A non-for-profit organization comprised of music-loving Jews, The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation illuminates the forgotten corners of Jewish music in America. The Society is perhaps best known for “Jewface,” a collection of vaudeville-era minstrelrsy like “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars” — songs that strike present-day listeners as the Jewish version of Uncle Tomming. Other compilations suggest that for Idelsohn’s curators, history is synonymous with crossover kitchiness — black and Latin artists interpreting Jewish classics, or the legendary Barry Sisters singing Yiddish versions of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” or “My Way.”
‘Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!” wrote Herman Melville in “Moby Dick.” In other words, writing is an endurance test, and it can drive you mad. And if it was problematic for him, imagine how the rest of us feel.
If you know where to look, there’s a lot of culture in Los Angeles: music, literature, visual art, food. And much of it is gratis. Grand Performances, a concert series that focuses on the cultural diversity of LA, often provides free shows — like “A Night at the Phillips Music Company,” on August 27, which celebrated the vibrant legacy of a bygone store and the ethnic mix of its neighborhood, Boyle Heights.
Perhaps it’s time to stop being surprised by the disproportionate number of successful Jews in any random profession. That’s one of the lessons to take from “Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age,” an entertaining exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on view until September 4.
I blame Heeb. Launched in 2001, “The New Jew Review” iterated a sharp, satirical take on Jewish culture. The idea was to edify through mockery: Thus a 2005 cover featured Sarah Silverman displaying her cleavage through a hole in a sheet. Although it can try too hard to shock (remember Roseanne Barr as Hitler baking “Jew cookies?”) Heeb is usually funny — and kind of cool.
A frum friend recently suggested I take a look at Unpious.com, a website of “news, commentary, and writings by and for Hasidim on the fringe.” The word “fringe,” in this case, is not a reference to tzitzit, but to the type of Hasid who supposedly writes for Unpious—ambivalent and sex-obsessed.