The Arts

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

The Keys To Survival

Mona Golabek’s Holocaust-themed ‘The Pianist of Willesden Lane.’

07/30/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
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If anyone believes in the healing and redemptive properties of music, it is pianist Mona Golabek. Her new play, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” traces the harrowing story of her mother’s escape from the Nazis on the Kindertransport and the rebuilding of her life in London, on the way to a concert music career. It opened last week in Midtown; Charles Isherwood of The New York Times calls it “deeply affecting,” noting that the play is “packed with startling setbacks … and equally dramatic triumphs.”

Mona Golabek in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane.” Cynthia N. Olkie

Immigrants All Around

Meyer Lansky, his mistress and an American journalist on assignment collide in Zachary Lazar’s new novel.

07/30/2014
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Hannah Groff travels to Israel on assignment, to write about the murder of poet David Bellen. The poet had writen a book called “Kid Bethlehem,” with the biblical King David reimagined as a 20th-century gangster, and then his body was found in the village of Beit Sahour, outside of Bethlehem. As soon as Hannah arrives, she’s asked again and again, Why have you never been to Israel?

Keeper Of Her Grandfather’s Memory

Remembering Bel Kaufman, author of influential city schools novel and diplomat-at-large for the iconic Sholem Aleichem.

07/29/2014
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Bel Kaufman published her first poem, a paean to spring, as a 7-year-old in Odessa. It was four lines long, signed Belochka Koifman, in a Russian children’s magazine. When she was 11, she began a drama, and wrote 60 pages describing the characters in a notebook that she carried with her when the family moved to New York later that year, and which she kept through her life. Everyone in her family wrote: her mother Lyalya published stories; her father, a physician, was a poet and translator; and her grandfather, who wrote many letters to her, was the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem.

Bel Kaufman, who died last week at 103, at her home in recent years, and with Sholem Aleichem. RECENT PHOTO CREDIT: M Dadikash

A Filmmaker Shaped By War

New film documents life and work of Samuel Fuller, who helped liberate the camps.

07/29/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
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Samuel Fuller held the distinction of being the only Hollywood filmmaker/GI who participated in the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp at the end of World War II. Already in his early 30s, Fuller (whose family name was changed from Rabinowitz before he was born) had logged several screenwriting credits before he volunteered in the wake of Pearl Harbor; his mother would send him a 16mm movie camera while he was overseas with the 1st U.S. Infantry, and with it he shot footage of his buddies, of the brutal combat he endured over the course of four years and, inevitably, of the camp at Falkenau.

Samuel Fuller on the set, in a scene from “A Fuller Life.”  Courtesy of MoMA.
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