Well Versed

Notes on the Closing of Yale's Anti-Semitism Center

Last week, Yale made national headlines when it decided to close its five-year-old anti-Semitism institute. The decision came after a growing number of scholars began to question whether it was promoting anti-Arab sentiment, rather than coolly objective academic scholarship.  Not to toot my own horn, by I saw this one coming. 

Shavuot: A Night of (Unhappy) Learning

Shavuot, which starts tonight, is all about learning.  Jews are supposed to stay up all night reading in celebration of God giving Jews the Torah.  What makes the holiday rare, though, isn't the reading part--what Jewish holiday doesn't involve that?  It's that there's no bad guys in the story.  Unlike Passover, we don't commemorate Jews escaping a pharaoh in Egypt, or, as in Hanukkah, a revolt against the Romans. No matzah, no latkes, just books and books and books.

Girl with the L-Line Tattoo: Jill Abramson Takes Over The New York Times

Jill Abramson, the just-annouced new editor of The New York Times, got a tattoo when she was 49.  It was of a subway token and Abramson said she got it to re-affirm her roots as a lifelong New Yorker.  And perhaps needless to say, a Jewish New Yorker.  She spoke with New York magazine last year in a prophetic profile written when she was then the No. 2 editor at the paper, under Bill Keller's one-spot.

The Schooling of Gil Scott-Heron, Dead at 62

The Fieldston School in Riverdale has many famous alumni. They include: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Roy Cohn, Stephen Sondheim, Eli Zabar and Diane Arbus.  Needless to say they're all Jewish.  But re-reading this New Yorker profile of the revered black poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, I was reminded that the prestigious prep school has done much to reach out to less affluent non-Jews. 

The Tao of Terrence: Or, Is "The Tree of Life" a Jewish Film?

It's too bad Lars Von Trier stole the show at Cannes last week because the news would have otherwise been, well, the film that won the highest prize.  That honor went to the reclusive American director Terrence Malick's new film, "The Tree of Life," which stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and opens tomorrow.  

Kiddush Cups, Haggadahs Suddenly Chic? Major Museums Get Into Judaica

For years Jewish art museums have looked upon traditional Judaica with something approaching disdain.  The rising profile of venues like The Jewish Museum and the San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum's have premised their ascension on their embrace of modern and contemporary fine art--paintings by Rothko; sculpture by Nevelson--and their simultaneous downgrading of what used to be consider the only Jewish art--elaborately decorated Torah scrolls and pulchritudinous Kiddush cups; or in a word, Judaica.

Lars Von Trier and Holocaust Fatigue

The Cannes Film Festival's board of directors did the right thing in expelling Lars von Trier from the festival today.  The decision came only a day after Von Trier, a Danish director who was raised an atheist, though told that his father was Jewish, made outrageous comments about Hitler. 

Great Souls of Israel and Palestine: Or, Today's Gandhis

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a profile of Joseph Lelyveld, author of the much-discussed new Gandhi biography titled "Great Soul."  I focused on the parts of the book that focused on Gandhi's association with Jews--from the possible homosexual relationship he had with a Jewish architect, to his tenuous position on a Jewish state.  But in the new issue of Harper's, the courageous liberal Israeli journalist David Shulman writes the kind of review I wish I had: he highlights the real-life Gandhian figures i

The Jewish King Lear: Thoughts on BAM

I saw BAM's staging of "King Lear" this weekend and thought this blog would be about the titular role.  Lear is the play's cynosure, but Shakespeare spreads his talents liberally--no character goes without his quotient of richly rendered language or keen moral insight.  Even the immortal lines of the play's chief villain, Edmund, have just as much truth as anything mouthed by Lear:

Tony, Toni, Tone: An Intelligent Guide to the Kushner Affair

It isn't the best week for Tony Kushner. Earlier this week he was waylaid CUNY's board of trustees, after a right-wing Israel supporter who sits on the board convinced the school to rescind an honorary degree because of the playwright's criticism of Israel (first, I say with admittedly churlish pride, reported by my Jewish Week colleague, Doug Chandler). 

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