October 19th, 2016

Unlock your creativity

Peter Himmelman’s new book provides practical ideas for bringing your ideas to fruition


Peter Himmelman’s new book, Let Me Out: Unlock Your Creative Mind and Bring Your Ideas to Life (Tarcher Perigree), includes a photo of the author with renowned local musician and songwriter Steven Greenberg.

The snapshot from 1980 documents a moment in their relationship, when Himmelman was a 20-year-old aspiring musician, and Greenberg, “the multitalented drummer of the Kinship, Minneapolis’ most popular bar mitzva and wedding band,” had produced a dance song called “Funkytown,” which would become a global hit — No. 1 on the charts in 28 countries.

Peter Himmelman: In case you haven't heard: Almost nobody's paying for music anymore.

Peter Himmelman: In case you haven’t heard: Almost nobody’s paying for music anymore.

Himmelman, a St. Louis Park native, would visit Greenberg, bringing him song demos and soliciting his sage opinions. On one afternoon, Himmelman wrote a song titled “Cursed with What It Means,” about a friend of his parents, Mr. Fuff, a Holocaust survivor, who ended up killing his wife. Mr. Fuff was packed off to a mental institution and pumped full of Thorazine.

“I raced to Steve Greenberg’s place, cassette in hand,” Himmelman writes in Let Me Out. “This was a whole new style of music, dark and spare with intense lyrics based on a true story, and I knew he was going to love it. I put the cassette in his giant Marantz stereo and let the music fill the room. When the song finally trailed off, Steve got up off his recliner and walked toward the stereo. He had a big smile on his face, so naturally I assumed he’d turn up the volume and play the song again. But instead, he ejected the cassette and hiked it between his legs, like a football center. It flew up into the air, end over end, until it crashed into the brickwork of his fireplace.”

Himmelman writes that it was “really tough. I stared at the tape cartridge, now in pieces, and wondered how all my passion and enthusiasm for this song had vanished in less than four seconds.”

(In the way of full disclosure, Steven Greenberg is a partner in the American Jewish World’s parent company, Minnesota Jewish Media, LLC.)

After a period of recovering from the cassette tape incident, Himmelman went on to become a beloved musician, in the local rock unit Sussman Lawrence. His subsequent successes include critically acclaimed albums for adults and children, sold-out concerts across the country and jobs scoring music for TV shows and films. About five years ago, he founded Big Muse (bigmuse.com), his vehicle for presenting creativity seminars to corporations and various other groups. Let Me Out is a compendium of the concepts and techniques Himmelman has professed in the seminars.

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October 19th, 2016

MJTC play looks at art, politics and Leni Riefenstahl

Drama written by Tom Smith is a look at the tensions between art and politics


Twin Cities theater-goers too often take the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company for granted. Its performing space is modest. Its presentations don’t have the glitz and pizzazz that are the regular fare at the Guthrie or at Broadway road-shows at the Orpheum or the Ordway Center. But the little-Jewish-theater-that-could consistently delivers productions of high quality that are regularly reviewed in national publications and consistently win praise and even awards.

As a result, expectations are high when MJTC Artistic Director Barbara Brooks chooses a play that will be making its professional theater debut on her stage. Such is the case with Aunt Raini by Tom Smith. The show has made the rounds of several universities across the country, with its first showing at New Mexico State University — an outpost even more surprising than St. Paul, since neither locale regularly registers more than a blip on the radar screens of Jewish communities on either coast. Smith has recently moved his writing desk up to the Seattle area where he continues to write intriguing dramas.

Heidi Fellner. Photo courtesy of MJTC.

Heidi Fellner. Photo courtesy of MJTC.

Smith was inspired to write Aunt Raini after seeing a documentary on the life and work of Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl on television. Inspired by that biography, Aunt Raini is Smith’s incisive look at the tensions between art and politics, family legacy and personal identity: During a visit from her great-aunt Raini (Maggie Bearmon Pistner), successful gallery owner Katharine (Heidi Fellner) struggles to keep her family’s past buried. The threat of exposure intensifies when she introduces Raini to her Jewish boyfriend Joel (Michael Torsch), a struggling photographer exploring Judaism in his work.

When Katharine inherits her great-aunt’s original film reels that document Adolf Hitler and the rise of the Nazi Party, Joel and Raini’s companion Horst (Dan Hopman) force her to confront the truth: whether Raini’s art is inextricably tied to its subject matter or can be judged for its artistic merit alone.

“I was fascinated with how Riefenstahl navigated between the truth and her truth,” playwright Smith admits.

It was 12 years ago that he wrote the play, and he sent out copies of an early draft to theaters across the country. One of them was the MJTC. He was shocked when he received a call from Brooks earlier this year, expressing her interest in staging the play. Consequently, Smith held workshops on the script with the entire cast and company at the MJTC through the miracles of 21st century technology, i.e. Skype. From those workshops, he was able “to get valuable insights, ways of how he could phrase some dialogue more effectively and shape the action better.” Keep reading →

October 19th, 2016

Core of the culture

The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature, by Adam Kirsch, Norton, 432 pages, $28.95

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

Although “People of the Book” is an Islamic term, Jews have embraced it to describe themselves.

“For most of Jewish history, books were not just one element in Jewish culture; they were the core of that culture, the binding force that sustained a civilization,” says Adam Kirsch’s preface to The People and the Books.


Kirsch, poet, literary critic and director of Columbia University’s Jewish studies master’s program, has opened to us “18 classics of Jewish literature” written across 2,500 years. Their questions remain relevant, some now even more troubling.

Most likely, more people are aware of writers such as Philo, Josephus and Moses Mendelssohn than have read their work.

Kirsch is struck by “the remarkable continuity of Jewish thought.… A few subjects preoccupy every kind of Jewish writer. They might be reduced to four central elements: God, the Torah, the Land of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Kirsch’s 14 chapters start with Devarim (Deuteronomy) and end with Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman series, which is much more than Fiddler on the Roof. Kirsch supplies overviews of the books’ times, contexts, ideas, author motivations, influence on Jewish thinking, and why they still matter.

A major theme is trying to reconcile faith and reason. Some thinkers draw very differing conclusions — for example 12th century Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) of Egypt, for whom reason and faith are not contradictory, and the reverse from 17th century Baruch Spinoza, subsequently excommunicated from Amsterdam’s Jewish community.

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October 19th, 2016

Editorial: Trumpism after Trump

It looks at this writing (just prior to the third presidential debate) that Donald J. Trump, the deranged bête noire of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is headed for a crushing defeat.

The recent release by the Washington Post of a 2005 audio recording of the GOP nominee discussing how as a “star” he “can do anything” he wants with women — kiss and grope them without their consent — has caused Trump to plummet in the polls.

Keith Ellison: I believe that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the republic. Photo by Mordecai Specktor.

Keith Ellison: I believe that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the republic. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

On Tuesday, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com put Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning the election at 87.4 percent, to Trump’s 12.6 percent chance.

Editorial: Elections 2016

The race had narrowed precipitously in late September, according to FiveThirtyEight’s number crunchers, after Clinton had enjoyed a huge lead in the polls the previous month.

You might recall that, in August, Trump engaged in one of his notorious Twitter feuds, after he was called out, in a speech at the Democratic National Convention, by Khizr Khan, the father of Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim U.S. Army soldier who died in Iraq, in 2004. Many folks thought it was unseemly of Trump to impugn the reputation of Khizr Khan and his wife, Ghazala, the grieving parents of an American patriot who had given his life heroically in service to this country. Of course, like all bullies, Trump possesses a thin skin; he can dish it out, but he can’t take it.

In my Aug. 12 editorial, I noted that Hillary Clinton was holding a commanding lead in the polls, which, if it held, would result in something like a 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide victory over Minnesota favorite son Walter Monday Mondale.

I wrote: “Hopefully, Trump will experience a similarly crushing defeat in November. His campaign of anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican bigotry, misogynistic comments, baiting the press, inciting crowds to violence and generally degrading the political atmosphere has already done its damage. The Trump campaign richly deserves to end up in the garbage can of history.”

Really, the Trump presidential campaign is the greatest con job in this nation’s history. And given the varied cast of crooks and incompetents (and some good people) who have ascended to the presidency, that’s quite an accomplishment.

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October 5th, 2016

Roll, Jordan, roll

EcoPeace Middle East has a plan for resolving water issues, which represent a security threat to Israelis, Palestinians and everybody in the region


Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace Middle East, an environmental group with sections in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan, visited the Twin Cities in September. He spoke at Saturday morning services at Temple Israel, and led a Shabbat study group on “Jewish faith responsibility when it comes to water issues.”

Following the study group, which took place at Common Roots Café in South Minneapolis, Bromberg, who lives in Tel Aviv, talked with the Jewish World.

State Rep. Frank Hornstein (left), DFL-Minneapolis, helped organize activities for Gidon Bromberg, during his mid-September visit to the Twin Cities. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor).

State Rep. Frank Hornstein facilitated the interview with Bromberg, which focused on his group’s efforts to arrive at an equitable resolution of regional water issues, which according to EcoPeace, “can help rebuild public trust that peace and end of hostilities are possible.” And at the center of the water crisis affecting Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan is the lower Jordan River, which has been neglected and degraded over the years.

Prior to his Twin Cities visit, Bromberg attended a conference at Glacier National Park, which focused on “trans-boundary protected areas and peace parks… I spoke about our efforts to create a peace park on the Jordan River, between Israel and Jordan, as a means to help rehabilitate that river and to bring more prosperity to the inhabitants along the Jordan Valley.”

Following his visit here, Bromberg was a featured speaker at the 2016 Concordia Summit, a gathering of global leaders that took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Getting back to the Temple Israel study group session, which wrapped up prior to his chat with the AJW, Bromberg said, vis-à-vis the Jewish role in water issues, “I used the example of what’s happened to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The Jordan River in Jewish tradition [is] seen as part of the freedom story, at the end of Exodus. Joshua leads the Jewish people across the River Jordan to the Promised Land. According to Jewish tradition, the Jordan River represents freedom, and the Jordan River represents miracles: the miracle of the parting of the Jordan for the Israelites to cross; and the miracle of Elijah, who rises to heaven on the banks of the River Jordan; and the miracle of the healing of lepers by cleansing them with Jordan River water.”

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October 5th, 2016

‘Denial’ helps in preserving Holocaust memory

Story of David Irving’s lawsuit against historian Deborah Lipstadt comes to big screen


NEW YORK (JTA) — Before the most dramatic episode of her professional life became a movie, Deborah Lipstadt had some work to do.

No, she didn’t have to make some last-minute changes to the script or take a crash course in acting. Her job: to teach Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz how to talk like a Jewish woman from Queens.

Weisz, who grew up in London, portrays Lipstadt, a Holocaust historian, in the forthcoming film Denial, which opened in selected theaters on Sept. 30. The film tells the story of Lipstadt’s dramatic win in a British court against a prominent Holocaust denier, David Irving. It was a high-profile case that made the Holocaust front-page news in 2000, and unequivocally refuted Holocaust denial at a time when the tragedy was fading from living memory.

Rachel Weisz portrays writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in Denial. (Photo: Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street).

Rachel Weisz portrays writer and historian Deborah Lipstadt in Denial. (Photo: Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street).

But before Weisz donned a red wig and delivered striking defenses of the Holocaust and free speech, she had to learn to sound just like Lipstadt.

“She would call me and say, ‘Record for me how you say ‘I’ll call you.’ Record for me how you say ‘goodnight,’” Lipstadt recalled.

Weisz’s attention to detail paid off.

“She got my accent,” Lipstadt said.

Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, had criticized Irving’s falsification of Holocaust history in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust. In 1996, Irving sued her for libel in a British court, where the burden of proof lies with the defendant. The movie depicts how Lipstadt won the case, exposing Irving as an intentional falsifier of Holocaust history.

Lipstadt acknowledged to JTA that she had thought about the trial’s cinematic potential. Still, when producers first approached her about Denial in 2008, she laughed — the same reaction, she recalled, that she had when she found out Irving was suing her.

“When you sign over a book, you are essentially giving them control over your story,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to say, ‘No, that’s not right, I don’t like that, don’t include this.’ So what I kept querying them about is, this is a movie about truth. Do you understand you have to stick to the truth?”

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September 28th, 2016

Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival opens Oct. 20

Two Israeli documentaries — On The Map and In Search of Israeli Cuisine — will have their Minnesota premieres as part of the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival, Oct. 20 and Oct. 22.

On the Map will be shown 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20 at the Sabes JCC, 4330 S. Cedar Lake Road, Minneapolis.

Israeli filmmaker Dani Menkin. (Courtesy of the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival).

Israeli filmmaker Dani Menkin. (Courtesy of the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival).

In Search of Israeli Cuisine will be shown 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 at the St. Paul JCC, 1375 St. Paul Ave.

On the Map, directed by Dani Menkin and produced by Roberta Grossman and Nancy Spielberg, tells the story of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team which won the European title in 1977.

Menkin will attend the screening. A reception with hors d’oeuvre will be held at 6 p.m.

In Search of Israeli Cuisine, directed by Roger Sherman, tells the story of the more than 100 cultures that make up Israel today, through food. An Israeli-inspired dinner will be served at 7 p.m.

Tickets for each film are $10 if purchased in advance — $15 the day of the show. Tickets are $7 for Friends of the Arts members.

For more information visit tcjfilmfest.org.

Trailer for On the Map:

ON THE MAP – Trailer from Katahdin Productions on Vimeo.