Archives for posts with tag: literature

Today we began to assess our topic by looking at how Hollywood has portrayed Israel, and its music. We took a god look at Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960):

And we examined its main (often involuntarily hilarious, but always revealing) musical traits/moments:

Exodus (USA 1960): List of relevant musical scenes

Then we discussed how the movie obliterated one of the most musical scenes in the original novel, by Leon Uris (1958), since it also involves sex, and gives a rather different view of the “Jewish musical soul” of the early citizens of Israel. For everyone’s convenience, here are Uris’ pages:

View this document on Scribd

These pages, and the juicy “cultural confusion” that they inevitably generate, served as a good introduction to our (VERY QUICK) overview of the ca. 2000 years of Jewish Diaspora that preceded modern Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel.

map of jewish diaspora

The Jewish Diaspora: Migrations and Expulsions (source LDS)

map03-jewish expulsions 1000-1500

Jewish Expulsions, 1000-1500 (source, Encyclopaedia Judaica)

Finally, we analyzed an inspiring TedTalk by documentarian Julia Bacha, which helped us in articulating one of the key topics for this semester: the “power of attention.” We specifically discussed how difficult it may become to listen when all around us there are many disturbing, distracting, confusing, conflicting, and altogether unintelligible sounds…


It is actually an Israel Prize given to Hebrew Literature and Poetry. But since one of this year’s recipient of the Prize – a prestigious award given by the State of Israel to its most distinguished citizens for merits acquired in the sciences, the humanities, the arts, and lifetime achievements – is writer Nathan Shaham (Tel Aviv, 1925), author of the novel The Rosendorf Quartet (Revi’yat rozendorf, 1987), a phenomenal book about the members of a string quartet in pre-state Israel, then music is certainly attaining an important role in this case.

The narrative plot of the novel should be quite familiar to our class. Here’s a summary (courtesy of the Jewish Virtual Library):

Only one of them, Friedman, feels committed to the Zionist project and in fact suffers from guilt feelings for not being a good enough pioneer. The others feel alienated, strangers in a place supposed to be their home. Moreover, viola-player Eva von Staubenfeld hates the country, which, in her opinion, is nothing but a place of exile: She criticizes the ugliness of the place and the petit bourgeois mentality. The fifth figure in the novel, observer of and loyal listener to the quartet as well as the narrator of its story, is the German writer Egon Loewenthal, who reflects upon the difficulties of writing in a new language, so different from his mother-tongue, and provides the reader with a kind of “diary of exile.” For Nathan Shaḥam, himself a viola player, music becomes a complex metaphor for a universal language which rejects nationalism and transcends the pettiness of mundane life. In a subsequent novel, Ẓilo shel Rosendrof (2001), Shaḥam sends his protagonist to Germany to find out what has happened to the musicians and to the narrator.

Composer Noam Sheriff (b. 1935), whose music we will be listening to this week, named his String Quartet No. 2 (1996) “Rosendorf” in honor of this book and its characters.

Past recipients of the Israel Prize include a list of people and institutions we’ve encountered over the past several weeks. Among them are Oedeon Partos, Paul Ben-Haim, Josef Tal, Amos Oz, Naomi Shemer, Shoshana Damari, Noam Sheriff, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (in 1958) and the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra (in 2006). A full, and possible very accurate, list can be found (of course) on Wikipedia.

Read Haaretz on Nathan Shaham receiving the award.

The Jewish film that history overlooked – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

In July 1947, journalist and author Meyer Levin followed from afar the affair of the Exodus, the ship that illegally ferried Jewish refugees to pre-state Israel. Levin, an American Jew who was one of the first journalists to set foot in Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, was living in New York at the time. He was glued to the reports about the ship and its 4,500 passengers. These people, after the months-long exhausting journey that followed years of indescribable suffering, were not allowed to enter British Mandatory Palestine and were forcibly returned to Germany.

Levin decided to create a film documenting the journeys of displaced Jews. Levin had never directed a film, but that didn’t stop him. He set out for Europe and created a cinematic document of historical importance and impressive quality. The filming of “The Illegals,” which Levin wrote, directed and produced, began toward the end of 1947.

The rest of the article here.

‘The Illegals’ (1948), How Displaced Jews Get to Palestine, a review of Levin’s film that appeared in the New York Times on July 15, 1948, can be found here. (Link courtesy of my friend and colleague, Assaf Shelleg, University of Virginia).

This is kind of fun.

View this document on Scribd

This weeks assignments are “warm-up” readings. Until bSpace is figured out, you can find them here:

Definitely read the opening pages of Amos Oz’s autobiography. His view of cultural and family life in Jerusalem in the 1940’s is not to be missed. Then choose one of the two music essays. Personally, I’d prefer if you all read Edwin Seroussi’s global overview of the study of Jewish music, but I’m ok with you reading Philip Bohlman’s insightful study of the origins of the notion of “Jewish music” in 19th-century German Jewish culture. HOWEVER, if you are a music major, do tackle Seroussi’s essay first.

P.S. No responses are required this week or the next. The sheet I gave out was to show you what things will look like in the course of the semester. Just use this time to orient yourselves and get up to speed.

%d bloggers like this: