What Jewish History (Almost) Forgot

by Marnie Macauley June 6, 2019
 

 

adobestock_244420354In “What Jewish History Forgot” we look at fascinating, little-known, unsung finds, the details of which you may or may not read in history books. Yet, these facts and anecdotes are not only edu-taining, but canforever affect the way we see ourselves, and how the world sees our culture. For this entry, we look at Reaping Rewards of Judaism: Three Cultural Trend-Setters.

Wherever we’ve been forced into or out of, we’ve left our mark in virtually every medium. Aside from our huge presence among Nobel Prize Laureates, we Jews just may be the first “trend-setters.” For example, where would the Broadway musical be without us? As Sir Robin cheekily sings to King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot, “In any great adventure, if you don’t want to lose … you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” In culture, science, technology, medicine, and the humanities, Jews have changed the world.

Who among us hasn’t heard of Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, or Neil Simon? But how much do we know about a writer who was arrested by Baby Doc in Haiti who is the Jewish Poe–with a dark side? Or a Russian photographer who sheds new light– on lighting?

Today we look at three Jews who may not be household names but have not only set new cultural trends but talk about how their Jewishness helped shape their point of view, professionally and personally.

DAVID BLACK, CUTTING EDGE AUTHOR AND SCREENWRITER

 

A versatile, multimedia writer who has distinguished himself in both fiction and non-fiction, David Black is an award-winning journalist, novelist, screenwriter, producer–and adventurer whose “dark” side would make J.B. Fletcher envious. For example, his novel, “An Impossible Life,” a series of “bubbe meises” takes readers on a journey through Jewish history and myth. It has been praised by, among others, Nobel Prize winning author, the late Czeslaw Milosz (who was also a recipient of the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations in Yad Vashem). Said the late writer Lawrence Block, “It’s the very sort of novel Isaac Bashevis Singer might have written if he’d known the G-dfather. Or been the G-dfather. Or if he’d been David Black.”

Black has risked his life a number of times to research pieces, including being put under house arrest by Baby Doc’s (Jean-Claude Duvalier) secret police in Haiti, infiltrating totalitarian therapy cults, being abandoned on a desert island, and exposing a white slave organization in the East Village. Mr. Black, the recipient of many awards, has been able to cross more media oceans than I.B. Singer. In addition to a Pulitzer Prize nomination for “The Plague Years,” he is a prolific mystery writer, nominated three times for the Edgar Allan Poe Award. He has won the . National Magazine Award in Reporting and the National Science Writers Award. His novel “Like Father” was named a notable book of the year by The New York Times and listed as one of the seven best novels of the year by the Washington Post. The King of Fifth Avenue was named a notable book of the year by the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the A.P.

His television credits read like a “Who’s Who?” of the small screen. He received an
American Bar Association Certificate of Merit for “Nullification,” a controversial
episode of “Law & Order” about militia groups, which the Los Angeles Times called
an example of “the new Golden Age of television.” Other credits include “Monk,”
“Hill Street Blues,” and “Miami Vice,” to name just a few.

Jewish Influence. Did you know? “It’s all about tradition,” he says, crediting his Jewishness with his ability to tell powerful anecdotes. “Judaism, possibly more than any other religion, always shows G-d in action. G-d is acting in history, through history, always making history, ultimately transforming the Jewish culture, and molding the Jewish people to be more human. This is a G-d who is more concerned with ethical issues instead of only moral issues. The Jewish G-d is a very human G-d. As a child, my father told me why Jews always worship while standing—to look at G-d face-to-face because then it is much easier to argue with him! Being Jewish is also about knowing one’s audience. I remember once when I was giving a reading to a large audience from my book, ‘The Impossible Life.’ The main character Leo Polishook wends his way through some unfortunate experiences that are bittersweet and surprisingly funny. I read from passage-to-passage, and so forth. Usually, by this time people were rolling on the floor with laughter. No one even cracked a smile. Then I noticed my audience. Ninety percent were wearing kilts! No one was Jewish. How could they understand? So much for my Jewish humor! I had been reading my stories to the wrong audience. For a long time, Jews haven’t always had the right audience.”

 

BARBI LEIFERT, DANCING ON CANVASS

 

The soul of a dancer on canvass? We’ve all seen painters of dancers, but New York born Barbi Leifert, a dancer since age three, and later a choreographer, has melded the two in her unusual artwork that captures more than mere movement. Her paintings express the emotions, fluidity, and soul of the dance and dancers through her own personal experience. The result is bringing to life the energy, vibrancy and artistic brilliance inherent in contemporary dance. Ms. Leifert shows her paintings in Malibu, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, New York, Florida and Seattle. In addition to her training and career as a dancer, she is the author of the Manhattan Dance School Directory.

Jewish Influence. Did you know? “Being Jewish to me is about family, and giving back to the world. My first priority is taking care of my family and ensuring that we all take care of each other, so everybody is healthy, safe, secure, thriving, successful, and happy. I will do whatever I can to support that. My husband is a neurologist and I make his lunch every day. I take care of him so he can focus on his patients who have complicated needs. I’m also creative in the kitchen and cook for all of the holidays. It’s a tradition passed on to me from my grandmother, from generation-to-generation. I make meals for the Seder and when the weather turns cold, out comes the big soup pot. Whether it’s through dance or art, I’ve always felt the need to create and to give. My success has allowed me to donate my art to nonprofits and foundations that help people, especially children.”

ILYA MOSHENSKIY, LUXURY PHOTOGRAPHER HITS THE LIGHTS AND THE HEIGHTS

 

Photography, particularly architectural photography, has been a defining factor in the Russian-born artist’s life. He considers the camera to be a permanent extension of his arm and his eyes. His passion is looking at his subject through a viewfinder to capture and freeze a perfect moment in time. His inspiration is in the details to spotlight the beauty and individuality of any subject. To do so, light is critical to his process. Mr. Moshenskiy is one of the few, and perhaps the only photographer using lighting techniques involving fiber optics to create that perfect effect with split second accuracy.

Born and raised in Kiev, Moshenskiy purchased his first camera Pentacon 35mm and built a dark room in his parent’s bathroom at age 17. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1993 and has since photographed some of the most magnificent homes and buildings in the world including, among others, luxury estates in France, Spain, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Miami, and Chicago. As an innovator in photographic technique his methods are constantly evolving to stay at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and bring his unique perspective to every photo shoot.

Jewish Influence. Did you know? “The Jewish community thrives on unconditional support to one another. It is a proud society for it is all about family that inspires respect; your parents mean the world to you. They are looked at as your icons and heroes you are taught to trust with intuitive common sense. It is part of the Jewish heritage to strive for ideal perfection and love with your heart. Judaism generates a gift of a sixth sense if you will. You are taught to be a thinker. Pride and the highest esteem define our culture and the outcome is the pursuit of creating great success for the Jewish people in their lives and careers.”

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