The Social-Justice Camera

06/11/2012 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

The concept of “tikkun olam” — repairing the world — is a central tenet of Judaism. It is also, not infrequently, an excuse for critics like your humble servant to shoehorn texts and art that are not obviously Jewish into the pages of a Jewish newspaper. But there are times when the connection between Jewish identity, social justice work and the arts is so palpable that to ignore it would be more foolish than to proclaim it.

Bernard Cole’s “Shoemaker’s Lunch,” from 1944, is part of documentary on the Photo League.

Strange Fruit

‘Tough Guy’ author Rich Cohen finds another quintessentially American character in United Fruit Company’s Samuel Zemurray.
06/04/2012 - 20:00
Staff Writer

The author Rich Cohen first heard about Samuel Zemurray in the late-1980s. Cohen was sitting in a sophomore class on American Jewish fiction at Tulane, and the professor gave a lecture about Zemurray, the longtime president of the United Fruit Company, and, in the early 20th century, one of the richest men in America.

Cohen tells a classic rags-to-riches story in the tale of Samuel Zemurray.

The ‘Middle’ Movement Affirms, Updates Its Middle Path

Ten years in the making, ‘The Observant Life’ charts a course for between ancient wisdom and say, Internet file sharing, for Conservative Jews.
05/07/2012 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

What does it mean to be an observant Jew in the 21st century? The question sounds deceptively simple, but the answer takes more than 30 rabbis and nearly 1,000 pages in the massive volume being published later this month by the Rabbinical Assembly of Judaism’s Conservative movement, “The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews.” That’s nearly twice the length of the book it updates, Rabbi Isaac Klein’s 1979 “A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice.” Has the world — or Judaism — changed that much in the 33 years in between the appearance of those books?

Conservative movement’s new guide to Jewish life reflects societal changes.

Writing Between Worlds

Life and art collide in the work of Israeli Arab novelist Sayed Kashua.
04/30/2012 - 20:00
Jewish Week Book Critic

When I ask Sayed Kashua about the roots of his humor, he says that he isn’t sure, but that it probably has something to do with his discovery, as an Israeli Arab attending a Jewish high school, that humor could protect him.

Kashua’s third novel underlines the complexities of life in Israel for minorities.

From Here To Absurdity

The tortured (and hilarious) road to recovery of an up-and-coming comedian with a hair-raising biography.
04/16/2012 - 20:00
Staff Writer

Many of the best comedians have had deeply troubled pasts. But Moshe Kasher, a rising 32-year-old comic and author of a new memoir, “Kasher in the Rye,” takes the old adage to a new level.

Kasher in the Rye book cover.

Are You There God? It’s Us, The Jews

Can religion, especially Judaism, work if you don’t believe in the Big Guy upstairs?
04/09/2012 - 20:00
Staff Writer

The latest turn in the New Atheist debates can be summed up like this: even if you don’t believe in God, religion still has a lot to offer. Public intellectuals like Alain de Botton and James Gray in Britain, and scientists like E.O. Wilson and Jonathan Haidt in America, all of them atheists, have made a similar case in their recent books and essays.

Photo Credit: Daniel Addison

The (Piano) Keys To Her Survival

Centenarian Alice Herz-Sommer, the subject of two books, credits music with sustaining her at Terezin; other new Holocaust books also highlight women’s experiences.
04/09/2012 - 20:00
Jewish Week Book Critic

At 108, Alice Herz-Sommer is believed to be the oldest living Holocaust survivor. Born in Prague, she watched her mother being deported to Terezin in 1942, and never saw her again. A year later, she was also deported there with her husband and son. By then, Herz-Sommer was an acclaimed pianist, and continued to play in the concentration camp, giving more than a hundred concerts to fellow prisoners and to the Nazis. Her husband was killed in the camp just before liberation.

New and recently translated books depict women's experiences before and during the Holocaust.

Claude Lanzmann, Action Man

The maker of ‘Shoah’ looks at his own life, and all he did with his time.
03/26/2012 - 20:00
Special to the Jewish Week

To most Jewish Week readers, Claude Lanzmann is the man who directed “Shoah,” the nine-and-three-quarter-hour documentary about the murder of six million European Jews by the Nazis. Of course, if that were all he had done, Lanzmann would be worthy of admiration and study. As Franco-Jewish journalist Jean Daniel told him after one of the first screenings of the film, “This justifies a life.”

In a non-linear autobiography, Claude Lanzmann discusses a life of action and travel, celebrities and Holocaust survivors.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Passover

In the Jonathan Safran Foer-Nathan Englander ‘New American Haggadah,’ tradition and modern literary sensibilities collide.
03/12/2012 - 20:00
Staff Writer

The novelist Jonathan Safran Foer grew up with a fairly typical American Passover. His father would use the Maxwell House Haggadah, supplemented with his own pamphlet of writings, and lead the annual Foer seder. But nine years ago, sitting at his family seder in Washington, D.C., Foer thought that, literary-wise, the Haggadah could use a little work.

New Foer-Englander Haggadah.

Nathan Englander Comes Home To The Short Story

After a novel and forays into playwriting and translations, the celebrated author returns to his specialty.
02/13/2012 - 19:00
Staff Writer

When Nathan Englander sat down for a recent interview at a hummus restaurant in the East Village, he had just come from the Public Theater. He was there helping stage a theater adaptation of one of his early short stories, “The Twenty-Seventh Man,” which will premiere at the Public in November.

“I just missed stories and was ready to write them again. It’s like growing your tail back,” Englander says.
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