Working in the territory:In the studio with Sharon Poliakine

IMG_4436 Jerusalem Post–Sharon Poliakine’s studio in Rishpon, not far from her home in Ra’anana, has all the markings of a still-life painting – tubes of paint, water bottles, knives, gloves and plastic sandwich bags stained with a black residue of paint form a series of scattered mounds in the wide open space.

This is not a place to “sit and talk,” Poliakine warns me on the phone before I arrive on a recent Wednesday morning. It is where she goes to work, which these days is far from regular – she squeezes it in between being a mother, teaching and running the University of Haifa’s art department. Continue reading

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Clothes like days

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Jerusalem Post–
“It’s a kind of a dance,” says Michal Bassad. The designer is perched on a table next to her sewing machine. Her studio, which also serves as her store, has only a few racks of clothing, reflective of her artistic approach to fashion.

Though the space is minimal, its energetic, loud music streams though a laptop computer, and the teal walls serve as an impromptu chalkboard. “Anger is energy” is scrawled in white beside the makeshift dressing room of little more than a corner partitioned by paper patterns hanging from a steel rack. Her clothes are as dynamic as the environment they are created in. Continue reading

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A Different Light

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Haaretz–

“Le Chante des Mariees” (“The Wedding Song”), directed by Karin Albou

Two young girls dressed up as brides are playing outside their home in Tunis in the years leading up to the German occupation. One sings to the other a haunting song: “The bride has blackened her eyelashes, made up her lips … hennaed her hair, she has put on her most beautiful dress and all her bracelets … but she is still missing something.”

We don’t find out until the end of French filmmaker Karin Albou’s latest feature film “Le Chante des Mariees” (“The Wedding Song”) — which will be shown as part of the Jerusalem International Film Festival, opening July 9 — what the bride is missing. But the song leaves us with an eerie premonition of  the heartbraking scenes  to follow in this movie about female intimacy, betrayal and the very personal costs of war. Continue reading

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Inherited Ambivalence

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Lilith–Spring 2009

All of the characters in the connected stories by Danit Brown in Ask for a Convertible (Pantheon Books, $22.95) struggle to find an identity and a home for themselves. Chief among them is Osnat Greenberg, a hybrid Israeli-American whose dry and often hilarious voice guides us through most of this debut collection.

Osnat is 13 when her Israeli mother and American father move her from the shores of Tel Aviv to the suburbs of Michigan, where compared to her “pasty-white” American classmates, she feels “small, brown and fragile,” and her name sounds too much like another word for mucus. Osnat’s estrangement deepens with each story, and is never really put to rest even when she returns to Israel, which turns out not to be the paradise she has imagined. The book follows her through two decades, but the reader gets the sense that Osnat won’t be feeling like an insider, anywhere, any time soon. Continue reading

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The sin of unrequited love

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Haaretz–June 5, 2009
The Confessions of Noa Weber, by Gail Hareven (translated from the Hebrew, “She’ahava Nafshi,” by Dalya Bilu)
Melville House Publishing, 331 pages, $16.95 (paperback)

For the narrator and protagonist of Israeli writer Gail Hareven’s novel “The Confessions of Noa Weber,” life begins at 17. Her childhood, she tells us in the first pages, is “too boring” to say anything about. And more important, from her point of view, it fails to explain the central story she wants to tell — how she wound up hopelessly in love with a man who offers neither partnership nor any semblance of love in return. This is hardly the kind of relationship one might have expected for Noa, a respected feminist and author of a series of novels that star a gun-wielding, crime-fighting private investigator — who, in an apparent homage to Rex Stout’s creation, PI Nero Wolfe, is named Nira Wolfe.

When Alek, a soulful Russian immigrant to Israel, beckons to the 17-year-old Noa from across the room of his student apartment in Jerusalem, she is entranced. Now, 30 years later and no less enthralled with Alek, though she is one of many women he is involved with, she finds herself trying to come to terms with her feelings — but they cannot be explained by reason or psychology. Her love for Alek is “beyond time and space,” a “disease” that even now, after all this time, she hasn’t quite managed to understand, nor reconcile with her public persona. “The problem isn’t that he’s unworthy, but that perhaps it isn’t worthy to love anyone the way I love him,” Noa explains. Continue reading

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Art that Hints at Big Questions

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The Forward–April 23, 2009

Israeli sculptor Micha Ullman likes to refer to his art as “offerings” — works that people can choose to accept or not. He doesn’t believe in forcing anything on anyone, and especially not art.

“It’s an attitude to life,” he said in an interview in his Ramat Hasharon studio, which is neatly packed with models of his sculptures, some dating back decades.

The 69-year-old artist will receive the prestigious Israel Prize which will be awarded on Israel Independence Day, April 29, and signals, more than any other prize, his place in the pantheon of great Israeli artists. Continue reading

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A View from the Bridge

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Haaretz–March 6, 2009
Crossing the Hudson
by Peter Stephan Jungk (translated from the German by David Dollenmayer)
Handsel Books, 219 pages, $14.95 (paperback)

Picture an overbearing Jewish mother screaming at the guy behind the counter of a car rental agency at Kennedy Airport in New York, while her embarrassed son cowers at her side. We’ve read scenarios like this in countless novels, seen it in films and perhaps even experienced it in our own lives, and it serves to foreshadow what follows in “Crossing the Hudson,” the latest novel by Peter Stephan Jungk. The story that unfolds has its fair share of Borscht Belt humor, but that’s counterbalanced by a hefty dose of European heaviness.

Much like his latest protagonist, Jungk, the author of eight books, including the acclaimed biography “Franz Werfel: A Life from Prague to Hollywood” (1990), was born in the United States in 1952 to Jewish immigrants, but raised in several European cities. Not surprisingly, this book’s sensibility straddles both continents. There are coincidental encounters that seem possible only in American fiction (or cinema) as well as existential ruminations more typical of the Germanic tradition. Jungk, who lives in Paris, seems equally comfortable with both, and has skillfully woven together an original, if at times excessively understated, tale. Continue reading

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