Well Versed

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). 

Goodbye Galassi!

I couldn't help but be saddened by the snippet of art-world news I read today: long-time MoMA photography curator Peter Galassi announced his retirement.  He's not exactly old--he's 60--but he's been at the MoMA for more than three decades and has been an tremendous boon for contemporary photography.  One of my favorite shows in recent memory, at any New York City museum, and in any medium, was the Jeff Wall retropsecive in 2007.  But

The Most Goyish Tony Awards Ever?

The 2011 Tony Awards were announced this morning, and an admittedly shallow reading of the nominees suggests that it just might be least Jewish year on Broadway ever.  In fact, it might just be the most Christian the Tony's has ever been: "The Book of Mormon," "Sister Act" and the notoriously anti-semitic "Merchant of Venice" all stand out in the major categories. 

Kvelling Over Obama: Kwame Anthony Appiah on the President's Roots

I knew Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Princeton philosopher, was smart. But I didn't realize he knew so much about Judaism--or at least about the etymology of the Yiddish word "kvelling."  Do you know it?

Nathan Englander: Thespian?

Jewish fiction is alive and well in America, and holding up a large pike in the tent is Nathan Englander. The Orthodox day school drop-out, born in 1970 on Long Island, has never made his affinity for Jews a secret: "The Ministry of Special Cases," his 2007 best-seller, focused on Jews who disappeared during Argentina's "dirty war." And his first collection of short stories, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges" (2000), was riddled with Jewish-themed works.

The Holocaust and Pacifists: Would Pacifism Saved More Jews than War?

The thought seems outrageous: that pracifism, a principled objection to America's entrance into World War II, would have saved more Jews than fighting Hitler and defeating Nazism altogether.  But that is the argument that Nicolson Baker, the novelist and author of the 2008 pacifist's interpretation of the war, Human Smoke, makes in his month's Harper's.  And his case is compelling.

Who Killed Tupac?: The Jewish Defense League and an Unsolved Mystery

Much like my parents remember the day JFK was shot, I remember the day Tupac died. I grew up a hip-hop fan, and still am, and remember vividly my rapture with the Harlem-born, Los Angeles-based rapper.  For me Tupac had all the qualities I still admire in poets, which have now only been transfigured on to more "respectable" literary models: defiance, brashness, charm, a temerity bordering on recklessness. So you can imagine how I felt when he was murdered in Las Vegas back in 1996.

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