Culture View

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.”)

07/28/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

Last week YIVO sent out a very special e-mail. It contained a link to Theodore Bikel’s last public performance, at the organization’s 13th Annual Heritage Luncheon on June 18. Bikel was the principle honoree, recipient of YIVO’s lifetime achievement award, and in a video clip (which can be seen on YouTube) he sits very erect in his wheelchair, guitar on his lap, singing “Di zun vet aruntergeyn/The Sun Soon Will Be Setting.” The song is a collaboration between the great Yiddish poet Moishe Leib Halpern and composer Ben Yomen, but the English adaptation is by Bikel himself, who sings at one point, “we’ll fly/Leaving earth far below/To a land where all longing does go.”

07/21/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

In one-woman shows like “Fires in the Mirror,” about the Crown Heights riots, and “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992,” about the violence following the Rodney King affair, Anna Deavere Smith helped create a new kind of theater. Playing dozens of characters, all based on extensive interviews with real people, Smith provoked an unusual level of audience empathy, in part because she literally embodied those peoples’ stories. The violence she chronicled — which is at base a failure of empathy — was reversed in the telling of the story.

07/08/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

When I was a kid growing up in Poughkeepsie and the Five Towns, my father’s parents lived with us. Although they were both born in Manhattan, they spoke fluent Yiddish when they didn’t want me to know what the subject was, and my father, who spoke little Yiddish, understood enough to join the mysterious (to me) conversation. They’re all dead now, and I still haven’t learned much Yiddish

06/23/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

‘Hurry up!” The text message from my friend materialized on my phone. “Seats are going fast, and I just tripped over two walkers, a cane, and an old lady in a wheelchair.” I was en route to the Harrisburg JCC, where a showing of Ron Frank and Mevlut Akkaya’s 2013 film, “Where Comedy Went to School,” about Catskills comics, was about to begin. Perhaps not surprisingly, the audience members were almost entirely geriatric; they especially appreciated the live comedy act that followed the film, in which an aging female comic from New York cracked jokes about incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and difficulties in mastering new technology.

05/19/2015 | | Special To The Jewish Week | Culture View

We don’t know where the Torah was given, we don’t know when the Torah was given, we don’t know if the Torah was given.”