At a recent performance of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange’s innovative and sometimes astonishing work “Small Dances about Big Ideas,” originally commissioned by Harvard Law School to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials, a young American woman is shown planting red flags in the earth in Rwanda, each one representing the presence of a body (or body part) at the site of a massacre.
In David Grossman’s title essay from his new book “Writing in the Dark,” the Israeli novelist states that writing “has immense power, the power to change a world and create a world, the power to give words to the mute and to bring about tikkun — “repair” — in the deepest, kabbalistic sense of the word.”
A simple sentence, bold in its assertion of the power of writers and writing, but one that reveals layer upon layer of meaning.
First of all, what is “the Dark” to which he refers?
I was first baffled, then amused, and then finally inspired when I woke up this morning and read “The Daily Show” writer Rob Kutner’s blog entry on The Huffington Post: “My new book, ‘Apocalypse How,’ is about how the world is about to end ... and why we should be psyched! It’s the first-ever work of apocalyptic literature that ‘accentuates the positive’ — and teaches you how to not just survive, but thrive....”
It’s not often that one visits a contemporary art installation, opens up the comment book, and reads the following: “First of all, I am a broken vessel, a victim of abuse, and I am in the process of healing.” Or: “Today, June 8, makes 7 years since I lost my wife.” Other entries include promises to help woman held in sexual bondage, or work with local schools to improve the quality of education.
Floating above the earth now like one of his weightless figures, Marc Chagall might look kindly on the recent renaissance of American Jewish culture. The mixing of Jewish motifs and secular styles; the combination of biblical themes and contemporary events; the use of playfulness to recover, even after last century's tragedy, the joie de vivre of the Jewish folk: the Russian painter's colorful, surreal, shtetl-inspired work is a model for Jews now creating inspiring Jewish lives while still being firmly connected to secular culture.
The New York Times Book Review's recent survey of the "the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years" produced a number of interesting findings. The first was that, despite Toni Morrison's "Beloved" winning the prize, there were hardly any books by women among the multiple vote-getters. The second was that Philip Roth had far more of his books on the short list than anyone else, and if the Times had instead asked the question "Who is the best American writer of the last 25 years?" he would have won hands down.
At the Koret Jewish Book Awards last week in San Francisco, Stanford Professor and Koret Awards chair Steven Zipperstein asked for a minute of silence to remember Saul Bellow, who had just died. Zipperstein rightly praised Bellow for his unique contribution to Jewish and American letters, and we must give Bellow his due for helping create a new American language mixing high and low, combining the immigrant’s energy with the scholar’s subtlety.
The buzzword in business circles is synergy. That’s what JDub Records was looking for when the not-for-profit label began to think about its third annual Chanukah event. And when Rabbi Daniel Brenner, the vice president for education at the Birthright Israel Foundation, told JDub heads Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harris that he was interested in doing a project with them, the buzz of synergy filled the air.