Well Versed

H&H Heretic: Why I Cheer the Closing of a Bagel Shop

On Monday the Upper West Side outlet of the venerated bagel store H&H closed, and not since the death of Michael Jackson has a New York summer seen so much grief. "There Goes a Piece of the Old Neighborhood, Again" ran a New York Times headline in a story dripping with pathos.

Goodbye Broner: In Memory of Esther Broner

I'll admit I did not know who Esther Broner was until she died on Monday.  But I certainly knew what she is most famous for: the feminist haggadah.  Though her professional life was devoted to academia--a professor of literature at Wayne State, Sarah Lawrence College and sometimes the University of Haifa--to say nothing of writing her many novels, Broner will be forever associated with feminist seders. 

Flaubert in Jerusalem: Notes From A Journey

Over the weekend I started reading Lydia Davis' wildly entertaining new translation of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary." I say masterly with little authority, I admit, given that I don't read French and have never read any other translation. Still, it takes some doing to make a classic seem like more than mere homework.  

Happy 107th, Leo Bloom!

Today, June 16, Leopold Bloom--the protagonist of James Joyce's revered and often inscrutable novel "Ulysses"--turns 107.  Happy Birthday!  And, also, so what? 

So what--because "Ulysses" is often regarded as one of the 20th centuries greatest novels, and also one of the greatest novels few have ever read.

So what--because Leopold Bloom is one of literature's most vexing Jewish characters, as he's born Jewish, but never circumcised and baptized three times in order to marry his Christian wife, Molly.

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.

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