The Arts

Sprinting Toward Understanding

09/02/2014
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It was the disappointment of a lifetime. Two Jewish sprinters, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were suddenly dropped from the U.S. track team at the 1936 Summer Olympics (known as the “Nazi Olympics”) in Berlin in favor of two African-American athletes, Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalfe. In “Olympics Über Alles,” a play by Samuel J. Bernstein and Marguerite Krupp, the incident becomes the catalyst for a controversial contemporary museum exhibit in New York. The play began performances last week in Midtown.

Joshua Quat, Michael Engberg as the Jewish sprinters Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller in “Olympics Über Alles.”  Carol Rosegg

Two Takes On The Shoah And Its Aftermath

‘Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook)’ and ‘Shadows from My Past’ at the Quad.

08/27/2014
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The end of the First World War brought about the dismantling of both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires as well as the peace settlement that made possible both the rise of the Nazis and the chaotic creation of the modern Middle East. With the rather ironic conjunction of the latest outbreaks of violence in the Middle East and the centenary of the First World War, it is impossible not to note that two vastly different films about the Shoah and its aftermath are opening on Aug. 29 at the same multiplex. Each film came from one of the First World War’s biggest losers. A drama released in its home country in 2013, “Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook),” directed by János Szász from the novel by Agota Kristof, was made in Hungary; the new documentary “Shadows from My Past” is the work of Gita Kaufman, an Austrian Jew who escaped the Nazis as a child, and her husband and co-director Curt Kaufman, and focuses specifically on the Jewish-Austrian experience.

The identical twins at the center of “Le Grand Cahier (The Notebook”). Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Short Fiction, Long On Identity And Family

New collections by John J. Clayton, David Shrayer-Petrov and Judith Felsenfeld

08/26/2014
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John J. Clayton’s short stories have been awarded the O. Henry and Best American Stories prizes; “Radiance” was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. The 10 stories in “Many Seconds into the Future” (Texas Tech University Press), deal almost exclusively with Jewish men, aging, longing, aspiring, regretting, remembering and searching. These are tales of fathers and sons, of brothers, of husbands. Women have names but little color.

New biography suggests that the views of Israel’s first Ashkenazic chief rabbi were more pluralistic, and less nationalistic.

Reassessing Rav Kook

In new biography, Yehuda Mirsky argues that the founding chief rabbi of Israel’s ideas were co-opted by his son.

08/26/2014
Culture Editor
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While some books offer a good read, and others encapsulate groundbreaking scholarship, Yehudah Mirsky’s “Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution” (Yale University Press) manages to do both.

New biography suggests that Israel’s first Ashkenazic chief rabbi was more pluralistic. Courtesy of Yale University

Long, Strange Trip To Enlightenment

A secular Jew journeys into the world of Jewish mysticism in ‘Kabbalah Me.’

08/19/2014
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If there is a more unlikely purveyor of Kabbalah than Steven Bram it’s hard to imagine who it might be. Bram, the producer, co-director, narrator and protagonist of the new film “Kabbalah Me,” which opens on Aug. 22, is a producer of sports films, a Jets and Rangers fan and a secular Jew who was raised in the classical Reform tradition. But when he approached his 50th birthday, he began to wonder about “the spiritual secrets of the universe.” He asked himself, “What am I doing here?” and realized that he didn’t have an answer.

Director Steven Bram dancing with chasids in Meron, Israel, during Lag b’Omer festival.

The Dark Comedy Of Caregiving

Roz Chast’s heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny memoir of caring for her parents as the end nears.

08/12/2014
Culture Editor
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This book had me hooked with the cover. Made to look like a journal, it features a cartoon drawing of a bespeckled middle-aged daughter on one end of a fading sofa, facing her parents, who are seated with their arms crossed. In a bubble above his head, the father asks, “Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT?” That question is the title of Roz Chast’s memoir of her parents’ final years, and her role as their only child.

As for advice for dealing with aging parents, Chast quips, “Did you read my book? I clearly don’t know what to do.” Bill Franzen

Echoes Of Gaza At The Fringe

Two aspects of Palestinian terrorism on tap at politically minded festival.

08/12/2014
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Despite this week’s cease-fire in Gaza, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians reverberates half a world away in New York. In two plays at the New York International Fringe Festival this month, different facets of Palestinian terrorism come to the fore. In one, a one-woman show from Israel called “Samira,” presented by Anat Barzilay, the psychology of a female suicide bomber is laid bare. In the other, Meron Langsner’s “Over Here,” two young construction workers, one an Israeli and the other a Palestinian, forge a fragile friendship while on a job site in Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11. Both plays are running through Aug. 24 in the East Village. 

Anat Barzilay, the playwright and star of “Samira,” about a female suicide bomber.  Courtesy of Fringe Festival

Singing The Blues, Greek-Jewish Style

Kol Dodi Orchestra plays ‘rebetica’ folk music at Eldridge Street.

08/07/2014
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 When he was a child growing up in Israel, Yaron Hanoka would sit in the back of the family car with his brother and sister, and when their father would play Greek songs on the radio or tape deck they would bristle.

The Kol Dodi Orchestra brings rebetica to the Lower East Side. Courtesy of Museum at Eldridge Street

When Shiva Means More Than Mourning

A family comes apart in Josh Metzger’s ‘Sitting Shiva.’

08/06/2014
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In the intensity of its detachment from ordinary life, the shiva period can be an opportunity for bonding among the surviving family members. Or, as in Josh Metzger’s new play, “Sitting Shiva,” the Jewish mourning ritual can thrust family members together in a way that that brings long-buried resentments and jealousies to the fore. In Metzger’s lacerating drama, three middle-aged Jewish brothers who have gathered to mark their father’s passing end up battling over his emotional and financial patrimony. It runs through mid-August at the New York International Fringe Festival.

Neal Mayer stars as the eldest of three brothers in Josh Metzger’s in “Sitting Shiva.” Kristin Hoebermann

For Bert Berns’ Children, A Labor Of Love

New musical about soulful but long-forgotten songwriter is ‘fulfillment of Dad’s dream.’

08/05/2014
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They never knew their father, but the children of songwriter Bert Berns have spent the better part of a decade trying to rescue him from oblivion. And they are making a lot of people wonder why the creator of “Twist and Shout,” “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and “Here Comes the Night” ever slipped from the rock music radar in the first place.

The cast of “Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story.” Jenny Anderson
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