Are these the Jewish Rebels of Tomorrow?

Hotel with tree and meadow

Youth hostel in alpine serenity

What’s the newest of the new in Jewish youth culture? To find out, I visited a machane, a Jewish summer camp, which congregated Europeans under the age of eighteen in a remote village in the Alps. Hoping to scout future Jewish ideas, themes, and memes, I had my eyes and ears open for interesting fashions, cool music, new media, games, slang, and food.

My quest was triggered by a slew of innovations brought about by the current generation. Deviators have exchanged their traditional tallitot (prayer shawls) for colorful ones with lilies and rainbows. Others have produced trip hop versions of Jewish songs, “Matzah raps,” and uploaded parodies of Biblical stories onto youtube.  continue reading


New Forms of Protest

Last summer, the Korean musician PSY sang out in protest against consumerism in Gangnam, a posh district in Seoul. His video shows him dancing, as if on a horse, in front of wealthy-looking men and scantily-clad women. For reasons only posterity may help us to understand, Gangnam Style became Youtube’s most frequently watched video clip. A series of parodies were produced by groups as far distant from Gangnam – geographically and ideologically – as NASA and Greenpeace.

Gangnam-style protest reached the art world with particular fervour. Chinese activist Ai Weiwei released a Gangnam Style video in protest of censorship in his country. Reacting to this video, Jewish-Indian artist Anish Kapoor – whose works are on display starting 18 May 2013 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin – animated art museums in England and the USA to shoot a video in support of Ai Weiwei. Shortly thereafter, the Philadelphia Art Museum posted a video with its staff members dancing to the Gangnam tune, though their object of contention is not immediately apparent:
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Reconsidering What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Page from Nathan Englander's What we Talk about when We Talk About Anne FrankIn the past, a number of literary texts on Jewish topics contributed to Jewish culture in various ways. Some documented and revitalized oral history and folk tales in an attempt to save them from oblivion (e.g. Martin Buber’s Tale of the Hasidim); others made Jewish topics palatable to the majority society (e.g. Sidney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family); and still others helped to build a Jewish community around shared experiences of ritual, emigration and persecution (e.g. Friedrich Torberg’s Tante Jolesch or The Decline of the West in Anecdotes).

Nathan Englander, one of the most sophisticated and provocative current writers, shares none of these intentions. His latest book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, is a collection of eight short stories loosely bound together under the title of (and a quote from) the first story, arising from a heated conversation about genocide; it refers to Anne Frank not as a historical figure, but as a metonym of victimhood. Accordingly, the stories reflect on the effect of Jewish themes, such as religion, the Holocaust and Israel, on modern Jewish identities. The author’s perspective is from within – he was born in 1970 to an Orthodox-Jewish family in New York – and critical. His gripping, intimate theatre-like episodes are fraught with tense dialog questioning the validity of Jewish cultural practice:  continue reading