic face, they seek out friendship, sex and acceptance from her Sephardic companions.Read More

Blitzkrieg Flop

By Alexander Gelfand

By turns entertaining and infuriating, Steven Lee Beeber’s “The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s” is a study in contradictions: Rarely have so many carefully researched facts been placed in service of such deeply flawed arguments.Read More

A Jew Walks Into a Bar...

By David Kaufmann

Funny is hard. Everyone knows that. And everyone, including Freud (especially Freud — what a joker!), knows that funny is not about what you say. It’s about how you say it. What nobody knows, and it’s a scandal, is how to bottle it, how to get it just right. It’s easier to figure out where and why it goes wrong.Read More

Jazzing Up Ancient Texts

By Mordechai Shinefield

In 2000, Ayelet Rose Gottlieb had just moved to Boston from Israel to attend the New England Conservatory when she received a care package from her mother. In it was a copy of ShirHaShirim, one of the five scrolls that constitute the third book of the Tanach. Many believe that King Solomon, born in Jerusalem in 1000 BCE, wrote the cycle of ancient poetry that deals with erotic love, expressed in the dialogue of a bridegroom and bride. Sitting down to absorb the book, Gottlieb found that King Solomon’s themes resonated, from the lush descriptive language to its story of a love affair.Read More

Reassessing FDR’s Legacy

By Gal Beckerman

In his counterfactual vision of the United States during World War II, “The Plot Against America,” Philip Roth imagines a world in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator turned America Firster and Nazi sympathizer. President Lindbergh soon signs a nonaggression pact with Hitler, and pogroms and persecution ensue for the Jews of the Weequahic section of Newark, N.J. All throughout this nightmare scenario, Roosevelt is the savior waiting in the wings. It’s an FDR we hadn’t seen in a long time, a “bulwark against oppression,” as Roth describes him, “the first living American I was taught to love.” How different this Roosevelt is from the one I grew up with.Read More

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