Monday, July 27, 2015

The Jewish comic-book revolutionary behind Mad magazine

A new biography of Harvey Kurtzman pays tribute to the Jewish artist’s genius but struggles to escape the long shadow of his days at Mad magazine in the 1950s, much like Kurtzman himself.

By Akin Ajayi for Haaretz

“Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created MAD and Revolutionized Humor in America,” by Bill Schelly, Fantagraphics Books, 644 pages, $34.99

Sometime in 1988, Harvey Kurtzman invited Art Spiegelman to guest-lecture at his cartooning class at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Spiegelman was already a leading light of the alternative comics movement (he’d win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1992, for “Maus”), and it was expected that he would talk about his career. But instead, Spiegelman turned the spotlight around, talking about the inspiration for his comic-book career – Kurtzman himself.

Spiegelman ran through Kurtzman’s early successes, but talked most about Kurtzman’s greatest contribution to comic books, as the creator of Mad magazine (he would later document the afternoon, comic strip-style, in a New Yorker tribute shortly after Kurtzman’s death in 1993). “Mad was an urban junk collage that said ‘Pay attention! The mass media are lying to you … including this comic book!’” Spiegelman told the class. “I think Harvey’s Mad was more important than pot and LSD in shaping the generation that protested the Vietnam War.”

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Shakespeare's Kitchen by Lore Segal

Review by Judith Felsenfeld for

For those of us who have waited patiently for Lore Segal’s next offering, Shakespeare’s Kitchen is a wonderful reward; for readers new to her work, it will be a revelation. These thirteen closely inter-related stories, seven of which appeared previously in The New Yorker, are wise, subtle, trenchant, and full of surprises.

Although the narrative style is straightforward, even plain, the stories carry real heft, eg., “The Reverse Bug,” which begins with charming multi-ethnic humor, and builds to the horrors of the Holocaust. Reluctantly leaving her New York life to accept a faculty position at a Connecticut think tank, Ilka, protagonist of Segal’s early novel, Her First American, must reach out to form new friendships. Her warm acceptance by Leslie Shakespeare, Dean of the Institute, and his mercurial wife, Eliza, facilitates Ilka’s advancement into the stratified society of faculty, junior and senior, support staff, even an elusive Nobel Laureate.

By “Yom Kippur Card,” the culminating story, its author has weighed in on power, ambition, love, sex, motherhood, aging and death, among other grand themes. This stunning collection finds Lore Segal at the height of her impressive powers.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

People of the Book: Five Hundred Years of the Hebrew Book From the Beginning of Printing Until the Twentieth Century

By Akiva Aaronson, Feldheim Publishers; reviewed by Gil Student on

The Internet is only the latest, and probably not the last, of many information upheavals due to technology. An important change began over 500 years ago with the invention of the printing press. This new method for mass-producing books quickly altered the political and religious face of Europe. Jews, traditionally devoted to literacy and study, were early adopters of printing technology and suffered less upheaval than their Christian counterparts.

In a fascinating and richly illustrated new book, People of the Book: Five Hundreds Years of the Hebrew Book From the Beginning of Printing Until the Twentieth Century, Akiva Aaronson traces important Jewish developments along the path, from Rashi’s Torah commentary, the first dated Hebrew book (Italy, 1475), through the Survivors’ Talmud published in 1948.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

The Auschwitz Survivor Behind Haute Couture

By Ilana Sichel for Jewniverse

At the age of 14, Martin Greenfield was uprooted from an idyllic Czechoslovakian childhood and deported to Auschwitz, where the notorious Doctor Mengele separated him from his family. One of his first memories from the death camp was Mengele’s shiny black boots.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Best Place on Earth: Stories Ayelet Tsabari

Review by Nat Bernstein for Jewish Book Council

2015 Sami Rohr Prize winner Ayelet Tsabari deftly applies the influences of her American short story contemporaries to a collection of narratives from that other country of immigrants. Set between Israel and Canada of the past few decades, The Best Place on Earth flits through the day-to-day life of modern history, alighting on the Persian Gulf War, the Second Intifada, the occupation and withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, and the countless, nameless campaigns on Gaza. Imbuing the difficult circumstances and realities of Israeli (and expat) life with the softening sweetness of its details, Tsabari imparts a yearning for home that resonates across the globe.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Blum’s Day

Sociologist Pierre Birnbaum says it’s time Léon Blum—French Socialist, Zionist, wartime hero, and prime minister—got his due

By Yale University Press (Sponsored) for Vox Table

During his political career, Léon Blum—who served three short terms as French prime minister between 1936 and 1947—was derided by his detractors as “a woman,” a “weak Jew,” and even a traitor. Meanwhile, he was worshiped by many French workers, grateful to him for introducing the 40-hour work week, vacation time, and other legislation from his Socialist agenda. According to sociologist Pierre Birnbaum, author of the new biography Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist, none of these characterizations captures the complexity of this under-appreciated figure.

In an interview with Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry, Birnbaum describes Blum as a remarkably brave, intelligent, and unflappable leader, an early Zionist, a prescient anti-Communist, and proud Jew.


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Monday, June 15, 2015

Why the King James Version of the Bible Remains the Best

The 400-year-old translation is denigrated because of its archaic language. That’s one of its greatest strengths.

Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic.

Stephen M. Flatow asks why, in my column “The Paradox of the Transmission of Sacred Texts” that appeared two weeks ago, I used the King James translation when citing verses from the Bible. “Are there,” he asks, “no Jewish translations, such as the Jewish Publication Society’s, Soncino Press’s, or ArtScroll’s, that would have served a similar purpose?”

Yes, there are. The reason I nevertheless prefer the King James Version (KJV) is that, despite its age, its archaic English, and its often outdated interpretations of passages that subsequent knowledge has thrown new light on, it continues to be the best English Bible translation in existence.

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