In Israel, a new five month scholarship program being offered to young aspiring athletes – one of them could be you.
One hundred years after David Pinski’s (1872-1959) “Di Familye Tzvi” was written, the scathing examination of the Jewish world that the play depicts is neither dated nor out of touch with contemporary Jewish life. Also known as “The Last Jew,” this play was completed in New York just 14 months after the infamous pogrom of April, 1903 in Kishinev, Russia. It depicts one family, headed by grandfather Rabbi Mayshe, his sons and grandsons, friends and various community members at the very moment that the terrible pogrom is starting.
The gripping content of this Yiddish classic begins with heated arguments as to what to do erupting between the assimilationist, the Zionist and the socialist, all in stark contrast to Reb Mayshe’s piety and faith. A staged reading of the play will be performed on the 100th anniversary of its creation, on Thursday, May 20 at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan by the Folksbiene Theater.
Once banned in Russia, this reading will be in Yiddish with English supertitles provided. Mark Altman, who curates the Folksbiene’s Hidden Treasures reading series, will be directing.
Pinski’s many theatrical works spanned Biblical to contemporary Jewish subjects, including The Eternal Jew (1926), The Treasure, The Final Balance (1926), Ayzik Sheftl, Yankl der Shmid and Gabri un di Froyen. Di Familye Tzvi was immensely popular, with the Yiddish version going through at least 13 editions. For Pinski, it was especially meaningful as he notes in his introduction, “This is not a pogrom-tragedy, but the tragedy of a sole survivor, the tragedy of a moribund religion, of a crumbling world philosophy… by the open grave of the Kishinev martyrs before their blood had time to dry… I called: a day of reckoning… outraged by the surrounding storm, I turned to the inner goings on of the Jewish people ? to that which goes on now and that which must take place.”
Pinski thought of his play as a “call to arms” for the Jewish people to throw off the yoke of the old religion and become a modern, secular nation. He fled Russian persecution for his radical politics (first Bundist, then Labor Zionist) to New York and finally settled in Israel in 1949. In later years, his home in Haifa became a center for Yiddish writers. In sharp contrast to the author’s original intent, today we can see the play as part of the never ending and raucous dialogue between different kinds of Jews and their G-d. The past century has shown us the tragic dangers of utopian socialism, racist nationalism and assimilationism.
In the shadow of the impending attack, the argument among the Jews opens with the Zionist grandson, Lipman, longing for Jewish independence and homeland, declaring that, “even the most just equality is not independence, and independence alone can be the reward for our people for its centuries of suffering.” His grandfather replies, “Your vanity proposes, and G-d disposes…” Reuven, the socialist grandson, cannot fathom his grandfather’s faith in G-d and His Chosen People, lamenting, “There’s no help for it, and I’m sorry for you, grandpa. You stand all alone ? the last Jew, the solitary survivor of a departed day. The world belongs to us, to me…” While the schisms in the Tzvi family are deep and likely fatal, this is not the real subject of the play, this is not the tragedy.
Reb Mayshe becomes convinced that he must guard the synagogue from the rioters. Most important of all, he must save the Torah scrolls. He calls upon his family to join him and they answer with radically different agendas. One plans to flee to a hiding place in the woods, another wants to rush out to defend his store, while yet another insists on organizing a belated defense. A great granddaughter reveals that she has converted to Christianity, proudly proclaiming that, “We were never very pious Jews anyway. Then why should we suffer from massacres? Really. Since we were already practically Gentile, why shouldn’t we become real Gentiles and stop suffering Jewish sorrows?” The cool rationale of such desperate actions is particularly chilling.
In the second act, the tragedy fully emerges as the tone and focus of the play shifts dramatically to an extended monologue between Reb Mayshe and G-d. He arrives at the near empty synagogue and struggles with the dawning realization that he may, in fact, be alone. He addresses G-d, “With all my soul I spoke to them untiringly, and now I stand before You, and must ask, “Where are Your Jews, Lord? Where is Your army?” Reveal them to me, or take me to You. I can do no more, dear G-d!”
The terrible divisions of the Jewish people and the impending slaughter pale next to the mounting tragedy of what seems like G-d’s silence. His faithful servant Reb Mayshe argues, pleads, despairs and then repents of his disrespectful words, all in a Job-like encounter with the Master of the Universe.
The tragedy of Reb Mayshe is played out against the spectacle of the community minyan foolishly musing over the nature of the pogrom, how Jews will unfortunately perish, but “our Jews are among those to blame.” Empty arguments and facile complaints multiply finding fault with the Jewish community as the men of the city argue and quibble over procedure, meetings and the “decline of Judaism,” while the bloodthirsty mob is literally at the door. And of course, they consider Reb Mayshe’s call to defend the house of G-d as total foolishness, the madness of a farce.
Repeatedly, his pleas fall on deaf ears, whether to a group of men praying (hypocritically ignoring him) or to his own grandson. Repeatedly Reb Mayshe asks, “Jews, where are you?” to continued silence. This is the tragedy; this is the horror of Pinski’s play. His masterpiece has drawn us into the heart of the contentious Jewish world where consensus is rare.
Pinski’s “The Last Jew” is a wrenching experience with no easy answers and only a plethora of questions that confront the tragedy of anti-Semitic violence, a Jewish community deeply divided and the eternal question of understanding God’s ways left, as always, unanswered. It is a moving and gripping tragedy that depicts a Jewish world before the reality of self-defense and the State of Israel existed, and yet has a haunting relevance. Its question “Jews, where are you?” still echoes today.
“Di Familye Tzvi” or “The Last Jew” by David Pinski, Folksbiene Theater at the Edmond J. Safra Hall in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, New York. 212 213 2120 or www.folksbiene.org/readspecial.htm One Reading Only, Thursday, May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets $18.
Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com.
“To those of Kishinev who perished in the sanctification of His name,” by Ephraim Moshe Lilien, from Die Judenmassacres in Kishinev, Berlin 1903.
This poster was inspired by the Kishinev Pogrom legend of Reb Moshe Tsvi Kigel, a shames who was reportedly murdered in front of the Ark protecting the Sifrei Torah. Pinski’s “The Last Jew” is based on the same legend.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at email@example.com
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Leah Katz, a TeenZone camper at Oorah’s TheZone summer camp and an 11th grader at Midwood High School, read her winning essay about how TheZone changed her views on Judaism at the Jewish Heritage Awards Ceremony held at Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office in April. The purpose of the Jewish Heritage Essay Contest is to acquaint public school students with Jewish history and customs and to help foster a deeper understanding of Jewish culture. The contest is open to students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Leah’s essay is reproduced in full below.
Moshe Sharett, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, visited Egypt in 1945. In Cairo he met a most remarkable young woman, a beautiful journalist who was the darling of Egyptian high society – from high-ranking military brass, to culture icons and Muslim sheikhs, to the court of King Faruk.
The two proceeded to talk about everyday things and surprisingly her mother-in-law did not find anything else to criticize. This occurred a few more times, with my client changing the topic every time by complimenting her mother-in-law or mentioning something positive about her.
There is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing disorder – mainly because there are many different diagnoses that fall under the catch-all phrase sensory processing disorder (SPD). Among them are three specific subcategories:
The doctor had warned us that even if we did everything right and followed the protocol after the follicle was of the right size, there was no guarantee of success. Fertilization still had to occur, and just like couples do not necessarily become pregnant every month, we had no way to know if we were actually expecting for two full weeks.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Jewish Press columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder and president of Hineni, the international Torah outreach organization, recently addressed an overflowing audience at the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine in southern California. Rebbetzin Jungreis’s address theme, “Making a Good Relationship Magical,” was apropos for the evening’s main mission: raising funds for the Irvine community’s mikveh.
You have probably been planning your marriage since you were about three. Let’s fast-forward to a big milestone– your twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Don’t worry, you don’t look a day over twenty one!) Now, would you appreciate your husband buying you a dozen roses that some florist recommended?
As I mentioned in my earlier articles about our family trip to Israel, our night flight went pretty smooth, thanks to my children’s willingness to sleep throughout the flight. I, on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink and I wasn’t feeling too great by the time we landed. But we were finally in Israel, and just being in the beautifully renovated Ben Gurion airport and hearing all the Hebrew around us was exciting enough.
While all the flowers that grace your Shavuos table will surely be a delight to your eye, these will be a delight for your palette as well. Create them at any level, simple or sophisticated; any way you make them they’re sure to be a sensation.
Welcome back to “You’re Asking Me?” where we attempt to answer questions sent in by people who fortunately have fake names, so they won’t be embarrassed. I don’t know how they got through school, though.
Speechless wonder is the reaction to the beautiful vision seen though the Arch of the Keshet Cave at the Adamit Park in the Galilee. One of the most amazing natural wonders in Eretz Yisrael, the Me’arat Hakeshet — also known as the Rainbow Cave or Arch Cave — can be found up against the Israel-Lebanon border just a few kilometers from Rosh Hanikra and the sparkling blue Mediterranean Sea. It is situated amid the wild scenery on the cliffs of Nachal Betzet and Nachal Namer, on the Adamit Ridge.
In the eyes of the ram lies the artist’s commentary on the Rosh Hashanah piyyut “The King Girded with Strength.” From the Tripartite Mahzor (German 14th century), this illumination simultaneously echoes the piyyut’s praise of God’s awesome power and expresses the terror of actually being a sacrifice to God. The ram is but a reflection of Isaac. It is all in the eyes.
Reaching back in time to reclaim a family for herself and, in a yahrzeit moment, to rekindle lives snuffed out, Diana Kurz’s paintings stand as testaments to victims of the Holocaust. After a successful 20 year career as an artist and teacher, (with a strong feminist bent), in 1989 Kurz happened upon a few surviving photos of her own relatives “who disappeared during the war.” Suddenly her past opened up and possessed her. This spring (April 4 – May 2, 2012) a series of these paintings was shown at the Art Gallery at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY.
Examining a choice selection of drawings done by Itshak Holtz over 30 years ago is a rare pleasure that allows for the appreciation of his unique sensitivity and insights. I was afforded that pleasure at the inaugural exhibition of the Betzalel Gallery in Crown Heights this past May. Although this modest selection of 25 drawings and watercolors of this paradigmatic frum artist ranges from 1963 to 1999, the majority of the works is from the 1970s and reveals a special aspect of his inner artistic soul. The selection of images could easily narrate the fabric of ordinary Jewish life.
Earlier this year I was presenting my survey of Jewish art, “A Jewish Art Primer,” in a West Hartford, Connecticut synagogue and during the intermission a local artist, David Holzman, introduced himself to me. He relayed his rich and fascinating artistic background and then produced a portfolio of 8 black and white prints that he generously gave to me as a gift. As a tantalizing glimpse into recent work, they are truly amazing and I would like to share them with you.
Boris Schatz (1866 – 1932) had a revolutionary vision. He believed that the creation of a new modern Jewish visual culture would become a major force to both articulate a Jewish national identity and sustain the Zionist enterprise. In 1904 he approached Zionist leader Theodor Herzl with the proposal to establish a national arts and crafts school in Palestine and got his blessing. Tragically Herzl died later that year, but the Zionist leadership in Vienna assumed responsibility for the project and its funding.
The exhibitions that precede Judaic auctions are rather special events for anyone who has a feeling for the fabric of Jewish life as it has been lived for the last 500 years. Not only is one afforded the opportunity to see a wide variety of Judaica, books, manuscripts and Jewish art of considerable historic importance, but if something strikes your fancy; intellectually or acquisitively, you can actually handle the objects. For most artwork the thrill is in seeing it up close and judging the brushstrokes and details of a painting or watercolor. One stands in the exact proximity as the creator did.
The auction at Christie’s in Paris this May 11 of a Tuscan Mahzor, created and illuminated in the 1490’s, will be an extraordinary event. This rare example of illuminated Jewish art has not been seen publically in over 500 years and, aside from tantalizing internal suggestions, lacks conclusive identification of the scribe and illuminators. Because the gold-tooled goatskin binding was made about 50 years after the manuscript and has a different coat of arms than those found in the machzor, it is assumed that this prayerbook may have quickly changed hands.
One thing is certain about Robert Feinland – he has shuls on his mind. His career has spanned over 40 years, exploring landscape, cityscape, sculpture and abstraction. For many of those years he has focused on the relentlessly changing urban landscape of New York, feeling the necessity to document and, in some way preserve, the physical fabric of the city he loves. A selection of recent paintings, most concentrating on the Crown Heights community, is currently at the Chassidic Art Institute. Many of the images are of shuls.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-last-jew-a-tragedy-by-david-pinski/2004/06/09/
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