Culture View

11/24/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

Several years ago, I asked a rabbi who teaches at my children’s day school in Harrisburg, Pa., if he was planning to have a lot of guests for Thanksgiving dinner. “We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving,” he told me. “We don’t need to. We express our gratitude to God all the time through our prayers.” I subsequently learned that charedi Jews are commanded not to observe Thanksgiving (nor even to eat a turkey sandwich on that day) on the grounds that it is centered on recognizing the bounty provided by God in a way that is not exclusively Jewish; it thus smacks, for them, of idol worship.

10/20/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

When the Anglo-Jewish playwright Israel Zangwill, in his popular 1908 drama, “The Melting Pot,” invented the term that became a major metaphor for how we view the ethnic life of New York, he wasn’t talking about food. Zangwill’s idea was that Old World European immigrants were being amalgamated with other immigrants in a divine “crucible” to form a sturdier, more self-reliant kind of person. But the reality, then as today, is that cultures do meet through food; Americans (beginning with the colonists and the Native Americans, as we celebrate at Thanksgiving) liberally sample each other’s dishes, often adopting them as their own.

10/07/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

Midway through its three-hour running time, there is a scene in Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary, “In Jackson Heights,” in which we see a few minutes of a typical workday in the office of Councilman Daniel Dromm. Two members of Dromm’s staff are fielding irate calls from constituents. We hear only their side of the conversations, so it takes a moment before it becomes clear what very local issue the callers are discussing. But it is impossible to miss the interplay of exasperation, concern and slowly eroding patience in the faces of Dromm’s long-suffering staffers.

09/24/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

09/18/2015 | | Special To the Jewish Week | Culture View

I can tell you from tedious first-hand experience that the Israeli film industry had a long, hard climb to its current exalted stature as a reliable source of intelligent, creative and provocative cinema, winners of golden bears, leopards, palms and other gilded flora and fauna, not to mention numerous Oscar nominations. Recently, though, the new Israeli government has shown a willingness to trade the prestige — and hard currency — provided by these triumphs for an unprecedented and sinister level of control.

08/25/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

When Cantor Seymour Rockoff of Kesher Israel Synagogue in Harrisburg, Pa., died last month, it was truly the end of an era. Rockoff had been the last chazzan standing in any of the five synagogues in my community, most of which had boasted full-time cantors for decades. Cantor Sherwood Goffin of Lincoln Square Synagogue eulogized his colleague as being equally at home belting out prayers in shul and performing in the Catskills; he noted that Cantor Rockoff’s own musical compositions ranged from an anthem of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The People of Israel Lives”), to Allan Sherman-style parodies of classic songs, such as “Cold Chopped Liver” (sung to the tune of Jerome Kern’s “Ol’ Man River”) and “Boro Park” (sung to the tune of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “New York, New York.”)