February 25th, 2015

Overwhelmed by past and present

A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz, by Göran Rosenberg, Other Press, 331 pages, $24.95

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

Two tragedies ruined the life of Göran Rosenberg’s father, once a third-year student in a Polish textile college.

The first was the Shoah, which ripped him from his world, then destroyed it. The second took longer, starting at age 24, when he and 30,000 other survivors were brought to Sweden for rehabilitation.

Posthumously addressing his father in A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz, Rosenberg says: “You just happen to get off at the wrong station on your road from Auschwitz.”

Brief-Stop-Auschwitz-cover

That station was at a town called the author calls “the Place,” Södertälje. For other survivors, it’s a pause on a journey, often to Israel or the United States. David Rosenberg’s tragedy is that he stayed. Södertälje is where his life began anew, then stagnated and, in mental illness, ended.

The author, a well-known writer in Sweden, captivatingly retraces his father’s road to Södertälje, starting with deportation to Auschwitz, which David Rosenberg reached on Aug, 26, 1944, in the last shipment of Jews before the destruction of the Lodz ghetto. From Auschwitz, he was sent to Germany to weld axles in a truck factory, then to an ammunition plant that soon closed because of American shelling. The prisoners were put into open freight cars that wandered for nine days until they were unloaded at Ravensbrück; one third were dead.

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February 25th, 2015

Helping Jews return ‘home’

Arielle di Porto, who oversees aliya for the Jewish Agency, spoke in the Twin Cities about the situation for French Jews

By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor

Following the recent terrorist attacks on a kosher supermarket in Paris and the murder of a volunteer security guard outside of a synagogue in Copenhagen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on all Jews to return home to Israel.

“Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews and this wave of terrorist attacks — including murderous anti-Semitic attacks — is expected to continue,” Netanyahu said Feb. 15 at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country; but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: Israel is the home of every Jew.”

Netanyahu’s call was rejected by the French chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, who said that there has been a Jewish presence in France for 2,000 years and that “France will no longer be France” if there were a mass Jewish exodus, JTA reported.

Korsia echoed similar comments made by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who told his country’s Jews that, “France is wounded with you and France does not want you to leave.”

A group of new immigrants, including many from France, are shown shortly after arriving in Israel in December 2010. (Photo: Brian Hendler / Courtesy of JAFI)

A group of new immigrants, including many from France, are shown shortly after arriving in Israel in December 2010. (Photo: Brian Hendler / Courtesy of JAFI)

But according to Arielle di Porto, of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), Jews in France do want to immigrate to the Jewish state — in staggering numbers.

“From France, 7,231 Jews came on aliya in 2014, that’s an increase of 120 percent,” di Porto told the AJW. “Just to give you the numbers, in 2013, we had 3,200 Jews come on aliya. And in 2012, it was about 1,900. It’s the biggest aliya from all the Western countries, and it’s the first time that a Western country has the most important number of aliya. Mostly it’s Russia or Ukraine, but never France. And now it’s France.”

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February 25th, 2015

Unkosher and unreal

Lifetime’s new docu-sitcom Kosher Soul, is ‘more of the same old black and Jewish stereotypes’

By ROBIN WASHINGTON

What could be funnier than a black man marrying a white woman?

Before you say “Loving v. Virginia,” wait — there’s more: Make that a white Jewish woman. Isn’t that a stitch?

If same-sex marriage in Alabama hasn’t convinced you the year is 2015, the premiere of the Lifetime reality show, Kosher Soul, arrives Feb. 25 to dutifully turn back the clock.

“Opposites attract,” the promos blare, suggesting the protagonists might just be different species. A freelance stylist, Miriam Sternoff, 38, grew up Jewish in Seattle. O’Neal McKnight, 39, her stand-up comedian fiancé, is African American from Lynchburg, S.C. With cameras following every antic, the pair slapstick their way to their wedding day.

Lifetime’s all-new docu-sitcom Kosher Soul, which premiered Feb. 25, features (l to r): Miriam Sternoff, Nancy Sternoff and O’Neal McKnight. (Photo: Richard Knapp / A&E Television Networks, LLC)

Lifetime’s all-new docu-sitcom Kosher Soul, which premiered Feb. 25, features (l to r): Miriam Sternoff, Nancy Sternoff and O’Neal McKnight. (Photo: Richard Knapp / A&E Television Networks, LLC)

“The fact that I’m wearing a yarmulke, it shouldn’t be a problem for Miriam to wear a grill,” McKnight says, explaining the bejeweled dental appliance’s deep spiritual significance to black America by declaring: “Martin Luther King had a grill.”

He didn’t mention Justin Bieber.

To further prove his love and appease his mother-in-law, he goes through with conversion (including adult circumcision) and also entrusts the family finances to her — all the while equating Judaism with whiteness and lecturing her on black culture, punctuated with jokes about Stevie Wonder driving, and starving kids in Africa with flies on their faces.

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February 20th, 2015

‘Stars of David’ shine in MJTC production

The stage adaptation of Abigail Pogrebin’s book aims to enlighten audiences about the Jewish roots of some creative Americans in the 20th century, including Al Franken, Joan Rivers and Norman Lear

By DORIS RUBENSTEIN

In order to ensure the Semitic accuracy of the personalities highlighted in Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production of Stars of David, I have referenced that guardian of all persons claiming (or not) to be Jews: www.jewornotjew.com.

There has been much ado across the United States recently about “truth in journalism.” Hence, I have included Jew or Not Jew’s 1-to-15 scale — with 15 being of 100 percent Jewish blood and identity (although not laboratory-tested) — as subjects are first mentioned in this article.

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production of Stars of David features (l to r): Daisy Macklin Skarning, Bryan Porter, David Carey and Laura B. Adams. The show runs through March 8. (Photo: Sarah Whiting)

Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s production of Stars of David features (l to r): Daisy Macklin Skarning, Bryan Porter, David Carey and Laura B. Adams. The show runs through March 8. (Photo: Sarah Whiting)

Stars of David is the first theatrical script created by Abigail Pogrebin (not rated). It is based on her book of the same title with co-author Gordon Greenberg (also unrated). Both aim to enlighten their audiences about the Jewish roots — and sometimes the Jewish faith — of a cross-section of creative Americans in the 20th century. The gamut runs from politicians, such as Minnesota’s own Al Franken (12), to Leonard Nimoy (13) and Gloria Steinem (12).

Pogrebin has adapted interviews from her book with the help of many musical geniuses, such as Michael Feinstein (unrated), who is also a featured personality in the play, and Sheldon Harnick (unrated), the lyricist of Fiddler on the Roof.

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February 18th, 2015

Denmark synagogue attack seen as ‘wake-up call’

Danish Jewish leader says there remains a gap between the security funding sought by the community and what the government is offering

By CNAAN LIPHSHIZ

(JTA) — From the window of the Jewish Community of Copenhagen’s crisis center, Finn Schwarz can see his country changing before his eyes.

Hours after the slaying of a guard outside the Danish capital’s main synagogue early Sunday morning, two police officers toting machine guns were on patrol outside the center — a common sight in France, Belgium and other trouble spots for Jews, but which resistant authorities in Denmark had previously considered both excessive and unpalatable.

“I think this attack was a wake-up call,” said Schwarz, a former community chairman who has lobbied the authorities for years, often in vain, for greater security. “What we have long feared happened and we will now see a changed Denmark. We have never seen this much security and guns before.”

Copenhagen’s main synagogue, where a guard was shot and killed early on Feb. 15. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Copenhagen’s main synagogue, where a guard was shot and killed early on Feb. 15. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The deployment of armed officers at Jewish institutions came within hours of a shooting at a Copenhagen café where a caricaturist who had lampooned Islam was speaking. One person was killed at the café in what Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called a terrorist attack.

Later that night, Dan Uzan, a 37-year old volunteer security guard, was with two police officers at the Great Synagogue when a gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon, killing Uzan and wounding the officers. The trio were standing guard over approximately 80 people who had gathered for a Bat Mitzva celebration in a building behind the synagogue. Guests reportedly took shelter in the basement after the shooting and later were escorted out under heavy guard.

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February 11th, 2015

A writer’s ‘mitzva forgeries’

A Replacement Life, by Boris Fishman, Harper Perennial, 352 pages, paperback, $14.99

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

In this charming novel, would-be writer Slava Gelman — stuck in a low-level, clerk-like job at a prestigious magazine — stumbles into an outlet for his creative desires.

He invents biographies to help his grandfather and the old man’s Soviet-émigré acquaintances qualify for German compensation payments — whether they deserve any or, like his grandfather, do not.

Boris Fishman to speak March 1

It’s wrong, and Slava knows it, but in ways that make sense in this clever book, he begins innocently, as a way to create a story around the scanty details he knows of his late grandmother, a survivor who kept her history private. The catalyst is a letter received shortly before her death inviting her to apply to the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.

A-Replacement-Life

The applicant is to “describe, in as much detail as you can, where the Subject was during the years 1939 to 1945.”

Slava creates a touching narrative long on suffering but short on verifiable dates and places. It’s gender neutral, and on a whim, he writes in as applicant the name of his crafty grandfather, who hid from the Soviet draft in Uzbekistan until nearly war’s end, then joined the navy.

But grandfather is a braggart, and Slava starts getting calls from other aged Russian Jews in “Soviet Brooklyn,” asking him to write applications for them.

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