Saturday, October 24, 2009

You don't see this every day

Unique performance of worlds most popular Neapolitan song.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"The Jewish Afterlife" Jew in the City, Episode 7

Simeon Solomon

This painter of biblical scenes, who died in shame and obscurity, is undergoing a revival.
By Menachem Wecker

Simeon Solomon represented dozens of subjects from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Kings, Ezekiel, Ruth, and Song of Songs. Though he created paintings and drawings with titles such as Eve of the Sabbath and Jewish Wedding Ceremony (both published in 1862) and Carrying the Scrolls of the Law (1867), Solomon is relatively unknown in the Jewish community. This is probably due to his disgrace after being accused of public sodomy and his subsequent bankruptcy. Yet trends in current scholarship are giving Solomon's work a life after death.
Growing Up as an "Ugly Jew"

The eighth child of Michael Solomon and Catherine Levy, Simeon was born in London on October 9, 1840. His father, a merchant who sold Leghorn hats--and the first Jew to be named a Freeman of the City of London, a prerequisite to practicing business in London--died when Simeon was still a teenager.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, 1863

After his father’s death, Solomon’s brother Abraham taught him studio drawing, while his sister Rebecca was responsible for his Jewish education. According to art historian Elizabeth Prettejohn, Solomon learned "at least some Hebrew," and he gained "detailed knowledge" of scripture.

In his 20s, Solomon joined the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters and poets that formed in 1848 as a reaction against London’s top art establishment, the Royal Academy. The brotherhood's name reflected its members' desire to return to the morality and sincerity that characterized art before the Italian Renaissance, literally pre-Raphael. The Pre-Raphaelites often included religious symbols and figures in their art, so in this sense Solomon fit right in.

As a Jew, though, Solomon remained an outsider. In her diary, Solomon's friend Emily Ernestine Bell called him "very young, ugly, and Jewish looking." Solomon was "certainly not good looking, rather the reverse," the historian Oscar Browning, who knew Solomon, echoed. "He was very Jewish but not of the attractive type."

Though negative stereotypes about Jews pervaded Victorian society, Solomon was painting at a time that Jews were slowly becoming more welcome. In 1858, Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jew to assume a seat in the House of Commons. The same year, Solomon showed his first work, Isaac Offered, at the Royal Academy, the same institution he would later reject as a pre-Raphaelite.
Painting the Bible

Solomon's depiction of the binding of Isaac, painted when the artist was 15, set the tone for his career. At 18, Solomon painted Finding of Moses, which earned the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray's praise for its "great intention." The painting shows a woman carrying the infant Moses, while Miriam, who carries the tambourine she would later play at the Red Sea, walks at her side. The woman’s headscarf has black stripes which resemble a tallit, suggesting that she is Jocheved, Moses’ mother, rather than Pharaoh’s daughter.

Solomon also depicted other biblical characters: Adam and Eve; Abram and Malkizedek; Hagar and Ishmael; Aaron; Ruth and Boaz; David and Jonathan; Solomon; Shadrakh, Meshakh, and Abednego; and Ezekiel.

In Solomon's 1867 painting Carrying the Scrolls of the Law, a young man wearing a tallit and a black cantor's hat carries a Torah scroll, which is covered by a deep red mantle. Over the mantle, Solomon included a silver pointer (yad) attached to a chain that bears a pendant with an Hebrew inscription that seems to say " God is holy.”

Prettejohn has observed that the young man, whose left hand appears to slip beneath the mantle, might be acting "contrary to Jewish law, to touch the scroll itself beneath the drapery." Indeed, touching Torah parchment (klaf) is forbidden. But though Prettejohn takes the work to be irreverent, Solomon's subject might very well be holding the Torah’s handles (etz hayim).
Indecent Exposure, Subsequent Underexposure, then Re-exposure

In February 1873, Solomon, then 32, was arrested for indecent exposure in a London public bathroom. The police could not prove Solomon and the 60-year-old stableman George Roberts had committed sodomy, so they were charged with indecency. Solomon was fined and sentenced to six weeks in a correctional facility.

Socrates and His Agathodaemon

Socrates and
His Agathodaemon, undated

Unable to sell paintings with his tarnished reputation, Solomon had to turn to his family for support. But he used their gifts to fund his drinking habit, so they sent him to an asylum in 1880. Though he was eventually discharged, Solomon remained bankrupt and dependent until he died from a heart attack in 1905.

According to art historian Debra Mancoff, Solomon had been steered away from his Jewish subjects to the "unconventional and dangerous territory" of homoerotic subjects by his friend, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne. Those subjects include Solomon’s Socrates and His Agathodaemon (undated drawing), which shows the bearded Greek philosopher wearing a toga, standing beside a young, nude boy, and his watercolor Bacchus (1867), which depicts the wine god as a boy wearing an animal skin which barely covers one shoulder.

The emergence of gender and queer studies as legitimate fields has brought more attention to Solomon and his work. Created in September 2000, the Simeon Solomon Archive now gathers biographical information, images, and secondary sources about the artist. Solomon is becoming the subject of study among more art historians, and his life after 1873 is now the subject of at least one doctoral dissertation.

Even as some of Solomon's critics have dismissed his Jewish work as sentimental, which some historians take to be genteel anti-Semitism, the word "genius" has often been applied to Solomon. As the biblical painter's work is reexamined, those with interests in Jewish art, the bible, and LGBT issues will continue to find Solomon's art very compelling.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Moses Michael Hays: A Most Valuable Citizen

Boston's most prominent 18th Jewish citizen, Hays set a high standard for civic leadership and charity.

Chapters in American Jewish History are provided by the American Jewish Historical Society, collecting, preserving, fostering scholarship and providing access to the continuity of Jewish life in America for more than 350 years (and counting). Visit

While some colonial Jews experienced difficulty living both as Jews and Americans, Boston's Moses Michael Hays created a different experience. Without the companionship and support of an organized Jewish community and without legal guarantees of religious freedom, Hays thrived in the "first circles" of Boston society while publicly practicing his Judaism.

Moses Michael Hays was born in New York City in 1739 to Dutch immigrants Judah Hays and Rebecca Michaels Hays. Judah Hays took his son into his shipping and retail business and upon his death in 1764, left him the business and largest share of his assets.

Judah Hays left Moses Michael Hays something else as well: a firm grounding in his Jewish faith and responsibilities. Moses served New York's Congregation Shearith Israel as second parnas (Vice-President) in 1766 and parnas in 1767. Even after moving to Boston, Moses retained an attachment to Shearith Israel, appearing on its donor list throughout his life.

In 1766, Moses married Rachel Myers, the younger sister of famed New York silversmith Myer Myers. In 1769, the couple moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Hays continued his shipping business. Business reverses landed Hays in debtor’s prison but under a 1771 reform law, Hays liquidated his assets, gave them to his creditors, and was set free. He immediately reestablished himself in the trans-Atlantic trade.

The American Revolution brought Hays a new challenge as a Jew. In 1775, seventy-six men in Newport were asked to sign a declaration of loyalty to the American colonies that included the phrase, "upon the true faith of a Christian." Hays publicly objected to the phrase and refused to sign, instead offering a letter affirming his belief that the Revolution was a just cause. When, after much wrangling, the Christian portion of the oath was omitted, Hays affixed his name.

Hays and his family left Newport for Boston before the British occupation in 1776. Hays opened a shipping office in Boston, and was among the first merchants there to underwrite shipbuilding, trade, and insurance to newly opened Far Eastern markets. In 1784, Hays became a founder and the first depositor of the Massachusetts Bank, which is still doing business today as Fleet Bank Corporation. With his close friend Paul Revere and fourteen other Boston businessmen, Hays formed several insurance companies.

Hays helped establish the New England Masonic movement. When Hays was accepted into the Massachusetts Lodge in November 1782, he was the only Jew, the first signal that Hays had won acceptance in Boston’s elite society. In 1792, the lodge members elected Hays their Grand Master. Paul Revere served as his Deputy.

The Hays family filled a large brick home with 15 rooms and 31 windows in Boston's fashionable Middle (now Hanover) Street. The Hayses had seven children and when Moses's widowed sister Reyna Touro died in 1787, Moses and Rachel raised his young nephews and niece.
Samuel May, Louisa May Alcott's grandfather, was a close childhood friend of the Hays and Touro children and recalled "Uncle and Aunt Hays" for their pride in their Judaism:

If the children of my day were taught among other foolish things to dread, if not despise Jews, a very different lesson was impressed upon my young heart. … [The Hays] house … was the abode of hospitality. … He and his truly good wife were hospitable, not to the rich alone, but also to the poor. … I witnessed their religious exercise, their fastings and their prayers. … [As a result] I grew up without prejudice against Jews---or any other religionists.

As Boston lacked a synagogue, Moses Michael Hays conducted regular worship services at home. The household library contained dozens of Hebrew books. The Jewish commandment to dispense charity laid the foundation for what the Hays family did for Boston and its citizens. Moses Michael Hays provided financial support to beautify Boston Common, establish theaters, and endow Harvard College. His children and nephews went on to lead distinguished and charitable lives. His son, Judah Hays, was the first professing Jew elected to a position of public office in Boston. Hays descendants also helped found the Boston Athenaeum and the Massachusetts General Hospital. Nephews Judah and Abraham Touro learned to be successful merchants from their uncle, and Judah went on to become America’s first great national philanthropist.

Moses Michael Hays died in 1805. His obituaries in the secular press remembered him as "a most valuable citizen . . . now secure in the bosom of his Father and our Father, of his God and our God." Hays lived his life successfully as an American and a Jew, accepted by the Boston community with respect as both.

Jewish Presence in the Revolutionary War

While some Jews fought, others suffered at the hands of the British.
By Norman H. Finkelstein

Reprinted with permission from The JPS Guide to American Jewish History (Jewish Publication Society).

The role of Jews in the events leading up to the American Revolution is largely unrecognized, given that they represented only a tiny percent of the overall population. Like other colonial Americans, their loyalties were divided, with a sizeable majority favoring the Patriot vision of an independent America.

When revolutionary fervor grew after Britain's imposition of the onerous Stamp Act in 1765, Jewish merchants' signatures appeared on the various non-importation resolutions adopted by individual colonies. Like other Americans, they opposed the power of the British Parliament to tax the colonies. But some Jews probably had mixed feelings, given the freedoms they enjoyed under British rule.
jews in revolutionary warThose who Served and Sacrificed

A number of Jews fought in the Revolution, probably about 100. The first Jew to die fighting for American independence was, ironically, also the first Jew elected to public office in them colonies: Francis Salvador.

Mordecai Sheftall of Savannah, Georgia, was the head of the local revolutionary committee and was responsible for provisioning soldiers. In 1778, he was appointed Deputy Commissary General for Federal troops, but before Congress could approve, the British captured and imprisoned him and his son in December 1778. Both were taken to a notorious British prison ship, the Nancy, where they were treated poorly. Eventually paroled to a town under British supervision where local Tories beat and killed Patriots as British troops evacuated under fire from American forces, both Sheftalls escaped by sea, only to be recaptured and sent to Antigua. They were freed in 1780 and made their way to Philadelphia to rejoin their family.

Reuben Etting of Baltimore enlisted the moment he heard about the Battle of Lexington and headed north to Massachusetts. He was taken prisoner by the British who, when they discovered he was Jewish, gave him only pork, which he refused to eat. He was able to survive on scraps of permitted food from fellow prisoners. Weakened by such treatment, he died shortly after his release. A cousin bearing the same name, born in 1762, also fought in the war and was appointed as a United States marshal in 1801 by President Thomas Jefferson.

Abgail Minis supplied provisions to American troops in 1779, angering British authorities. She received permission from them, however, to move with her daughters to safety in Charleston, South Carolina. She died in 1794 at the age of 94.
Displacement and Loss

The war inflicted great hardships on individuals and communities alike. Many Jewish merchants suffered dislocations and reverses, and many a personal fortune disappeared as merchants found their trade interrupted. Haym Salomon, later to gain fame as the mythic Jewish financier of the Revolution, began the war as a wealthy merchant whose unstinting financial sacrifices helped to keep the Revolution going. He died penniless.

British attacks forced residents, including Jews, from the cities of Newport, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston. Of the approximately 1,500 Jews scattered among the 13 colonies on the eve of the American Revolution, about 200 lived in Newport--the largest concentration of Jews in the colonies.

Aaron Lopez was one of the Newport Jews who opposed British rule and abandoned the city where they had developed roots and prospered. Lopez led his extended family and members of the Rivera and Mendes families, numbering nearly 70 people, to temporary settlement in Leicester, Massachusetts. The renowned synagogue was closed, and its spiritual leader, Isaac Touro, who professed Loyalist tendencies, sailed with his family to Jamaica where he lived out his life under British rule. According the diary of the Reverend Ezra Stiles, the few Jews remaining in Newport were "very officious as Informing against the Inhabitant--who are one + another frequently taken up + put in Gaol."

In New York, as the British fleet appeared in the harbor, Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas called his congregants to the Mill Street Synagogue. There he delivered a powerful patriotic address and shortly thereafter left the city for safety in Stratford, Connecticut. While most other patriotic Jews also left the city, a small number remained behind and, together with the few Loyalist Jews, kept the synagogue open. During the war, the congregation was led first by a Tory sympathizer and later by a Jewish Hessian officer who fought with the British and remained after the hostilities ended.

Like some other American families, some Jewish families were divided within themselves in their loyalties, David Franks was the King's sole agent in the northern colonies providing food and supplies to British troops; but other members of the Franks family, David Salisbury Franks and Isaac Franks, served as officers in the Continental Army.

For Jews, participation in the war marked the first time since their exile from Jerusalem that they could take their place alongside their Christian neighbors as equals in a fight for freedom. Jews were present at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and other battle sites throughout the colonies. Behind the scenes, they provided logistic support by equipping soldiers, shipping supplies, and raising funds. Ship owners such as Isaac Moses of Philadelphia outfitted privateers to harass British shipping, and their ships engaged in running the British blockade to provide necessary provisions to the needy Revolutionary forces.

Maurice Sendak

From monsters under the bed to the horrors of the Holocaust, the artist and author knows his way around a child's brain.
By Matthue Roth

According to the fantasist Neil Gaiman, one of Maurice Sendak's many disciples, the only difference between scary adult books and scary children's books is that the latter are scarier. This is certainly true of Sendak’s works--including Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen--which often illuminate the most frightening parts of the worlds of young children.

The child of Polish, Jewish immigrants, Sendak was born in Brooklyn in 1928. Early in life, he developed health problems and was forced to remain in bed for much of his youth, accompanied only by books, his own imagination, and his father’s stories.

Listening to these stories, his father’s “old country” became, for young Maurice, a mythical place, both adored and feared. He later drew on these childhood stories for his source material, and in much of his work there is a shadow of old Eastern European shtetl life. It is most frequently seen in his costumes and scenery, and in his nonlinear storytelling with Yiddish-specked sentences.
Reality and Escapism

Sendak’s first professional commissions, in the late 1940s, included contributing illustrations to a textbook, Atomics for the Millions, and creating window displays for the toy store F.A.O. Schwarz. Following a 1951 meeting with an editor at Harper, he illustrated his first picture book, and soon became a popular and in-demand illustrator of other people's books--most famously the Little Bear series.

Sendak drew pictures for children's books for most of the 1950s, notably illustrating I.B. Singer's collection Zlateh the Goat, a retelling of Eastern European Jewish folktales.
Stirring Controversy, Craving Privacy

In 1956, Sendak published his first "solo" book, Kerry's Window. It was an immediate success, and Sendak went on to write more of his own material.

One of his early attempts was a story of a boy who threw a temper tantrum, was banished to his room, and ran away to the place that gave the story its title, Where the Wild Horses Are. Just before committing the final drawings to paper, Sendak changed his wild horses into more ambiguous "wild things," using the translation of the Yiddish expression "vildechaya," which is common slang for a rambunctious child.

Wild Things was published in 1963. It was an immediate sensation, hailed critically and commercially, and it received the Caldecott Medal, awarded to the best American picture book for children published that year.

Some parents' groups decried the story, protesting the depiction of a child yelling at his mother and running away from home. Others countered that the story depicted a clever, imaginative way of venting one's anger productively, and pointed out that Max, the protagonist, actually becomes an authority figure for the Wild Things. Sendak himself had surprisingly little to say on the topic. He merely wanted to keep creating.
Nights, Kitchens, and Nazis

Seven years later, controversy struck again. Sendak's story In the Night Kitchen depicted a young boy, Mickey, who woke up in the middle of the night and "fell through the dark and out of his clothes," tumbling into a gigantic bowl of dough in the kitchen of his house. Though it is tangential to the book's plot--which tells the story of Mickey fleeing in a suit of dough, chased by three huge bakers who want to roast him inside a cake--the panel that seized the public's attention was a picture of Mickey falling through the sky, naked, with his penis visible.

Again, parent groups were up in arms. That page, and sometimes the whole book, was banned from some libraries and bookstores. Again, the public seemed to miss the true emotional center of the book: the confused and distorted world of a child's dreams. The three bakers sported Hitler-like moustaches, and their determination to bake Mickey into a cake was his internalized fear of the Holocaust. Mickey's final escape--aided by a Lindbergh-like toy biplane--wasn't just an escape from a few wily bakers, but a full-fledged escape from being baked alive.

In this case, too, Sendak remained curiously indifferent to public opinion. He continued to produce a steady stream of his own work, to illustrate the books of others, and he involved himself in adaptations of his books. In the 1970s, an animated version of his book Really Rosie was made for television, with Carole King starring and writing original songs. In 1979, he helped an opera company produce a stage version of Wild Things.
The Second Coming

Throughout his life, Sendak had been adamant about both his own privacy and that of his creations. His low-key announcement that he is gay--in a New York Times article about his 80th birthday, published in September 2008--was uncharacteristic of the artist; for the better part of his life, he has volunteered surprisingly few biographical details.

For years, requests for licensing his illustrations and his characters, especially the Wild Things, were refused by Sendak or his representatives. It wasn't until the late 1980s, when Sendak was more than 60 years old, that he permitted his characters to be commercially licensed--first for use in Bell Atlantic phone company commercials, and later in games and clothing.

Sendak continued more enthusiastically to engage in creative projects, such as a walk-through version of his books at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia (1995), and the record "Pincus and the Pig"--a shtetl-inspired retelling of "Peter and the Wolf" narrated by Sendak and performed by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra (2004).

And he has continued releasing some startling projects. His 1992 book We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, which takes its words from two old English nursery rhymes, portrays the AIDS crisis, homelessness, environmental destabilization, and race riots without overtly mentioning any of them.

In October 2009, after a delay of several years, the Hollywood film adaptation of Wild Things was released. It was directed by Spike Jonze; Sendak was a producer. Before the film's release, its distributors expressed concerns that the film was too dark in tone. Sendak himself convinced them to release it. In a documentary about the film, he raved that it "has an entire emotional, spiritual, visual life," but warned that "there will be controversy." It was a familiar sentiment from someone who has seen his own creative work under fire more than once.

From one point of view, it seems as though the work of Sendak is going through a renaissance. In another, it's the same old story of Sendak's life--adults are slowly discovering the secret universes that children have known existed all along.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Awesome concert! March 24, 2009

(1) Maoz Tzur

(2) Erev Shel Shoshanim

(3) Salomone Rossi / Psalm 137

(4) Only Living Boy in New York - Ben Kintisch

Adio Querida - Daud Peres

(6) Wizard and I - Schwartz / Cecilia Byer

7 burko

(8) Announcement

(9) Summertime - Gershwin / Alexis Koningsberg

(10) Mipi Eil - Billy Joel / Wizards of Ashkenaz

(11) Hoshana and Hoedown / Jeremy Stein

(12) Over The Rainbow / Magda Fishman

(13) Sim Shalom

(14) Mizmor Layla

15 hallelu randy

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Josef Burg, Who Wrote About Jewish Life, Dies at 97

Josef Burg, Who Wrote About Jewish Life, Dies at 97

Josef Burg, who as one of the last Yiddish authors in Eastern Europe preserved vestiges of a once-vibrant culture in fictional reflections on Jewish life, from the ghettos of the cities to the remote shtetl villages of the Carpathian Mountains, died on Aug. 10 in Chernovitsi, the city where he grew up in what is now Ukraine. He was 97.

His death, which was not widely reported in English until last week, was confirmed by Itzik Gottesman, associate editor of The Forward, a weekly published in Yiddish and English in New York, who knew Mr. Burg. Republished in German in recent years, his early works found a new audience in Germany and Austria and won him a wide following.

“Josef Burg was the last Yiddish writer from the generation before the Holocaust to remain in the Ukraine,” Mr. Gottesman said on Thursday, “and he valiantly strove to perpetuate Yiddish language and culture there.”

“His writings,” Mr. Gottesman continued, “capture the multifaceted, multicultural history of the Jews in the Bukovina region during most of the 20th century and reflect the unique journey of a Yiddish writer in a city with fewer and fewer Jews.” In an interview with The New York Times in 1992, Mr. Burg called himself “the last of the Mohicans of the great Yiddish tradition in Czernowitz” — referring to his city as it was known when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Although Yiddish was his beloved mother tongue, Mr. Burg was fluent in the spectrum of languages that reflected the war-torn history of his homeland. After World War I, the Bukovina region was ceded to Romania. At the end of World War II, northern Bukovina, including Chernovitsi, its capital city, was annexed by the Soviet Union.

For centuries, Chernovitsi had been a focal point for German and Yiddish literature, theater and higher education. Until 1941, more than a third of its population was Jewish. Then the Nazis arrived. Though no other members of his family survived, Mr. Burg escaped to the Soviet Union, where he lived for nearly 20 years.

“Burg was a very unusual figure because he was an embodiment of several cultures,” Gennady Estraikh, a professor of Yiddish studies at New York University, said on Thursday. “His first language, of course, was Yiddish, but he also knew Hebrew, and his German was excellent. Then he lived for decades in a Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking environment. He combined all those influences in his work.”

The author of more than a dozen books and many more short stories published in periodicals, Mr. Burg wrote of the daily lives of his neighbors — their virtues, their foibles, their toil at sometimes dangerous jobs — often with a gentle irony and a poetic touch.

One of his first books, “On the Cheremosh River,” tells of lumberjacks and river rafters ferrying timber downstream through the eastern Carpathians; his father was a rafter. Mr. Burg often wrote about life in mountains, about Jews and non-Jews.

Josef Burg was born on May 30, 1912, in Vizhniza, a town near Chernovitsi. The family moved to the city when Josef was 12. He was educated in Jewish schools and then at a teachers’ college. His first story was published in the Yiddish newspaper Chernovitser Bleter.

In 1935, Mr. Burg went to Vienna to study German, while continuing to write. That stay ended in 1938, when Austria was annexed to Germany and Mr. Burg fled back to Chernovitsi. Two years later, Stalin ordered the Red Army to occupy the Bukovina region. When the German army invaded in 1941, Mr. Burg escaped again, into the Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Burg’s father had died before the Germans arrived. His brother was killed in the Spanish Civil War.

“My mother was murdered by the Germans, buried alive,” he said in 1992. “I thought the stones would cry under my feet when I returned.”

Drafted into the Red Army, Mr. Burg spent the war years in forced labor because, as a Jewish intellectual, he was considered too great a security risk to stay in the army. After the war, he remained in Russia, working mostly as a teacher. In 1959, he returned again to Chernovitsi, where he revived Chernovitser Bleter, the newspaper that had published his first short stories. A collection of stories about his years in the Urals, “Life Goes On,” was published in Moscow in 1980.

Mr. Burg never expected to see his early books in print again. But a letter arrived in 1989 from a graduate student in Vienna asking permission to translate his first Yiddish novels into German. The researcher had found single copies of his works in Austria’s national archives. They were published again and became a phenomenon.

“He was making very little money, and all of a sudden the German literary world discovers him in the 1990s and many of his works are translated into German,” Mr. Gottesman said. “He becomes a literary star in Germany and Austria.”

Mr. Burg published several new books in his later years. In “Misguided Wanderings: An Eastern Jewish Life,” he described his disillusionment with life in the Soviet Union. His last book, “A Piece of Dry Bread,” told of a survivor of the Babi Yar massacre of more than 33,000 Jews outside of Kiev in 1941.

Israel awarded Mr. Burg its Segal Prize for Yiddish writing in 1992. In May, he received Austria’s Theodor Kramer Prize. A street in Vizhniza, his birthplace, is named for Mr. Burg.

Asked, in 1992, why he returned again and again to his homeland, he said: “I love Bukovina, the rustle of its woods, the river that sang my lullaby. I cannot be other than myself.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

At Jewish Delis, Times Are as Lean as Good Corned Beef


HOBBY’S DELICATESSEN & RESTAURANT in downtown Newark may have lost much of its more traditional clientele over the years, but it has held on to tradition. The corned beef and the tongue are cured for 14 days in stainless steel bins in the basement. The salamis hanging on the wall look as if they’ve been drying there, their flavor intensifying, since the Brummer family bought the place in 1962.

Samuel Brummer and his sons, Michael and Marc, even make their own matzo ball soup and potato pancakes.

But in Newark, as in so many cities, holding on has been tough for delis.

“In 1945, there were 12 delis in Newark,” said Samuel Brummer, 86. “Now we are only two.”

Old customers moved on, but new ones keep them going.

“Our clientele used to be 10 percent black and 75 percent Jewish,” he said. “Now it is 50/50.”

David Sax, a 30-year-old freelance writer, listened and nodded. Many delis are seeing more African-American customers.

“In many ways, deli owners in places like Detroit or Chicago have told me, they are better deli clients than Jews,” Mr. Sax said referring to African-Americans. “They accept it as it is. Take a corned beef sandwich. A Jewish customer will say, ‘I want the corned beef lean, from the middle of the brisket,’ because their grandfathers did. It’s like Jews going to a Chinese restaurant. They love it for what it is and they are better clients because of it.”

Mr. Sax loves delis for what they are and mourns the loss of so many of them around the country. For the last two years he has been writing the blog Save the Deli celebrating great delis and chronicling their demise. And this month Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is publishing his book “Save the Deli,” an account of his journey of discovery through the world of delis, from New York to Toronto, Detroit, Miami and Los Angeles; London, Paris and Poland.

After digging into a sandwich of fresh roast turkey, with juicy white and dark meat carved off the bone, at Hobby’s, we headed to some Jewish delis clinging to old ways that stretch back a century.

When Eastern European Jews began immigrating to New York by the thousands in the late 19th century, they found delicatessens started by gentile German immigrants who had brought their pickled and smoked pork and beef to the United States.

“Jews made the deli their own and carved out a niche for themselves,” Mr. Sax said.

Jewish delis began to predominate. By the 1930s, New York City alone had at least 1,500 kosher and kosher style, Mr. Sax said. Today there about two dozen kosher ones left.

Mr. Sax feels emotionally drawn to delis. “I grew up with salami sandwiches, baby beef and matzo ball soup,” said Mr. Sax (a Toronto native).

As an undergraduate at McGill University he took a course called “the Sociology of Jews in North America.” While researching a term paper on Jewish delicatessens in North America with a friend, he realized that little had been written about the business of delis. His blog and book will help remedy that.

What he found was not very encouraging. In the old days, everybody cured their own corned beef and pastrami, made their own pickles, and used bread from a neighboring bakery. Now, few even make their own matzo balls.

Zayda’s Kosher Deli in South Orange, N.J., is actually a supermarket that makes a line of kosher classics like kugels, chicken soup and kasha varnishkes sold at stores in the area like Shop-Rite, Fairway and Whole Foods. But when we stopped in at Zayda’s, there was no place to schmooze and no owner in sight.

“This is what the original deli was like,” Mr. Sax said. “It was a convenience store, a neighborhood grocer, a place to go for sandwich meats and kosher foods.”

Irving’s Delicatessen on Route 10 in Livingston, N.J., had room to schmooze, more than their owners would like. It’s in a plaza with several casualties of the recession, an Office Depot, a furniture store and a carpet store, all closed. Most of Irving’s 140 seats were empty in the middle of the day.

“I’m losing money every day,” said Marc Singer, the manager who runs the deli with his cousin Michael Holst, the owner. “In the depth of the summer we had no one coming through the door.”

But delis are up against more than a bad economy. “Jews are largely assimilated and don’t want to eat only Jewish food,” Mr. Sax said.

When they do, they have to face concerns that might have been overlooked a few years ago. Foods like pastrami and kishke (beef intestine casings stuffed with brisket fat or chicken fat, matzo meal, onions and carrots) are delicious, but they’re not health food.

Doing things right costs money, even when foods aren’t prepared in house.

“Quality New York deli meats come at a high price,” Mr. Singer said. “I count myself fortunate to get $12.95 in New Jersey for a corned beef sandwich that would sell for $16.95 in the city.”

To compete with chain restaurants that offer mass-produced deli products, mom-and-pop restaurants ultimately make little on their meat. “Every other corner deli sells Boar’s Head brand,” Mr. Sax said.

Irving’s uses the same pastrami supplier in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as Katz’s on the Lower East Side and has a former Katz employee, Pedro Hernandez, hand cutting his meat.

Mr. Sax, who spent a night behind the counter learning to slice meat at Katz’s, said the best delis have a master cutter, not a slicing machine. When you steam a piece of meat for a long time, as with a good piece of pastrami once it has been cured and smoked, it will tear apart if it isn’t cut by hand.

Mr. Singer added, “Hebrew National pastramis are a round cut intended for machine slicing at the local deli.”

And Hebrew National, once owned by a Jewish family, the Pineses, is now under ConAgra Foods.

Mr. Sax appreciates the little guys who make as much of their own food as possible, like Hobby’s house-cured corned beef and Brent’s Deli’s homemade kishke in Los Angeles, a deli town for which he has high regard.

And in his book he considers the pairing of “slowly steamed pastrami and hot crusty double-baked rye bread infused with caraway seeds” at Langer’s Delicatessen and Restaurant in Los Angeles a perfect sandwich.

Jay & Lloyd’s Kosher Deli in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, has an awfully good pastrami sandwich and nice, crisp zucchini potato latkes. Caricatures of pickles and sandwiches share the walls of the deli with photographs from the 1940s of deli workers union dinners.

Lloyd Lederman, a third-generation deli owner who opened Jay & Lloyd’s in 1993, wore a hat shaped like a giant hot dog.

“You have to have a deli shtick,” said Mr. Lederman, 52. “We go into the dining room and sit down with the customers and schmooze. We used to have rude waiters to add to the shtick. We put a joke of the day on the cash register. My dad did it and I do it. You have to have a passion.”

Mr. Sax said: “For me, the great thing about that place is the joy he has for his life. For the deli man, all of life is about the deli.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anne Frank: the only existing film images

July 22 1941. The girl next door is getting married. Anne Frank is leaning out of the window of her house in Amsterdam to get a good look at the bride and groom. It is the only time Anne Frank has ever been captured on film. At the time of her wedding, the bride lived on the second floor at Merwedeplein 39. The Frank family lived at number 37, also on the second floor.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Omri Ceren - Dore Gold - Proof Of Nuclear Iran

Omri Ceren
Show Name:
Dore Gold - Proof Of Nuclear Iran

Date / Length: 10/5/2009 1:00 PM - 30 min
h:68957 s:719352
Omri will interview Amb. Dore Gold on his book _Rise Of Nuclear Iran_ and on the West's reaction to the mullahs' new secret nuclear facility. News segments: P5+1 negotiations with Iran, the anti-Israel Goldstone Report, Obama's
Middle East diplomacy, and more.