Well Versed

Kirstein v. Blum: A Jewish Ballet Battle

Every time you watch the New York City Ballet, you are under the heal of George Balanchine, the company's founding choreographer and the 20th century's greatest dance-maker.  Many people know how he got there: Lincoln Kirstein, the son of a wealthy Jewish businessman and the company's co-founder, brought him over from Europe.  But what many don't know is that there was another heir to a Jewish fortune--Rene Blum--who tried to get him first. 

Israel Zangwill's Melting Pot And Europe's Anti-Muslim Problem

It doesn't matter if you're liberal or conservative--if you're European, "mutliculturalism" has become a dirty word.  The New York Times ran an op-edtoday by a British writer

A Tale of Two Cities: Jews vs. Hispanics and Blacks, New York City

New York magazine has a great chart comparing two adjacent New York City congressional districts in this week's issue.  One is District 14, which includes all of the Upper East Side, parts of Murray Hill, Long Island City, Astoria, and a few other less affluent places too.  The other is District 16, just north of the Upper East Side, and covers much of the South Bronx. The stats they line up are startling: the average income in District 14 is $79,385; in D-16 it's $23,073.

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.

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