For Yiddish enthusiasts — among them academics, writers, and history buffs — it may seem that there is a perpetual dearth of good news. It would be silly to try and argue against such negativity — after all the evil eye is always watching. Still, even the darkest among us finds comfort in the rare burst of good news, especially when it relates to that golden purveyor of all news, good and bad: the newspaper.
In the digital age, we are constantly bemoaning the breakdown of real communication. But what happens when the culprit is language itself?
Peter Orner’s ‘Love and Shame and Love’ is a refreshing departure from the shtetl nostalgia shtick that has come to typify contemporary American Jewish fiction.
In the 1920s, at the height of Prohibition, underground saloons called speakeasies proliferated around the country. They got their name — according to an 1891 New York Times article — from one Kate Hester, who ran such a saloon in her Pennsylvania home, and who was known for telling her customers to “speak easy” when noise levels got too high.
“From Kabul to Queens: The Jews of Afghanistan and Their Move to the United States” by Sara Y. Aharon tells the story of Afghanistan’s Jewish community and its resettlement in the United States. The American Sephardi Federation held a book launch party November 3 at the Center for Jewish History. Before the event, Aharon, whose father was born in Afghanistan, sat down with The Arty Semite to talk about her book and about the Jews of Afghanistan.
A prolific novelist, Philip Roth, at 78, has authored 31 novels and received the most distinguished literary awards, including, most recently, the Man Booker International Prize, which was awarded to him yesterday despite heavy opposition from one of the judges, Carmen Calil. Calil, a feminist author and publisher, criticized Roth’s repetitiveness and resigned from the judging panel in protest over the award. In the midst of the controversy, and his generally reclusive nature notwithstanding, Roth made a rare public appearance May 18 at YIVO, where some 300 people gathered for an evening dedicated to his most recent novel, “Nemesis.”
Perhaps the greatest American poet ever to have lived, Walt Whitman was not always regarded as such. Thanks, in part, to the emergence of modernist forms in poetry toward the end of the 19th century, Whitman’s work did not attract critical attention until after his death in 1892. But for Jewish immigrant poets living in New York City at the turn of the century, Whitman was an iconic figure — a poet and even a prophet. The famous American Yiddish poet Morris Rosenfeld wrote an ode to Whitman, shortly after his death, which concludes “Prophet, immortal, I praise you / I fall now into the dust before your dust and sing!” And the legendary Yiddish writer Avrom Reyzn, in a study delineating Whitman’s influence on Yiddish poets, called him the “Prophet of New America.”
In “36 Righteous Men,” Argentinian director Dan Burman, who goes in this film by his newly discovered Hebrew name, David ben Leah, joins an organized tour of Orthodox Jews visiting the gravesites of Hasidic leaders across Eastern Europe. What brings Burman, a thoroughly secular Jew, on board a bus where only strictly kosher food is served, and where many of the participants sport beards and large yarmulkes, is a quest to learn about the 36 hidden righteous men in whose merit, it is said, the world exists.
When the anti-immigration laws of the early 1920s effectively sealed the gates of the United States to would-be immigrants, the Jews of Eastern Europe who had arrived en masse between 1880 and 1920 could no longer hope to see their loved ones join them in America. Instead, those who could afford to traveled abroad, visiting the cities and towns they had left behind. Often, they brought with them amateur film cameras, which were increasingly popular in the 1920s, to capture the world of their childhoods.
He was a proud Russian, a renegade Orthodox Jew, an ardent advocate of Jewish autonomy, and the man who pioneered the field of Jewish historiography at the turn of the 20th century. Yet Simon Dubnow continues to inspire Jewish scholarship today, as evidenced by a day-long conference at the YIVO institute for Jewish Research on October 24, marking the 150th anniversary of Dubnow’s birth.