eric herschthal

Felix Mendelssohn: A Jewish Christian, Discuss.

Tonight the New York Philharmonic begins the first of three "Elijah" performances.  They should all be magnificent, on purely aesthetic grounds.  But there's a deep theological divide embedded in this work too, and one that has profound implications for our understanding of how Jewish a composer -- if one at all -- Felix Mendelssohn was.

Paul Giamatti Goes Jewish: "Barney's Version," A Preview

On December 17, the effortlessly morose Paul Giamatti stars as the effortlessly morose fictional character Barney Panofsky.  The creation of celebrated Canadian author Mordecai Richler, Panofsky is the politically incorrect central character that suffers from Alzheimer's in Richler's comic and touching novel "Barney's Version" (1997).

Must All Art Be Propaganda?: Syrians Speak

In 1941, George Orwell wrote what may stand as the pithiest piece of writing about art and propoganda to date.  His essay "The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda" argued that, by the 1930s, it was impossible to be an English writer and not write about politics, however you chose to cloak it.  The aesthetic concerns of an earlier age--"art for art's sake," as he called it--were only possible when the climate was not choked with insecurity and political upheaval.  

Death, and "Fiddler of the Roof"

My story this week is about the scholars who are pushing hard against myths about the shtetl, especially the kind peddled by "Fiddler on the Roof."  

As it happens, the composer of that Tony-winning classic died yesterday: Jerry Bock, at 81.  Eerily, the writer of the musical's book, Joseph Stein, died ten days before.  They both will be missed, deeply.

Another Kiefer Controversy?

The Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea will open its Anselm Kiefer exhibit, "Next Year in Jerusalem," this week.

I can't wait.

Kiefer has been courted controversy ever since he established himself in the '60s, taking pictures of himself doing the Nazi salute. As a non-Jewish German born the year the war ended, in 1945, there was always a layer of suspicion added to any explanation he gave.  But he always gave one, maybe frustratingly plain to some, but never coy.

The Shtetl, Reconsidered

A new generation of scholars is upending traditional notions of Jewish ‘memory’ and why Jews left Eastern Europe.

11/02/2010
Staff Writer

When the historian Rebecca Kobrin began researching her book “Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora,” which came out this spring, she was struck by the strange way Eastern European Jewish immigrants used words like “exile” and “diaspora.” Between 1880 and 1914, when most of America’s Jews came over from Europe, they did not speak about exile in terms of Israel, as we often do now. They used those words instead in relation to the places they actually left: Bialystok, Vilna, Warsaw, Lodz.

“Fiddler on the Roof,”

Violence and Israel: Yael Hedaya Responds

When HBO's third season of "In Treatment" premiered this week, one story line was that it lost its main writer, the Israeli novelist Yael Hedaya.  (To fans of the show, don't worry: Jhumpa Lahiri is her replacement.) The HBO version was really an adaptation, nearly verbatim, of the Israeli hit series Bi'Tipul, where Hedaya wrote some of the best shows.  Now in her mid-40s and still living in Israel, Hedaya is releasing her third novel in English translation this month, "Eden.&

Subversive Swastika: Or, Is Nara's Art Innoncent?

Years ago, on a trip to Japan, I came across a swastika.  Dozens of them, actually, in museums across the country.  I was shocked, what Westerner wouldn't be? 

No doubt this has happened to many Western travelers in Asia, and no doubt many have gotten the re-assuring answer from tour guides or friends: don't worry, it just means "good luck." Buddhists have been using it as a symbol for luck for more than 2,000 years.

The Curious Case of Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel Laureate 2010

Mario Vargos Llosa, the Peruvian writer who today won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was not Jewish. But he nevertheless often wrote about them: in "The Storyteller," (1989), about a Jewish anthropoligist in Lima who shacks up with a  tribe deep in the Amazon; as a contributer to the Commentary; and, recently, as an outspoken critic of Israel.

Given his not infrequent association with Jews, it is worth asking what he actually thinks of them. 

The Last Word: Musings on Literary Estates, from Kafka to Kerouac

Last week I wrote about the ongoing battle over Chaim Grade's literary estate.  Then on Sunday, The New York Times Magazine had a front-pager on Kafka's  estate, which the National Library of Israel wants.  But which the descendants of Max Brod, who Kafka gave his papers to and told him to destroy, remain tied up in a ca

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