Well Versed

When A Paranormal Romance Meets Holocaust Literature

Just when you think every possible angle of the Holocaust has been explored in literature, ad infinitum, along comes “The Color of Light” (Stony Creek Press) by Helen Maryles Shankman, a tale of art school, the Holocaust, and yes—vampires.

Via helenmarylesshankman.com

Philomena’s Jewish Moment

"Philomena" may be the come-from-behind winner in Sunday night’s Academy Awards presentations. The outstanding film –based on a true story -- about an Irish Catholic woman searching for the son she was forced to give up as a teenager when she was sent to a convent has been nominated for four Oscars, including Best Film.

Judy Dench  and Steve Coogan in “Philomena.” Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

A Life Of Music, Forgiveness And Optimism

The opening showing of my pre-Oscar night nominated shorts marathon was 10:35 Sunday morning. I was one of half-a-dozen people nestled in IFC’s coziest screening room to view "The Lady in No.6," which enhanced my experience falling in love with the documentary’s then 109 year-old subject, Alice Herz-Sommer.

Alice Herz-Sommer, from the film “The Lady in No.6."  Via nickreedent.com

Zusha And Its Niggunim

The name Zusha is most commonly associated with an 18th century chasidic rebbe from the town of Anipoli in southeast Poland. Reb Zusha was a student of the Maggid of Mezritch, a main disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and was known for his great piety, scholarship and penchant for bursting out in spontaneous joy.

Fans at Zusha concert. Orli Major

From The Jewish Feminist Frontier

The Jewish feminist movement has brought about remarkable changes in religious community life. But not everyone welcomes these shifts. More than one influential blogger has pointed to the “feminization” of Judaism, particularly in the more liberal sectors, as a contributing factor to the worrisome decline highlighted by the recent Pew report.

Judith Plaskow and Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses. Photo courtesy JCC in Manhattan

David Broza’s Jerusalems

“[What’s So Funny ‘Bout] Peace Love & Understanding” David Broza asks, in his recording of Nick Lowe’s song on his new CD, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.” That song, with the accompaniment of the Jerusalem Youth Chorus of the Jerusalem International YMCA – a group of Jewish and Arab teens -- is now being played regularly on Galei Zahal, Israel Army Radio.

David Broza. Photo by Michael Datikash

Remembering Sid Caesar

Comedy great Sid Caesar died on Wednesday at age 91, at his home in Beverly Hills.  His pioneering work in television in the 1950s, with “Your Show of Shows,” spawned television’s golden age. I interviewed Caesar in November 2003 when his book  “My Life in Comedy, With Love and Laughter" was published.  Some excerpts of that interview follow.

Sid Caesar, 1922 - 2014

Eye On The Lower East Side

Think photos of the Lower East Side and you might well conjure up Jacob Riis’ grainy black and white images, Hebrew signs hanging from stoop steps, pushcarts lining crowded streets.  Or perhaps you’re remembering more recent images ‒ burnt-out buildings, gangs and cigarette butts hanging from slack mouths during the ’70s. Maybe for you, the Lower East Side is all about discount Sunday shopping in the ‘80s. But it’s not the old neighborhood anymore, as Sally Davies’ “Photographs of the Lower East Side” -- now on view on 57th Street -- at the Bernarducci  Meisel Gallery make clear.

"Rearview Snowstorm," 2010. ©Sally Davies

On View: The Story of Esther’s Children

The story of Esther, who courageously foiled a plot to exterminate the Jews of ancient Persia (modern-day Iran), is the keystone of the Purim tradition and Iranian Jews have always strongly identified with that singular Jewish heroine.  Even today, Iran’s remaining 25,000 Jews go to pray at the tomb of Esther and Mordechai ‒ yes, there is such a place ‒ and the Jewish queen is remembered on a daily basis through amulets seeking her protection and beautifully illustrated renderings of the megillah (scroll) telling her story.  No surprise that modern Iranian Jews are occasionally referred to as Esther’s children. 

Painted Doors; Iran, 19th century; wood, pigment. Collection of Miriam Kove, New York. Photo courtesy Beit Hatfutsot – The M

Mixed Media And Mothers At LABA

When was the last time you thought about – or stopped thinking about – this: “It’s not so simple to love your mommy.” Israeli novelist and philosopher Ruby Namdar surprises his audience at the 14th St. Y’s LABAlive performance with that deceptively simple  - - yet highly provocative - - opening line in his introduction to the evening’s performance.

Tom Block, “Valencia”
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