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The recently deceased Sid Caesar made America laugh, and in so doing, revolutionized television comedy. The youngest of three sons born to Jewish immigrants living in Yonkers, NY, Caesar’s father Max emigrated from Poland, and with his wife Ida, who had come from Russia, operated a luncheonette. Young Sid developed his foreign-sounding double talk by listening closely to the luncheonette’s multinational clientele. “Sid was part of the Jewish tradition of storytelling,” said Eddy Friedfeld, co-author with Caesar on the comedian’s biography. “The difference was his was not joke telling, it was comedy based on character. His sketches were stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. That was not coincidentally a function of the Jewish influence.”
While Pink Floyd's Roger Waters in recent years has served as a de facto frontman for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, Shuki Weiss Promotion and Production Ltd. for more than three decades has brought the biggest names in entertainment to perform live in Israel. Musical guests attracted by the company have included Metallica, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, Madonna, David Bowie, and Eric Clapton. This summer will be no different, with Neil Young, Soundgarden, and the Pixies signed by Weiss to perform at a rock and roll festival in Tel Aviv, while The Rolling Stones are tentatively scheduled but still unconfirmed. “I’m not getting the message from the artists that they are feeling the pressure [from the BDS movement]. While that might have been true in the past, that’s not the case, today,” says Oren Arnon, the head promoter for Weiss's company.
“American Hustle”—which received 10 Oscar nominations for the upcoming March 2 Academy Awards, tied with “Gravity” for the most nominations this year—conjures up the true story of Melvin Weinberg, an infamous Jewish con artist portrayed by Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld in the film. “One of the brilliant things about Weinberg, at first meeting him, is this—you would not take him to be such a wily con man,” says Leslie Maitland, the journalist who broke the Abscam story, which “American Hustle” is based on, in the 1970s and 1980s. “He looked like an overweight Jewish guy who lived on Long Island and smoked cigars. He did have a comb-over, but he was gray and considerably older than Christian Bale portrays him in the movie.”
It is once again awards season, with Americans finding themselves glued to their televisions and computers, imbibing a plethora of star-studded tributes and the perfunctory salacious gossip that accompanies it. But recognizing outstanding achievement in the arts is not limited to trendy musicians and heroes of the silver screen. For the last 64 years, the Jewish Book Council has spotlighted the best in Jewish literature through its presentation of the National Jewish Book Award, which comes this year on March 5 in New York. JNS.org interviews Yossi Klein Halevi, winner of the council’s Jewish Book of the Year Award, and Phyllis Chesler, winner in the Biography, Autobiography, Memoir category.
In the Exodus story, Moses decides to rescue his people after he hears God speak to him through the burning bush. But when New York City-based artist Jan Aronson imagined the famous episode in which Moses must decide which path to take in life, she didn’t see a magic fire, but the broiling sun rising and shining on the desert brush. In that moment of meditation, Moses heard the inner voice that told him to go confront Pharaoh. This is just one of the inspirations behind the illustrations that Aronson included in the Bronfman Passover Haggadah, a collaboration with her late husband, renowned Jewish philanthropist Edgar Bronfman. The original hard-cover book will be released as an app for the iPhone and iPad this March.
Amid the celebrations and hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in America and their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the man Paul McCartney called “the fifth Beatle” is not often mentioned. But experts say that without their Jewish manager, Brian Epstein, the Beatles as we know them would not have existed. “Epstein discovered the Beatles and guided them to mega-stardom, making them the most successful musical artists of all time,” said Beatles scholar Martin Lewis. “But, regrettably, the man who did so much for the Beatles, and who died tragically in 1967, has become a comparatively forgotten man since his death. Almost a ‘nowhere man.’”
Cool weather trends. Pop patterns. Couture for a cause. It could be Vogue or Elle. But it’s Hadar Magazine. This new Orthodox women’s fashion magazine, started one year ago in January 2013, will publish its third edition just after Purim. The glossy, high-end piece—available for $3.99 in stores throughout the New York/New Jersey area and for purchase online (hadarmagazine.com)—is the brainchild of Stern College graduate Bari Weizman and the product of her and a good friend’s creativity and entrepreneurship. “I started thinking about all of these different fashion bloggers and how there is such a big interest in the Jewish community to add more fashion into one’s wardrobe, instead of just putting a Kiki Riki [shell] under everything,” Weizman tells JNS.org.
After its release was pushed back two months from prime Oscar-nomination territory, “The Monuments Men,” based on Robert M. Edsel’s nonfiction book, is now in theaters—and the reasoning behind the delay is evident. On the surface, the film has a recognizable cast and a story that understands the importance of art. But while “The Monuments Men” could have tackled the realities of the Holocaust, it merely breezes by them, writes reviewer Jason Stack.
With Valentine's Day coming up Feb. 14, JNS.org examines the Jewish influences on the Oscar-winning romantic film Casablanca. Jews involved with the movie included Murray Burnett—author of the play on which the movie was based, director Michael Curtiz, screenwriters Philip and Julius Epstein and Howard Koch, producer Hal Wallis, composer Max Steiner, and actor Peter Lorre. "In October 1941, in response to the Nazi invasion of France, the United States House of Representatives came within one vote of disbanding the U.S. army. That was our response to World War II. Burnett [through his play] was warning people. He was saying, 'Look, you Americans need to get ready. This guy (Hitler) is after you too,'" Prof. James Pontuso, author of "Political Philosophy Comes to Rick's: Casablanca and American Civic Culture," tells JNS.org.
The new George Clooney film, “The Monuments Men,” tells the story of U.S. military personnel who during World War II risked their lives to rescue paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, Picasso, and Chagall that the Nazis had stolen. But for Connecticut civil rights attorney Bill Bingham, the story is one of tragic irony. His father, Hiram Bingham IV, was a dissident U.S. diplomat who helped rescue Marc Chagall after the Roosevelt administration abandoned the painter—the same administration that later made such efforts to recover Chagall’s paintings.
There are lots of biographies of famous people lining the shelves of bookstores. There are movie stars who hire press agents, whose job is to make sure that everyone knows all about them. There are politicians who measure their success by how many times their names appear in the newspapers. But there are very few books I know of whose purpose it is to acquaint us with saintly people. And that is what makes Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s newly published “The Unexpected Road” so important, writes book reviewer Rabbi Jack Riemer.
“Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie,” on display at Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center through March 2, lets the light shine in on the famed Israeli-Canadian architect’s work around the world. Through architectural models, photos, and renderings, the retrospective reveals how Safdie has integrated culture, history, and modern design into his projects on three continents. In Safdie’s work—which encompasses more than 85 completed buildings, communities, and master plans, including Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum—light is the central theme. “Light is our wellbeing. Light is nourishing. Deprivation of light is a very bad thing for us,” Safdie told JNS.org.