Staff Picks: Weimar Berlin, Jewish Jazz and Ben Gurion’s Rice

By | Feb 09, 2018
Arts & Culture, Latest


My life has been hijacked by a French television series with subtitles. Un Village Francais tells the story of how citizens in a rural town endure, adapt and react to Nazi occupation during the 1940s. The fate of Jews under the Vichy government is a theme, but not the primary one. What do regular people do to survive when their democratic government has lost in war? How does love change? Does morality stay static or revolt? It was a blockbuster in France. Now on Netflix. —Diane Heiman, Senior Editor


I was skeptical when I saw that the online food magazine Taste had dedicated its new issue to Israel. I was tired of reading about how Israeli cuisine has become more than just falafel and hummus. Luckily, Taste extended beyond overdone tropes and published a slew of smart lively pieces on Israeli food and food makers. Take Leah Koenig’s article on Israeli couscous, a pasta “created by the Osem food company in the early 1950s at the behest of then prime-minister David Ben-Gurion,” who needed an affordable starch to offer citizens of the fledgling state. Known as Ben Gurion’s rice, it is still a go-to comfort food in Israel. And remember gazoz? The sickly sweet syrup mixed with carbonated water? According to Devra Ferst, it has gone artisanal with fresh fruits and herbs replacing artificial flavors and neon colors. And if you still want a falafel fix, read about the man making enough deep-fried chickpea balls to feed all of Tel Aviv. Beteavaon! —Sarah Breger, Deputy Editor


Classic video games do not age like classic films. You can find The Wizard of Oz on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, but as console technology (rapidly) changes, old games only survive through nostalgia—their shelf space now occupied by something sleeker. Mario endures, appearing in eight games in 2017 alone, but Shadow of the Colossus is not part of a blockbuster franchise. Released in 2005 on the Playstation 2, it is a unique and artful adventure, widely considered to be one of the greatest games of all time. Thirteen years later, it has been remade for the vastly more powerful Playstation 4—its story and gameplay untouched—for a new group of gamers. You control a young warrior and his horse as they explore a sprawling and lonely world. Tasked to find and defeat 16 massive colossi one by one, the warrior is dwarfed and outmatched by each enemy as he fights and climbs his way to the tops of their towering bodies (which range from bipedal and humanoid to winged and serpentine). Each battle is distinctive and remarkable in scope, and unlike traditional games, there are no smaller enemies to dispatch as you travel. Improving the inherent dynamics and mysterious landscapes of Shadow of the Colossus will help preserve its legacy, but more importantly, it will be played by those who were too young or uninitiated in 2005. I hope to see more masterpieces follow suit. —Navid Marvi, Art Director


It’s been a cold winter, so in addition to reading I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz. On a frigid, weekend morning I warmed up to Stan Getz. By early afternoon, I had discovered an interview by Mary McPartland with David Amram. Amram started his musical career as a French horn player in the National Symphony and among a long list of compositions, wrote the music for Splendor in the Grass. For the first time, I heard Amram play piano and French horn, songs by Carmichael, Monk, Ellington, and Strayhorn. In Jews and Jazz: Improvising Ethnicity, Charles Hersch, a professor of political science at Cleveland State University, suggests that the improv nature of being Jewish is why jazz is a comfortable musical medium for Jews. That makes a lot of sense. But for me, there’s just something about jazz that warms my Jewish soul. —Ellen Meltzer, Director of Marketing and Community Outreach


After months of monitoring Babylon Berlin hype—the most expensive German TV series to date, costing $40 million, employing 5,000 extras, filmed in 300 locations and sold to 60 countries—it’s finally arrived on Netflix. Could it really be that good? Yes! I’m already hooked after watching six episodes of this 16-part streamed adaptation of Volker Kutscher’s novels set in Weimar-era Berlin in 1929. There’s corruption, vice, sex, cabaret, Stalinists, Trotskyists, a shell-shocked cop who quaffs morphine on the sly and the most wonderful authentic fashions of the period. The mood is conjured brilliantly alongside beautifully shot scenes in easily recognizable locations around central Berlin. This is the world my grandmother talked to me about all through my childhood. For her, in the plush environs of Wannsee, life was a whirlwind of parties, nightclubs, theater and fun (as I describe in Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin) but the 20th century’s darkest hour was fast approaching. Babylon Berlin captures that moment. —Dina Gold, Senior Editor


I highly recommend the PBS series Life on Monday nights. I just watched the one on “Insects,” and was blown away by the amazing photos of millions of butterflies perched in trees for four months awaiting warmer weather, and beetles spraying chemicals on their predators, enormous bees fighting to win mates, etc. The obviously telephoto lens shows unbelievable scenes—more fascinating than a dramatic story. I had taped the latest and happily switched to it after about 20 minutes of Trump! —Eileen Lavine, Senior Editor


I recently watched the movie The Book Thief, based on the 2005 novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. Set in Nazi Germany, it’s the story of a young girl named Liesel who is taught by her foster father (played by the wonderful Geoffrey Rush) to read and soon becomes obsessed with books. She witnesses a book burning and eventually uses her passion for reading to keep her fellow townspeople calm by telling stories from the books she has read when they are hiding in a bomb shelter. There’s more to the end I do not want to give away. I highly recommended this gorgeously filmed movie that also features a magical music score by John Williams! —Johnna Raskin, Event Manager

One thought on “Staff Picks: Weimar Berlin, Jewish Jazz and Ben Gurion’s Rice

  1. Dale Stout says:

    Uncle Ben Gurion’s Rice?

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