Articles in Category: Music, Film and Performances

Music, Film and Performances

The Last of the Unjust; a film by Claude Lanzmann (2013)

Written on February 10, 2014

Lanzman - The Last of the Unjust
The horror…the horror does not dissipate even after 69 years.  Benjamin Murmelstein was the last “Elder of the Jews” of Theresienstadt and in many hours of revealing interviews his story unfolds under the watchful eye of master documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann in “The Last of the Unjust.”   The movie confronts the terrible compromised reality of Jewish leaders under Nazi rule.  

Defiance The Movie

Written on January 29, 2009

Defiance the Movie
When God hides His face, it seems Jews are on their own. "Defiance," the story of the Jewish partisan combat group headed by the Bielski brothers in the new movie by Edward Zwick, is the narrative of Jews on their own. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Nazis and their local collaborators mercilessly slaughtered Jews wherever they found them in the countryside. In the cities, they were ghettoized and then systematically deported to death camps.

Here I Learned Love

Written on March 14, 2013

Itzik Weinberg - Here I Learned to Love
What is your earliest memory? Itzik Weinberg’s earliest memory may be of him and his younger brother, Avner, fleeing the invading Germans in Cracow, Poland.   At the same time their parents and grandparents were deported to the Belzetz death camp. 

A Serious Man
Written, directed and produced by Joel & Ethan Coen 2009 Focus Pictures, rated R

Written on January 02, 2010

Larry (Michael Stuhlbarg) About to Lose Tenure from “A Serious Man” Courtesy Focus Films

Something serious is going on here…

The movie opens with Rashi’s comment on Deut. 18:13; (You shall be wholehearted with the Lord your God); Rashi explains that we must “Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you.”

Ten Imaginings of Sarah and Hagar
A Play by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Written on August 09, 2009

Susan Moses as Sarah; Kimberly Fairbanks as Hagar Photo by Jordan Cassway

When we peer back through the millennia whom do we see?  Two women standing at the very beginning of our history, Sarah and Hagar.  Sarah conspired to overcome her barrenness and provide Abraham with an heir through her maidservant Hagar. From the start their tumultuous relationship effectively cast Abraham to the sidelines, so much so that Hagar went on to become a matriarch of her own people, the Ishmaelites.

Way to Heaven by Juan Mayorga

Written on May 10, 2009

Little Girl played by Samantha Rahn Way to Heaven written by Juan Mayorga

An unshaven man stumbles on stage, clad in a raincoat covering his pajamas.  He is barefoot and shuffles among the dried leaves that litter the stage area, a long rectangle set between the audience on either side.  It is a most intimate performance area, uncomfortably so.  He tells us he was a Red Cross representative, stationed in the Berlin suburb of Wansee, sent to inspect a civilian internment camp in Nazi Germany.

Moses und Aron
A Movie by Jean-Marie Straub & Daniele Huillet (1975)

Written on January 28, 2009

Moses und Aron the Movie

In German with English subtitles
New Yorker Films

How can the artist presume to make art when every stroke, every effort at creating an intelligible and beautiful object, might be construed as an affront to the wholeness and perfection of God and His handiwork.  Every one of the artist’s images could be seen as a potential idol, a potential Golden Calf.

The Name
Feinsmith Quartet at Merkin Concert Hall

Written on January 03, 2008

Daniel David Feinsmith

To encounter God is an elemental quest of mankind.  And yet for Jews it is paradoxically impossible and immediate.  In any physical sense we know that “…no human can see My face and live” (Exodus 33:20) even as we stand before our God three times daily in our prayers. Arnold Schoenberg’s three-act unfinished 1932 opera, Moses and Aron, grapples with the central paradox that the Jewish artist must inevitably confront, namely the ineffable presence of God.

Yet Another Test: Ushpizin, the Movie

Written on September 24, 2005

“Moshe's Anguish,” Shuli Rand Ushpizin directed by Gidi Dar, written by Shuli Rand


“And God tested Abraham...” It seems that He hasn't stopped testing the Jewish people ever since. Abraham already had nine trials to boast of, Isaac was sorely tested in choosing between his two sons and Jacob stoically withstood the test of losing his favorite, Joseph. The Children of Israel famously endured ten trials, all of which turned out fairly disastrous (Arachin 15a). Nonetheless, God is patient, continuing to forgive us even as He examines us and sends more tests. Ushpizin, a new Israeli movie by Gidi Dar, depicts just such a test. Happily both the movie and the main characters pass with flying colors.

Everything Is Illuminated

Written on September 10, 2005

Sunflower Field

“Everything Is Illuminated,” a new movie directed by Liev Schreiber opening September 16th, is a deeply moving and highly engaging film based on a curiously flawed premise. The notion that if we can but understand our past somehow our present will become “illuminated” is a foible particularly prevalent in our troubled times. Jews especially cherish Holocaust studies and Holocaust heritage tours in Eastern Europe as gateways to ethnic identity. It is exactly this pursuit that the film examines. And yet in spite of its questionable thesis the film is a classic road movie, tracing the transformation of its characters as they tumble towards their goal and, presumably, enlightenment.

Lost Objects Found

Written on March 05, 2005

“When any Man...” from Lost Objects by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe with a libretto by Deborah Artman performed at BAM

As one enters the theater the stage is dominated by three levels of scaffolding filling the entire proscenium behind a gray scrim. Plunged into darkness as the lights go down a single face is illuminated on the stage by a bolt of light. Smoke swirls at her feet as she starts to rhythmically recite; “I lost a sock. I lost my umbrella. I lost a sock. I lost a tooth. I lost my teeth. I lost a leg...I lost my father. I lost my voice...I lost the keys...I lost my wits. I lost my way. I lost my tongue.”

La Juive, the opera by Jacques Fromental Halevy
Desecration or Sanctification:

Written on December 03, 2004

Neil Shicoff as Eleazar, Soile Isokoski as Rachel, and Eric Cutler (on back) as Leopold in Halevy's

The curtain rises to reveal a towering wall of translucent glass behind which the chorus sings “Te deum laudamus, You are God, we praise you,” to the provocative chords of the church organ. The massive presence of Christianity bears down on Eleazar and his daughter Rachel as they are accused by the hostile crowd of desecrating an Imperial celebration with the profane sound of his silversmith's hammer.

The Last Jew
A Tragedy by David Pinski

Written on May 04, 2004

One hundred years after David Pinski's (1872-1959) “Di Familye Tzvi” was written the scathing examination of the Jewish world that the play depicts is neither dated nor out of touch with contemporary Jewish life. Also known as “The Last Jew,” this play was completed in New York just fourteen months after the infamous Kishinev pogrom of April 1903 in Russia. It depicts one family, headed by grandfather Rabbi Mayshe, his sons and grandsons, friends and various community members at the very moment that the terrible pogrom is starting.

Nossig's Antics

Written on April 27, 2004

Stuart Rudin as the Old Man (Nossig?) in Nossig's Antics Photo by Jonathan Slaff

“Are you Alfred Nossig?” the waiter asked the middle aged man at the table. “Yes.” Bang! Bang! Bang! He shoots him dead. “Are you Alfred Nossig? Yes, Bang! Bang! Bang!” “Are you Alfred Nossig...” Three times Alfred Nossig, the brilliant Jewish-Polish playwright, sculptor, philosopher and Zionist is assassinated by three different assailants in the bizarre opening moments of Lazarre Simckes' new dark farce.

Moses und Aron by Arnold Schoenberg
Return to Sinai

Written on January 05, 2004

Moses and Aaron Photo by Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera

I was transfixed the first time I saw Moses und Aron, the 1933 opera by Arnold Schoenberg. That was in 1990 at the New York City Opera and the performance at the Metropolitan Opera this December was no less exciting. The difficult, yet stimulating appeal of radical twentieth century music in the service of the biblical narrative only grew as I learned that this rarely heard masterpiece was a direct reaction to German anti-Semitism and might well be one of the first examples of Holocaust art. Schoenberg, a fully secularized apostate Jew, had responded at the height of his career to the rise of Nazism with what was essentially a call to return to Sinai.