October 18th, 2017

Lisa Berman: Back from underground

Dancer Lisa Berman discusses how Minneapolis became a center of breakdancing

by MAX SPARBER
Community News Editor

There was a brief explosion of breakdancing 35 years ago. I remember it, because I participated in it. At the time, it seemed likely that the hip hop dance form, which combined acrobatic street moved with inspirations drawn from West Coast funk dancers, Egyptian iconography and television mimes, was doomed to be a fad.

Breakdance troupe BRKFST will appear as part of Rimon’s Artists Salon series. (Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Berman)

The form likely attracted too much of the wrong sort of attention too quickly. Specifically, Hollywood snapped it up, plugging it into movies like Flashdance without context, and it became a cinematic shorthand for urban, black neighborhoods.

There were a few films specifically about breakdancing, but Hollywood mostly treated the dance as atmosphere. It was reserved for cutaway shots, to establish location, along with graffiti and rap music pouring from big boom boxes.

For a while, if you weren’t paying attention (and despite having been an enthusiastic participant in high school, I wasn’t), it seemed like the world moved on. New dance fads became popular, especially in the world of hip hop, which has always been defined by its restless inventiveness.

But break dancing did what many cultural expressions do when ignored. It went underground and continued to develop, slowly turning into an international phenomenon. There are now active breakdancing scenes in Brazil, Cambodia, Japan and South Korea.

And Minnesota. Still Minnesota.

Rimon’s marvelous artists salon series will offer a sample of this on Nov. 5, presenting an excerpt from a full-length dance piece titled “Seconds” to be presented Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis. After the excerpt, singer-songwriter Adam Levy will moderate a discussion with the dance troupe, called BRKFST, and, in particular, with one of the dancers and choreographers, Lisa Berman.

Keep reading →

October 18th, 2017

Church and State is timely show for MJTC

The Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s newest production, Church and State, looks at the political cost of gun violence

By DORIS RUBENSTEIN

Playwright Jason Odell Williams didn’t think he’d be doing rewrites of Church and State while the play was in rehearsal.  But that’s what he was obliged to do for the production opening Oct. 21 at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company in St. Paul.

The cast of Church and State (l to r): Josh Zwick, Kim Kivens, Miriam Schwartz and Matthew Rein. (Photo: Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company)

Permeated with rage and anguish over mass shootings in Virginia, and especially the massacre of children and teachers at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., angry and frustrated at Congress’s failure to address the issue of gun control, Williams put pen to paper. The eventual result was this new play.  And then came Las Vegas.

With such a tragic and serious topic, how, then, can it be a comedy?

Williams replies, “”The topics of this play — religion, guns and politics — seem heavy. But a heavy drama about heavy topics doesn’t interest me. What interests me is a play that gets to the heart of the people around these issues. And when you write about people, you can’t help but let them be funny!”

In the play, a “Romney Conservative” (in the playwright’s words), North Carolina senator named Charles Whitmore, who is a fundamentalist-conservative, comes to a personal crisis of conscience in an election that is neck-and-neck at the wire.

What has caused this crisis?  The funeral of 29 school kids gunned down by a lone shooter at the school where his own sons are students. The honorable senator has always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. He impulsively tweets from the heart and the story’s plot unfolds from here.

Rabbi Harold Kushner’s famous book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People might have served the senator well at this point. As a man who’s running a campaign with the slogan “Jesus is my Running Mate” (chosen by his wife Sara), he is a loss for a good answer when confronted with the question intrinsic to Kushner’s book.  Whom can he turn to?

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October 18th, 2017

Jews vie in St. Paul, Minneapolis mayoral races

Carrying on a Minnesota Jewish tradition of civic engagement, Tom Goldstein is running for St. Paul mayor and Jacob Frey is in the Minneapolis mayoral race

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

In the 1960s, Minneapolis had its first and only Jewish mayor. Arthur Naftalin (1915-2005) served as the Mill City’s mayor from 1961 to 1969.

Tom Goldstein (Photo: Courtesy of Tom Goldstein for St. Paul)

And St. Paul has had two Jewish mayors. Lawrence “Larry” Cohen (1933-2016) was mayor from 1972 to 1976. And Norm Coleman served as the capital city’s mayor from 1994 to 2002. (Coleman was elected as a DFL partisan, then switched to the Republican Party in 1996, and was reelected in 1997.)

If lightning strikes on Nov. 7, Election Day, the Twin Cities could have two Jewish mayors serving at the same time.

In the Minneapolis mayoral race, Jacob Frey, 36, a DFLer elected to the City Council in 2013, is making waves with his well-funded campaign. He’s one of 15 candidates challenging the incumbent mayor, Betsy Hodges.

The race in St. Paul is not quite so crowded. The incumbent, Chris Coleman, is running for governor in 2018; and 10 candidates are vying for mayor, including Tom Goldstein, 60, a former St. Paul School Board member who is known for his activism against public subsidies for sports stadiums.

Both Frey and Goldstein talked with the Jewish World last week about their campaigns.

“I’m not trying to be the third Jewish mayor of St. Paul,” Goldstein commented in the midst of a phone interview. “I’m trying to be the best candidate.”

A former proprietor of a sports memorabilia shop and the publisher of the esteemed baseball journal Elysian Fields Quarterly, Goldstein is a native of the Washington, D.C., area. He came to Minnesota to attend Carleton College and settled in for the long haul.

“It’s the fact that I’m running an issues-oriented campaign that’s most important to me,” he told the Jewish World.

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October 18th, 2017

Mark Helprin: Paris, sentence by sentence

Paris in the Present Tense, by Mark Helprin, Overlook, 394 pages, $28.95

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

Mark Helprin is a fabulous writer of the sort that makes you want to capitalize the word, a justly acclaimed master whose elegance is both an asset and, at times, almost an annoyance.

Where lesser novelists would describe an action and move on, Helprin dawdles, painting word pictures of places and times past and present — even of bubbles in an Air France glass of champagne — and of protagonist Jules Lacour’s thoughts as he moves through his seventh decade.

In Paris in the Present Tense, Helprin frequently provides extravagant dialog — long well-composed paragraphs that made me think: “Nobody talks that way.” But they’re beautiful, as are his descriptions. Keep reading →

October 4th, 2017

Melody Moezzi : The same struggle

Author Melody Moezzi discusses how her upbringing influenced her understanding of mental illness

by MAX SPARBER
Community News Editor

The 17th Annual Twin Cities Mental Health Education Conference, Oct. 22 at Temple Israel, will feature a keynote address by Melody Moezzi, Iranian-American activist, award-winning writer and attorney, and author of Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life.

Melody Moezzi, who will be the keynote speaker at the 17th Annual Twin Cities Mental Health Education Conference. (Caption: Courtesy of Moezzi)

In conversation with The American Jewish World, Moezzi explained the origin of her book, which details her own diagnosis as bipolar.

“I basically wrote the book that I wish existed when I was diagnosed,” she said. “I read a lot of memoirs, but I didn’t see my experience reflected as a non-white woman.”

She explains that as an Iranian-American, she experienced being bipolar as “clinical and cultural”: “For me it was a metaphor for my experience as an Iranian-American. I love and belong to these two places that never in my life have been reconciled.”

Just as she has two identities, Iranian and American, she has two emotional poles, although she is quick to point out that this is reductive; there isn’t just a manic side and a depressive side to her experiences.

Nonetheless, when she was diagnosed, she explains that her response was “Oh, of course.”

She explains that her experiences gave her the tools to understand her diagnosis, because they seemed to parallel how she had already experienced “as an Iranian, as a member of two cultures that couldn’t get along politically, that were supposed to be arch-enemies.”

Additionally, she grew up in a world that was hostile to her Iranian identity. “As an Iranian-American woman, my identity has been politicized since I was very young. But I have never been ashamed of my identity.”

So when she was diagnosed, Moezzi explains that “part of me understood that this was something that I shouldn’t be ashamed of.

“Nobody told me to be ashamed, but they told me I should be quiet about it. Silence breeds shame.”

Keep reading →

October 4th, 2017

Lillian Hellman: Always new again

The Guthrie Theater presents the anti-fascist classic Watch on the Rhine by Lillian Hellman

by MAX SPARBER
Community News Editor

The Guthrie Theater has, either through accident or design, discovered the joys of Jewish women who wrote plays. This past season the produced The Royal Family, co-authored by the underrated Edna Ferber, a Jewish novelist and playwright responsible for the play Show Boat was based on, as well as the novel Cimarron, which was turned into a 1931 film that won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the novel Giant, which was turned into 1 1956 film that was nominated for nine Oscars. In a better world, Ferber would be taught alongside Hawthorne and Steinbeck.

Lillian Hellman, author of Watch on the Rhine, now playing at The Guthrie. (Wikimedia Commons)

This season the Guthrie presents both a play by Lillian Hellman and by Paula Vogel. The latter opens in February, and we will detail it then, but the Hellman play opened Sept. 30 and plays through Nov. 5, and deserved some attention.

Hellman is another writer who should be better-known, although one suspects her name has a little more cachet than Ferber, in part because she was in a long-term relationship with novelist Dashiell Hammett and he immortalized her as the character Nora Charles in his 1934 novel The Thin Man, which remains one of the more beloved detective novels, and inspired a popular film and television series. Keep reading →

October 4th, 2017

Dorit Rabinyan: ‘A curse, then a blessing, then a curse’

Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan discusses being at the center of a national controversy

by MAX SPARBER
Community News Editor

Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan, who will be in Minneapolis Oct. 23, found herself in a storm of controversy with her 2014 book Gader Haya, which has been published in English as Borderlife and as All the Rivers.

Author Dorit Rabinyan, whose book Gader Haya was the subject of a censorship effort by Israeli officials. (Wikimedia Commons)

The book tells of a Jewish woman who falls in love with a Palestinian man when both meet in Greenwich Village. The novel sensitively tracks the conflicted relationship of the two characters. The Israeli woman hides the relationship from her family and fears her identity might be subsumed into her lover’s.

It is likely this last aspect to the book that inspired the controversy. Gader Haya was selected to be included in Israeli high school curricula, but then was censored by Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, who argued that the book might encourage intermarriage and assimilation. Keep reading →