Reviews

Culture

SF Jewish Film Festival Opening–Go To It This Week

What’s more Jewish than bagels, lox, and schmear? Film! At least, so says the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), which invited viewers into and beyond the stereotypes at its Opening Night festivities Thursday evening in San Francisco. A lively and boisterous crowd packed the Castro Theater, kicking off SFJFF’s thirty-second year with the world premiere screening of Roberta Grossman’s comic documentary Hava Nagila (the Movie).
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Books

Bridging the Abrahamic Traditions

In a world where violence seems to prevail, it can be hard to believe in a God of love. Starr’s beautifully crafted book offers and enter into a space where divine love is illuminated as a central teaching and core ethic within the heart of these three monotheistic traditions.
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Film

Pinkwashed?

When people working for a good cause turn in directions that aren’t good—or might even be bad—do their virtuous intentions outweigh the unintended side effects of their activities? How far can the ethical standards of activists and philanthropists be trusted when people worship capitalism as blindly as many Americans do today?
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Books

Much More Than a Historical Novel

It is probably impossible to imagine ourselves in the place of the Jewish survivors of World War II and the Holocaust immediately after the war, but this is exactly the task that Yehiel Grenimann, the son of survivors, set for himself. Yanosh and Eva, his central characters, were hidden on the Aryan side of Warsaw, thanks to their connection with the Polish nationalist underground. Yosef Borowski, known as Bora, the third major protagonist, was a partisan leader during the war. The novel begins with the entry of the Soviet army into Warsaw and ends with Yanosh and Eva’s imminent arrival in Australia.
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Music

A Jewish Composer for Our Time

Who knew that by 2012 the world of classical music would be so wonderfully eclectic, unpredictable, and adventurous? Who knew that composers would freely borrow from folk and popular styles, as well as ancient traditions? Listeners are welcoming this trend with relish, turning toward this “new” music for inspiration, soul nourishment, and a connection to ancient roots.
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Books

When American Jews Were Divided and Weak

It’s extraordinary to see how different the contemporary American political climate is for Jews than it was seventy years ago. Today, the “Israel lobby” is widely regarded as all-powerful, and all but one of the 2012 Republican Presidential contenders—along with the Democratic incumbent—have eagerly sought Jewish support. In the 1930s and early ’40s, Jewish lives were barely worth a mention for most Americans. The authors of Millions of Jews to Rescue and Irgun Zvai Leumi address this subject from opposite vantage points on the political spectrum.
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Books

Literary Bridges to the Middle Eastern “Other”

The Arab Spring has challenged Western stereotypes of Middle Eastern civil societies. We’ve seen insatiable demand for democracy in a region that most analysts had written off as politically passive or hopelessly brainwashed by authoritarianism and misogyny. We’ve seen formalized instruction and training on how to engage in nonviolent protest. Tablet & Pen and Out of It , two recently released works of literature, both written before the Arab Spring, introduce Westerners to an array of fictional characters and real people who exemplify the creativity, agency, and diversity that have always been present in the Middle East but have received scant attention in Western media.
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Books

A Memoir of Gender Transition

In Through the Door of Life, Stern College professor Joy Ladin offers this analysis of why her colleague Moshe Tendler reacted so negatively to her announcement that she is transsexual: “Rabbi Tendler isn’t only worried about what I am; he is worried about what I mean.” This pithy line sums up why things transgender unsettle us so. It also hints at why this book is a worthwhile read for anyone.
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Culture

Retelling Hasidism for the Twenty-First Century

A Hidden Light is the interesting experiment of an insider who stands outside a world he left but never abandoned. The work is neither critical nor apologetic, nor is it polemical. It is the loving, creative rendition of a devotee who has tried in his long career to separate Hasidism’s radical theology from its rigid and conventional sociological framework.
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Books

Unitarian Universalism and the Story of Forrest Church

Forrest Church’s initial interest in religion was mainly geared toward avoiding the draft as a conscientious objector. But what began as a dodge became a calling that was as much intellectual as religious, and resulted in a theology based on a belief in communal responsibility. In Dan Cryer’s Being Alive and Having to Die: The Spiritual Odyssey of Forrest Church, we learn that the Unitarian Universalist minister was hardly a paragon of old-fashioned virtue. Yet he urged parishioners to believe in compassion, love and service, and then practiced what he preached.
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Books

Correcting the Canon: The African American Feminist Art of Meta Fuller

In 2012, the gap between the rhetoric of inclusion and the reality of exclusion remains huge. Renée Ater’s new book, Remaking Race and History: The Sculpture of Meta Warrick Fuller, goes a long way in correcting the glaring omission of one of the key African-American woman artists of the twentieth century. Learn how Meta Fuller went from making her art in the evenings after finishing her domestic chores to creating one of the most remarkable Pan-African artworks of that era.
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Books

Prisoner of the Deep

The Leviathan may look to us like a cautionary tale about the peril to traditional provincial folk of entering the modern world. But interwar-period author Joseph Roth was no traditionalist at all but a cosmopolitan committed to the an imperial ideal. Perhaps The Leviathan should be seen as Roth’s farewell to the continent. Meet the protagonist of the story—a Jewish coral merchant living in a small town in the Ukrainian region of Volhynia who loves his merchandise a bit too well—and meet Roth at the same time.
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Books

How Come We Exist?

We meet in these pages eloquent summaries of how the evolution of the human mind may be the greatest mystery of all. Generations ago, modern physicists and astronomers informed us that “one of the stranger things about our universe is that we are present in it.”
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Books

A Novel of Jewish Upheaval, Flight, and Transition

The Free World presents a sprawling cast of characters in limbo. Chronicling everything from pogroms to Soviet politics to 1970s Rome, Bezmozgis’s first novel depicts one family in the midst of monumental transition.
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Books

Our Exile: A Chilean Memoir of Dislocation

Ariel Dorfman is one of our era’s many citizens of nowhere, and Feeding on Dreams is the story of his exile from Chile. It was an accident, a gift of destiny, or a curse, that he was not at La Moneda, the Presidential Palace, on September 11, 1973, the day of the coup by General Augusto Pinochet. That day, Salvador Allende died and Dorfman received a permanent enemy to orient him in his disoriented life.
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