Whether through podcasts and Instagram – both unknown at the beginning of this decade – or more traditional forms like theater, film, books, painting, photography and television, we’ve seen a flowering of storytelling.
Artists from Israel, from the chassidic communities (and those who have left that world) and the gay and transgender worlds are adding their Jewish voices, imaginative images and new sounds, sharing their truth, with new confidence as well as new questions.
Many of these works are informed through engagement with traditional Jewish texts, whether in the original or in translation and now easily accessible through the internet and a great invention of this decade, the online library Sefaria. Jewish themes and characters appear regularly in mainstream media, like the Jewish family in, most recently, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Culture and politics are often intertwined, and some Jewish arts are tied to activism. Strikingly, still, almost 75 years after the end of World War II and the liberation of Auschwitz — many untold stories of the Holocaust keep emerging.
Beyond hummus, there’s great appetite and interest in Israeli food, with many new restaurants, cookbooks and a new American fluency in Middle Eastern cooking. Food itself has moved from a necessity to a cultural art. In addition, new twists on traditional foods like gefilte fish (from Gefilteria) and brisket are finding new audiences, kosher and otherwise. And at Russ and Daughters, on the Lower East Side, the appetizing guys behind the counter slicing nova continue a tradition going back more than 100 years.
- The Cuisine That Binds — In a charged political climate, where ties between Israelis and American Jews are fraying, it turns out that the multicultural Israeli cuisine acts as the great connector, erasing borders and biases.
- Modern Israeli cooking tells the story of Jewish life in its appealing combinations of flavors and ingredients – and inspires conversation – as Israeli chefs find people hungry for their offerings all over the world. Meet Einat Admony, the balaboosta of Mulberry Street who shows off the cooking of her Persian, Yemenite and Israeli foremothers in a storefront restaurant in Little Italy, winning accolades.
- The Hummus Diaries — In search of the best thick-and-grainy or silky-smooth chickpea and techina spread around. Checking out hummus offerings all over New York City, a reporter finds great variety and much to love.
- Remembering Ratner’s, An Ode to Onion Rolls — Ratner’s, one of the last of New York’s “dairy restaurants,” closed in 2004, and a former waiter looks back at his adventures growing up there.
Revival of Yiddish
The Yiddish renaissance continued to pick up speed with a proliferation of language classes, week-long festivals, several theatre companies presenting new works and revivals. As Yiddish music has been reinvigorated, more people sought to understand the lyrics and learn the language that their parents and grandparents chose not to teach them. Now, through the Yiddish Book Center, important works of Yiddish literature can be downloaded for free. For the first time in America, the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene, now in its second century, presented “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish, directed by Joel Grey. After fabulous reviews and a twice extended run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the show moved Off-Broadway, as sold-out audiences enjoyed its authenticity and emotional resonance.
- A New Heft for ‘Fiddler’ – In the U.S. premiere of Yiddish, ‘the words have a lot of weight.’ The director, choreographer, set designer and others discuss how they have made the Yiddish “Fiddler’ distinctive, innovative and true to its roots.
- Sholem Aleichem, Beyond ‘Fiddler’ – ‘Tevye Served Raw’ showcases stories that didn’t end up in the musical, and others from the author’s canon.
While Israeli films have grown in popularity in the United States and garnered international awards, Israeli television sitcoms and other series have also become popular with American audiences, with shows like “Srugim,” “Arab Labor,” “Fauda,” “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War,” the series that inspired “Homeland”), “Our Boys” and “Shtisel.” Over this last year, The Jewish Week and UJA/Federation hosted several sold-out evenings featuring the stars and directors of “Shtisel” in the New York area, attracting thousands of participants.
- Writing Between Words – Life and art collide in the work of Israeli Arab novelist Sayed Kashua. Israeli-Arab writer Sayed Kashua, who writes in Hebrew, talks about his experience writing novels and the hit television sitcom “Arab Labor,” the first prime-time program on Israeli television featuring Arabic-speaking characters
- Hats Off For ‘Srugim’ – A writer reflects on being hooked on the award-winning Israeli television show set in Jerusalem, which follows the social lives of a group of modern orthodox singles – it is frequently compared to the American sitcom “Friends,” which ran for 10 seasons.
- The Story ‘Shtisel’ Doesn’t Tell – The Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt reports on the popularity of the hit television show “Shtisel” and why viewers are drawn to the everyday experiences of the Shtisel family. And more “Shtisel” mania coverage including interviews with cast-members.
The last decade saw the group of young emerging literary novelists – Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer, Matti Friedman, Dara Horn, Nicole Kraus, Julie Orringer, Gary Shteyngart and others – move into the mainstream, with their latest works. The non-fiction writer Lucette Lagnado, who passed away much too young, continued to chronicle the experience of Jews in other lands. These writers richly imagine Jewish experience and defy stereotypes.
- Mourning Has Broken – In ‘kaddish.com,’ Nathan Englander returns home, so to speak, to some themes he explored when his career took off.
- Intimations Of Immortality – Dara Horn’s literary thriller is a work of magical realism and a meditation on the nature of time. It was the writers fifth and most autobiographical novel.
- An Elegant Writer’s Sephardic Soul – Remembering Lucette Lagnado, who poignantly chronicled her family’s exodus from Cairo to Brooklyn. An award-winning journalist, Lagnado wrote compelling and best-selling books that transported readers to Cairo and to Jewish life in that city before the Jews were expelled.
Some learned English only after arriving in America, but a new generation of Russian Jewish writers capture the experience of Jews in the former Soviet Union, while others turn their attention to the immigrant community in the U.S. Writers including Boris Fishman, Marina Rubin, Gary Shteyngart, Lara Vapnyar break new ground, translating the cadences of Russian life into English.
- Boris Fishman Stakes His Claim – With an eye and ear for Malamud, he tells a modern (and Holocaust-tinged) immigrant tale in his novel that draws on his family’s immigrant experience in Brooklyn.
Conversations deepen and expand about how to define Jewish art, Jewish artists. Large-scale exhibits include Frederic Brenner’s “This Place,” an international photography project about Israel, that opened at the Brooklyn Museum; The Metropolitan Museum launched a major show focused on Jerusalem’s history; and a few years after appointing a new director, The Jewish Museum renewed and reopened its core exhibition.
- Claudia Gould’s Aesthetic High-Wire Act – By putting her ‘outward looking’ stamp on a new core exhibition, The Jewish Museum’s director is reinvigorating a debate.
Sandee Brawarsky is The Jewish Week’s arts and culture editor.