The Arts

Jewish Singer Hooked On Bossa Nova

How does a rabbi’s kid from New Jersey get swept up in a Brazilian musical wave? Meet singer-songwriter Avi Wisnia.

06/18/2010
Special To The Jewish Week

If singer-songwriter Avi Wisnia’s new CD “Something New” were a tapestry, when you turn it over you would see a bright yellow-green thread running through every song, a skein of Brazilian jazz steeped in bossa nova and samba. That is a nice musical preoccupation to have under any circumstances, but as one critic asked recently, How does a rabbi’s kid from New Jersey get hooked on bossa nova? And we do mean hooked: Wisnia did his undergraduate work at NYU’s Albert Gallatin School on Brazilian music, language and culture.

Singer-songwriter Avi Wisnia

‘I Never Felt In My Place’

In ‘Let It Rain,’ filmmaker/actress Agnes Jaoui, the French-born daughter of Tunisian Jewish
immigrants, explores damaged people.

06/15/2010
Special To The Jewish Week

Agnes Jaoui knows what it feels like not to fit in.

“My parents were Jews from Tunisia,” she says, sitting on the edge of the bed in a Soho hotel suite. “I was born in a suburb of Paris, but when I was 7 we moved to Paris itself. We lived in a poor and ugly block, but in a very chic arondissement [neighborhood]. So I went to very, very good schools, but it was purely by chance, because we were in this arondissement. I never felt in my place, nowhere.”

Agnes Jaoui as Agathe Villanova and Jean-Pierre Bacri in Jaoui’s “Let it Rain.”

A Ballet For Bugsy Siegel?

06/09/2010
Staff Writer

 When she was growing up, Melissa Barak hated Christmas. “I used to beg for a tree,” said Barak, a choreographer who premiered a new work for New York City Ballet last weekend.

Her mother, who was Jewish, tried to cheer Barak up by listing all the famous Jewish stars. “Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, she’d say. She did it to make me feel better.” It didn’t work, Barak said.

But then her mother added one more: “Well, the guy who created Las Vegas was Jewish,” Barak recalled her mother saying. That caught her attention.

Melissa Barak, foreground, rehearsing dancers Robert Fairchild and Jennifer Ringer for “Call Me Ben.” Paul Kolnik

A Rivers Runs Through It

06/08/2010
Special to the Jewish Week

In what must be one of the most peculiar assertions ever made by a major philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead once told an interlocutor that his only problem with the Jews was their lack of humor. Lack of humor?! Must have been those Anglo-Jewish academics he hung out with.

What Is It About Shylock?

In post-Madoff New York, two new productions of ‘Merchant of Venice’ (one starring Al Pacino) are on the boards this month.

06/08/2010
Special To The Jewish Week

If any theatrical character continues to haunt and fascinate us centuries after his debut upon the stage, it is Shylock, the frightening, agonized Jewish moneylender who demands to be repaid only with a pound of flesh. While Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” has always ranked among the most popular of the Bard’s plays in this country, Shylocks are popping up all over the city these days.

Al Pacino

A Guitarist’s Jewish Sparks

For Tim Sparks, it’s a long way from Southern Baptist North Carolina to Tzadik records.

06/08/2010
Special To The Jewish Week

It is a cliché to say that music can change someone’s view of the world. But in the case of guitarist Tim Sparks, it’s true.

Sparks, who will be performing at The Stone on June 14, grew up in North Carolina where he was “exposed to a lot of heavy-duty Southern Baptist culture,” he said in a telephone interview last week from his home in Minneapolis. “I’ve spent most of my life trying to work my way out of that.”

His passport to a wider worldview was his guitar.

Tim Sparks’ journey has taken him from the blues to classical to  the music of the Jewish diaspora.

Israel’s ‘Minority In A Minority’

Dor Guez’s video triptych examines the complicated identities of his Arab Christian family members.

06/01/2010
Special To The Jewish Week

If you don’t think that human identity is evanescent, multilayered, poly-vocal and downright confused, you probably won’t get “The Monayer Family,” a triptych of short videos by Dor Guez currently on display at the Jewish Museum.

Guez is a provocative, gifted artist who works in a variety of disciplines and media, focusing his attention on issues of multiculturalism, ethnicity and personal identity; appropriately, his own identity is as contested and complex as it is possible to imagine. The work, unsurprisingly, is the same.

The filmmaker’s grandfather, Jacob, in scenes from “The Monayer Family.”

Milt Gross' Cartoons Get Stage Treatment

06/01/2010
Special to the Jewish Week

Before Matt Groening, before Art Spiegelman, before even Charles Schultz, there was Milt Gross. Gross was a pioneering early-20th-century American cartoonist, one whose comic strips, graphic novels, and animated films were all inflected with an immigrant Jewish accent and sensibility. Almost a century later, Gross’ parody of Jewish life in 1920s New York, “Nize Baby,” has been adapted to the stage by the Medicine Show Theatre, a company that is known for its experimental approach to classic works.

Small Figures Reveal Big Holocaust Story

‘Kamp’ recreates Auschwitz in miniature.

06/01/2010
Staff Writer

When the Nazis invaded Holland in May of 1940, Pauline Kalker’s grandfather, Joseph Emanuel, who was Jewish, went into hiding. He moved from house to house, evading the Nazis for several months. But soon he was caught. The Nazis tortured him for three days, hoping to get information about where other Jews were hiding, but he did not crack.

Ten Dutch artists built a near-exact model of Auschwitz, including its gas showers and ovens. Photos by Herman Helle

Changing Images Muddy Picture Of Zionism, Israel

For young American Jews, it’s a long way from ‘Exodus’ to the separation wall.

05/26/2010
Staff Writer

 In 1960, the film “Exodus” was nominated for three Academy Awards. Based on Leon Uris’ novel about the founding of Israel, it seems hard to believe that such a film, drenched in Jewish military heroism and suffused with Holocaust imagery and Arab aggression, could have such broad and unambiguous appeal. But it did. It not only won an Oscar, it also starred a Hollywood icon, Paul Newman, as the heroic Jewish fighter, and even made a commendable showing at Cannes.

But almost a half-century later, a very different film about Israel won an Oscar nomination. “Waltz With Bashir,” (2008) directed by the Israeli Ari Folman, put a spotlight on the massacres at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps during the first Lebanon War.  

Two images of Israel, two generations: “Exodus” and “Waltz with Bashir.”
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