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Monday, April 19, 2021

The Festival of Jewish Art and Culture Is Over a Century Old. A Look Back.

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A fabled story, one that melds Kafka with Kushner, opens the New York Jewish Book Festival, hosted for the first time by the New York Jewish Book Council.

It’s 1914, and nine-year-old Joseph Lea proposes to his family. He might get away with it, and he might even win. Both of those scenarios come at a cost, which would be a life spent in a world of death and destruction. A straightforward story, at first, it opens up into a more surreal exercise of narrative, wrapping Kafka’s reimagined society in Jewish cartography, autobiography and avant-garde theater. We return in time and again, within the story, to the immigration process itself, and the pillars of culture that were cobbled together to support it.

The Event

John Maskey is the panel moderator, and Jonathan Landman and Steven Spielberg are on hand to launch the festival.

Who’s here?

This is the Jewish world’s great entertainment empire in action. Spielberg is an alum. Kushner, of course, is one of America’s most celebrated playwrights. Fellow panelists include Maskey, Landman and Jeffrey Tambor, a father of four and cast member of “Transparent” who is called to go. He responds: “We were all quiet at your wedding,” which he attended with his wife, Laura.

Passages from the 30-minute discussion

“We do things differently, and we do them better. When it comes to telling stories, the sacred texts are very clear. If you are telling a story in Hebrew, there is a place where the story begins, and at some point you are allowed to say, ‘Yhud, I have done it,’ and then you are allowed to say, ‘Yhud, I have been raised in this place.’ Our mother had five children.”

“We did [Kraut] festivals where we ‘fake-marinated’ in the experience. We went to these houses and the rooms would have a picture of the Nazi bride right there, and that was beautiful. But the invitations also said, ‘Don’t let the kosher kitchen get you down!’ ”

“Holocaust art seems to succeed in generating an empathy. We know that Spielberg got an Oscar nomination for ‘Schindler’s List.’ But all the other Holocaust films you have ever seen, they are not well-received. They have not inspired people to think, ‘You’re right, I should have thought differently.’ ”

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