September 17th, 2014

The Jewish imperative to tackle climate change

This Rosh Hashana is the last observance of Israel’s biblically mandated yearlong farming sabbatical before extreme climate change becomes irreversible

By YOSSI I. ABRAMOWITZ

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Two days before the United Nations Climate Summit, demonstrators, including a large multi-faith contingent, will descend on New York City to demand urgent action on climate change. The People’s Climate March, which coincides with the week of the U.N. General Assembly, is being billed as the largest climate march in history.

Sunday’s event is notably taking place in the city badly battered less than two years prior by Hurricane Sandy — the “super storm” that killed 285 people and caused tens of billion of dollars in damage to property and infrastructure.

There is no ‘Planet B’

Also remarkable: The march is happening just three days before Rosh Hashana. This Jewish New Year is different than all past ones, for it is the last observance of Shmita — Israel’s biblically mandated yearlong farming sabbatical — before extreme climate change becomes irreversible.

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released its latest Low Carbon Economy Index, with the damning news that the major economies are falling further behind meeting their carbon reduction goals.

All of this makes the haunting liturgy of the Days of Awe — “who shall live and who shall die” particularly resonant.

Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which erased more than 6,300 names from the Book of Life last November, was supercharged by the warming waters of the Indian Ocean and the higher sea levels due to the melting of the ice caps. Who by water. The severity of the droughts across sub-Sahara Africa threatens millions of lives. Who by thirst. Even California is suffering compromising water shortages and wildfires. Who by fire.

Submerged cars are seen on a Manhattan street following a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 30, 2012. (Photo: Christos Pathiakis / Getty Images)

Submerged cars are seen on a Manhattan street following a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 30, 2012. (Photo: Christos Pathiakis / Getty Images)

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September 17th, 2014

‘The Green Prince’ opens Friday

The Green Prince, a documentary film by Israeli director Nadav Schirman, probes the stranger-than-fiction life of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a top leader in Hamas, the militant Islamic Resistance Movement, who became an important informant for Israel over a span of 10 years.

The film opens Sept. 19 at the Edina Cinema, 3911 W. 50th St.

Regarded as a traitor by his compatriots, Yousef — dubbed “Green Prince” by the Israelis — somehow survived and forged a lasting bond with his Israeli handler, Ben Yitzhak, an agent for Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service

The film is based on Yousef’s memoir, Son of Hamas.


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September 17th, 2014

Cantor Mitch Kowitz releases cookbook

Cantor Mitch Kowitz has released Kosher Cuisine for a New Generation, a cookbook that pairs recipes with music. Referred to as the “Singing Chef,” Kowitz shares his passions for God, music, entertainment and food.

The cookbook features more than 75 recipes, all of which include an accompanying song. Kowitz, for example, recommends Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” with Poached Salmon and “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess with Apricot Chicken; of course, “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof is suggested with Mama’s Jewish Chicken Soup.

KosherCuisine_Cover

Additionally, the cookbook includes bonus content, such as cooking webisodes using QR codes; stories, tips and tidbits; and color photos of the finished dishes, as well as of Kowitz cooking and his family.

Kowitz is scheduled to speak about Kosher Cuisine for a New Generation 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18 at Chapter 2 Books, 422 Second St., Hudson, Wisc. He will begin a book tour on Oct. 23, which includes stops in Columbus, Ohio, Virginia Beach, Va., La Jolla, Calif., Penn Valley, Penn., and Newport News, Va.

For information, visit: www.cantormitch.com.
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September 10th, 2014

Wendy Wasserstein’s great play

Leigh Silverman talks to the AJW about directing The Heidi Chronicles at the Guthrie

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein was the theatrical voice for a slice of women from the Baby Boom generation. In her most popular play, The Heidi Chronicles, the eponymous protagonist, Heidi Holland, moves around in time: from a high school dance in 1965; through feminist consciousness-raising, in the 1970s; and coming to terms with her life and career choices, in 1989.

Wasserstein, who also wrote screenplays and essays, died in 2006. She was just 55.

Funny, affecting and brilliantly written, The Heidi Chronicles comes to the Guthrie Theater, in a production that runs from Sept. 13-Oct. 28.

Leigh Silverman, making her directorial debut at the Guthrie, recently talked with the American Jewish World. The interview took place at the theater; it was the fourth day of rehearsals for the show.

This year, Silverman was a Tony Award nominee for best director of a musical. The show, Violet, written by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley, ended its Broadway run last month. Silverman also directed the Broadway shows Chinglish and Well, and numerous works in off-Broadway theaters.

A Washington, D.C., native, Silverman attended Carnegie-Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. Her undergrad major was in directing; and she simultaneously pursued a graduate degree in playwriting.

“I was really interested in new plays,” she explains, “and I wanted to be in a room with a writer, and there was no other way to do that except be a writer myself. I was good enough to get into the program, but I’m not actually a good playwright.”

Leigh Silverman: Wendy is one of our major American playwrights, and her Jewishness was a big part of who she was. (Photo: Courtesy of Guthrie Theater)

Leigh Silverman: Wendy is one of our major American playwrights, and her Jewishness was a big part of who she was. (Photo: Courtesy of Guthrie Theater)

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September 10th, 2014

The Shoah’s secret society

Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors, by R.D. Rosen, Harper, 280 pages, $25.99

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

Until 1991, children hidden during the Shoah were “members of a secret society of silence, a diaspora that had gone unnoticed and unknown for decades,” says R.D. Rosen.

That year, Carla Lessing, one of the three hidden children portrayed in Rosen’s Such Good Girls: The Journey of the Holocaust’s Hidden Child Survivors, helped organize the First International Gathering of Children Hidden During World War II, “a group that, by its very nature, had not been in touch since the war,” most “members” not knowing of each other’s existence.

To this day, people still discover that they were born Jews.

The gathering was life changing for many participants, some affected all their lives by childhoods in which their identities had been hidden, altered or erased, Rosen says. An example is Sophie Turner-Zaretsky, whose father Daniel Schwarzwald was taken by the Russians. Her resourceful, multilingual mother Laura obtained false identity documents with which they lived openly as Polish Catholics in Busko-Zdrόj, where sidewalks were paved with Jewish gravestones and poor Catholic girls wore dresses made from Jewish prayer shawls. Laura became Branislawa Tymejko, bookkeeper to a Nazi official running an agricultural cooperative.

Preschooler Sophie — originally Selma — became Zofia, drilled by Laura in the doctrine a Catholic child recites automatically. Zofia became a devoted, anti-Semitic Catholic who reacted badly to learning at age 11 that she really was a Jew.

Such-Good-Girls-cover

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September 10th, 2014

The Cookers come to town

David Weiss discusses his campaign to gain greater recognition for some journeymen of jazz, America’s unique art form

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

David Weiss, a talented jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader, is back in New York City, after an “exhausting” European tour with The Cookers, a group of veteran jazz musicians.

The Cookers have been together for seven years, and have released four albums. Their sensational new CD, Time and Time Again (Motéma), will be out next week, ahead of their Sept. 25 performance at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis.

The gig here, the only show by The Cookers in the Midwest, kicks off a two-week U.S. tour promoting the new album.

During a recent phone conversation with the Jewish World, Weiss talked about the top-flight band, his rise in the competitive world of jazz performance, and his mission to bring notice to talented older musicians who often gain acclaim only upon their passing.

The Cookers play the Dakota, Sept. 25

In August, The Cookers played music festivals in France (Jazz in Marciac), Norway and Serbia. It went pretty well — except in Serbia.

“Serbia… it started off like, ‘What’s this?’” Weiss recalls. Then the mood shifted to, “Oh, this is kind of cool” and ended up with “Wait, this is a lot of fun!”

“It was a jazz festival, per se; but we followed a very old, Django [Reinhardt], French hot-jazz thing,” he explains. “And the band after us was a local brass band. So, [The Cookers] was the only acoustic jazz they heard.”

Weiss concludes, regarding the audience in Serbia: “Sometimes it’s them. They’re a little wary about how they’re supposed to be reacting to it… then they lighten up and have a ball.”

The Cookers are (standing, l to r): Donald Harrison, Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Cecil McBee, George Cables; and (front, l to r): Billy Hart and David Weiss.

The Cookers are (standing, l to r): Donald Harrison, Billy Harper, Eddie Henderson, Cecil McBee, George Cables; and (front, l to r): Billy Hart and David Weiss.

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September 10th, 2014

Editorial: Who by fire

On Rosh Hashana it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast…

— From the Unetane Tokef prayer

Over many years, epochal historical events have lined up with the High Holidays. I recall sitting down to a family Rosh Hashana dinner in 1982, shortly after reports of the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by a Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia. This came toward the end of Israel’s Lebanon War. Perhaps my comments helped spoil the mood of conviviality that evening.

And who can forget the fraught emotions we felt in shul, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? The words of the Unetane Tokef prayer had a stronger resonance that year: “Who shall perish by water and who by fire…”

I’m not a rabbi or Judaic scholar; but I found some background to this dramatic prayer. Rabbi Dr. Reuven Hammer wrote:

On both days [of Rosh Hashana], the magnificent U­netana tokef (we shall ascribe holiness to this day) is chanted prior to the Kedusha. Although there are popular legends concerning the origin of this piyyut, we do not know who wrote it. What is certain is that the poet was extremely gifted. The structure of the poem and its language suggest that it was composed during the Byzantine period.

The concepts on which it is based come from Jewish apocalyptic literature and parallel Christian writings based on similar sources, the most famous of which is the Dies irae (day of wrath) — found in the requiem mass — which offers a vivid description of the day of judgment for all humankind. In Unetana tokef, however, the subject is not the final judgment but the much more immediate, yearly day of judgment — Rosh Hashana.

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