Theater Review: “4000 Miles” and Nothing Gained

“4000 Miles,” playing at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, until Nov. 11. Post-show discussion with playwright Amy Herzog on Nov. 8.

“4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog, directed by Mary Robinson and playing at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre until November 11, is the theater version of easy-listening music.  

While the performances by Beth Dixon (Vera) and Davy Raphaely (Leo) were outstanding, and the two-hour play goes by fast, it is not a conceptually or intellectually compelling evening at the theater. In both plot and dialogue, it is a traditional drama that does not take any risks, but delivers a familiar family story that is predictable, if heartwarming and poignant all the same.  

Playwright Herzog tells the story of Leo, a young man in his 20s who arrives in his Grandmother Vera’s New York City apartment one night at 3 a.m., after biking cross-country. Both characters are confronting death: Leo is silently grieving his best friend’s death, and Vera, the last of a group of progressive octogenarians, finds herself confronting death regularly.    

Continued after the jump.
Herzog tells a familiar story, that could have been more interesting had Herzog rooted the communist Vera in a historical, ethnic, or religious history. The play is based on Herzog’s family, with Vera “based quite directly on my real biological grandmother, who is 95 and lives still in Greenwich Village.”  

In the play, Herzog de-racinates Vera, so she could be either a New England Wasp lefty or a Jewish New Yorker one. This failure to root her in a clearer ethnic background limits the play’s impact, but widens its appeal. The play, like a television sitcom, becomes a generic portrayal of a family that, in its lack of specificity, merely appeals and entertains on a sentimental level.  

I could not help agreeing with Herzog’s real-life grandma, Leepee, who after seeing “After the Revolution,” another of Herzog’s plays, said, “Well, Amy is very creative, but ultimately she’s a conservative.” While I take “conservative” here as politically conservative, I would add aesthetically conservative as well, as the play does not push any creative boundaries.

Beth Dixon and Davy Raphaeli.

Leo, a self-described hippy, who eschews college for cross-country biking, wall climbing, tending a community garden and living off his parents and grandmother, is a New Age idealist, whose certainty and cockiness belay his own emotional confusions and his vulnerability.  

In a scene where he brings a young Chinese Parsons student (Amanda, played by Leigha Kato) back to his grandmother’s apartment to seduce her, the art student is alarmed by his grandmother’s communism.  

“Are you a communist?” she asks him, stating that her parents escaped Communist oppression and that she doesn’t think she could get romantic in a “communist” apartment, Leo reassures her that “communism is like recycling:” It was the progressive way to be when his grandmother was young. In other words, communism in Herzog’s play is a consumer fashion, that might show up on Portlandia anytime soon.  

Other than the Chinese character, who is a caricature of young artistic energy and clichéd dialogue, the characters are devoid of history, as is the communism in the play itself. The play depoliticizes communism, which becomes a vague signifier about resistance, or irreverence or other-ness, mildly tinged with danger and bravado.  

Although vague reference is made to a book that Vera’s second husband edited about Cuba, communism is presented as passé; indeed, even Vera’s neighbor, who shares her lefty political beliefs, is repeatedly dismissed as a “pain in the ass.”  

The personal is not political in Herzog’s play — it supercedes the political. It does not disrupt the nuclear family’s sentimental conflicts — it is like the beautiful setting and lighting (by Thom Weaver) of the play: Pleasant to look at, and go home and forget.

But politics, other than as a vague reference, is not what Herzog is exploring. It is the realm of human emotions and familial ties that bind and unravel. One of the more compelling sub-plots is a reference to an incestuous relationship between Leo and his adopted Chinese sister.

But this is left unexplored in the play, which ventures into a potentially interesting territory: that of sexuality, commitment, aging and desire, remaining superficial in its treatment.  

Obie Award-winning, and Pulitzer-nominated, “4000 Miles” remains a non-challenging, but highly entertaining bit of theater. It will offend neither tea party-ers, nor communists, nor anything in between — which, depending on your politics and aesthetics, might be either comic or tragic.      

Publishing House Calls for Diversity in Short Story Submissions

Photo: Neil Heilpern

A special call for short stories by Reclaiming Judaism Press focuses attention upon the need for stories that reflect the great diversity among Jewish youth and families.

Scheduled for a 2014 fall release, the emerging collection from the jury’s process for “A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories” revealed gaps in coverage when it came to lives that include: GBLTQ, immigration, special needs, interracial, interfaith, Middle Eastern and Sephardi Jews and neighbors, Jewish cultures outside of the U.S., and progressive gender roles.

Founder and editor in chief of Reclaiming Judaism Press, Rabbi Goldie Milgram, called for submissions of stories that reflect youth and family diversity, while deepening appreciation and understanding of the vast array of Jewish spiritual practices, each of which is termed a mitzvah.

More after the jump.
The submission guidelines for “A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories” include a request for fiction, as well as creative non-fiction stories, between one page- and 3,000 word-long, that are appropriate for families with youth from the age of 5 through teens.

A wide array of mitzvot, interpreted through the lens of spirituality and meaning for living, are given in the special call in order to stimulate creative storytelling. For example:

  • lo tikom v’lo titur (Hold no grudges and take no revenge), and
  • teshuvah (admitting errors and taking steps for healing of relationships).

A Family Treasury of Mitzvah Stories will be dedicated to Danny Siegel. Vast numbers of Jewish educators and clergy have been inspired by Siegel’s decades of innovative mitzvah-centered publications, poetry, guidance and programs, including the Ziv Foundation, which dedicated over $14 million to fulfill a huge array of mitzvah opportunities.

Reclaiming Judaism Press creates innovative resources for meaningful Jewish living in a context of respectful Jewish pluralism. The first volume in this series Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, along with its matching deck of Mitzvah Cards and free downloadable discussion guide, fully reached its goals for diversity inclusion, receiving finalist honors from the Jewish Book Council’s National Jewish Book Awards.  

NMAJH Extends “Pay What You Wish” Admission Policy Until Oct. 31

— by Yael Eytan

The National Museum of American Jewish History has decided to extend its pay what you wish admission policy, implemented during the government shutdown, until the end of October.

The policy will also be applied for the Museum’s current special exhibition, The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats, which closes on Sunday, October 20.

General admission is normally $12 for adults (22-64). Seniors and youth (13-21) normally pay $11. As always, children under 13 are free.

In Praise of Historicals

— by Hannah Lee

Much of what I know about the world comes from reading historical novels. Beyond the wars and the political intrigues, these books bring to life the daily struggles of their characters. The best ones portray memorable characters, but this article is about their ability to shed light on little-known aspects of history.

One such book is the new Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes, in which the emancipated black workers of a Southern sugar plantation await the arrival of Chinese farm workers. The able-bodied have left for a new life in the North, so the only ones left are the elderly, the fearful, and the orphaned 10-year-old Sugar, who hates her given name. The Chinese men are young and strong, but the major difference is that they chose to come, to escape famine back home.

The fictive angle is the rapprochement initiated by Sugar between the blacks and the Chinese, creating a community of neighbors who shared their skills in healing and cooking. They swapped stories of Br’er Rabbit, and of the 12 animals named by the Jade Emperor to the Chinese zodiac. This is a finely written book, with realistically drawn characters.

More after the jump.

The book taught me a new aspect of Chinese history. What was extra special was that the author learned about it from a scholarly book written by a Jew, Lucy M. Cohen, titled Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People Without History. (That closed the cultural triangle for me.)

Another fascinating book is The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden by Robert J. Avrech, who is better known for his screenplays for the films “Body Double,” “A Stranger Among Us,” and the Emmy award-winning young adult film, “The Devil’s Arithmetic.” The book has a cast of familiar real characters, such as the Apache chiefs, Geronimo and Victorio, and the outlaw Doc Holliday, but it also introduced me to Lozen, Victorio’s younger sister who was respected as a fighter, medicine woman, and midwife. She sat on war councils, and chose not to marry, which was unusual for an Apache maiden.

The hero of the book is Ariel, who is about to mark his Bar Mitzvah, as his family is making their way across the United States after fleeing from one of the pogroms that terrorized the Jews of Russia. Ariel and his family are fictive, but they represent the thousands of Jews who sought freedom in the western expansion of the United States. Especially pleasurable for me were the gems of wisdom from the Talmud and Torah, that Ariel had learned from his father, who had semicha (rabbinic ordination) from the great Rabbi Velvel Soloveitchik, also known as the Brisker Rav.

Just as the present day Dalai Lama learned from the Jewish exodus and diaspora, Lozen learned from Ariel that it is difficult for a tribe of people to survive without a written language:

The elders of our tribe realized that unless our laws were written down, there was the danger that the ways of our people would be forgotten. They understood that for a small tribe to survive among larger and more powerful tribes, the Jews had to build a fence — an invisible fence — around the tribe. This fence was made of words and ideas.

Finally, it was a rare delight to read about a family who observes traditional Jewish rituals even in the difficult terrain of frontier life. As a Hollywood professional, Avrech has written a gripping tale, with cliffhangers that lure the reader to continue. Sadly, the book is dedicated to the memory of his son, Ariel Chaim.

Life-Affirming Holocaust Painting Draws Attention in Reading

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

What is your reaction to this Holocaust painting by Juliette Aristides?

Now on display in a one woman show Observations at the Reading Public Museum that continues until September 14, the large canvass titled 1945 (Bendheim Remembrance) attracts rapt and immediate attention. Ownership of the painting quietly changed hands during the opening weekend, shortly after Alison Rotenberg brought her husband Dr. Larry Rotenberg MD, a child survivor of the Holocaust, over to see saying: “We’re buying this.” The Rotenbergs plan to temporarily place the work in their Reading, Pennsylvania home, for depth of contemplation and then move it to a more permanent, public venue.

See their interview following the jump, and see Dr. Rotenberg’s article A Child Survivor/Psychiatrist’s Personal Adaption in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry.
How do I know all of this? Full disclosure: Juliette Aristides is my step-daughter, though she was an adult when I married her father, Barry Bub, then a family practitioner in Reading, PA. Juliette was born in South Africa, and while yet in her infancy, immigrated with her parents to Reading, PA. Many family members were murdered in Nazi death camps on both the paternal “Bub” and maternal “Bendheim” sides of her lineage. Her long period of research and work on the canvas was encouraged and funded by a surviving branch of the Bendheim family.

Juliette’s usual theme in her art is “beauty” — making this work all the more significant. When I first saw this painting, it was unframed, leaning against a wall in Juliette’s atelier in Seattle. Tears rushed in as I witnessed this new evolution in Holocaust-related art. Even so, since the painting’s inception I had wondered how this interpretation might affect survivors and their loved ones-both here and overseas.

The couple who will take possession of the painting when the show closes, Alison and Larry Rotenberg were willing to be interviewed for this article. They own several other pieces of her work and have known her since childhood when she was an art student. I ask Alison, a retired realtor in the Reading area, what touches her in the imagery, some aspects are so subtle that they can only be discerned by viewing the 49″×72″ oil on canvas work in person.

“It is evocative of so much. On the right hand side of the painting are the crematoria, the smoke, and perhaps the souls going up. Then the two people–he is looking off to the side with that sort of pained expression, with the striped shirt that was so common in the concentration camps. She is much straighter, looking ahead. She steps out, she’s stepping forward…they’re leaving that all behind and the future is ahead. Or he could be one of the prisons and she could represent the future, for as it is said we can light a candle or curse the darkness. We recently went to the 20th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Larry and our second son went to the original gathering in Jerusalem around 1981. There are fewer and fewer people alive to attend these things. This painting, it’s for future remembrance.”

Dr. Larry Rotenberg was born in Romania, where his family was walled into the ghetto that was set up for the Jews of Czernowitz. In the fall of 1941, not yet eight years old, along with his family and 200,000 others he endured a forced march to the Ukraine in mid-winter where his beloved parents would die of the extreme conditions in a village turned-internment camp. His sisters foraged for food until two sisters and Larry were shifted to an orphanage in Bucharest by way of Yasi in 1944. From there the youth made their way to Western Russia, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and finally to Canada in 1948. This data I’ve taken from his published article which is a poignant valuable piece for all who wish more understanding of the beautiful, sustaining, early life family remembrances, experiences, reactions and emotional development of a young Holocaust survivor. During our interview, he indicated first meeting his wife in Vancouver, Canada. Still, it is the painting that he wants to speak about on our call:

“The work has a degree of both dread and grandeur. Dread of what they have left behind and the grandeur of their future. It reminds me of Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
doth walk in fear and dread.
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend.
Doth close behind him tread.

It sort of summarizes for me what this couple are trying to do, trying to escape from this frightful scene but they can’t quite do it, although they are going into a hopeful future, they still have to take the weight and heaviness with them spiritually and mentally. They will always carry it with them. What is so amazing is that this painting is such a powerful evocation of the spirit of survival of the Holocaust.”

I ask could this image have been received ten, twenty, thirty years ago? Dr. Rotenberg explains:

“The immediacy of the past was still sufficiently there to keep this from occurring. Well, it is so that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. In a sense this couple carries with them a hope of humanity, a hope of the world. If you go back to the Talmud it teaches that one who saves a life, saves the whole world. This painting captures aspects of that, too. Each human being contains a world that lives within him or her and dies within him or her. Triumph and tragedy are combined in this picture, evocative of the importance of the singularity of human survival.

If you want to be even more symbolic, it is almost like Adam and Eve have re-emerged from being thrown out into the world and have come through a crisis and through the crisis to somehow survive and yet carry the memory. The painting is complex, offering dozens of layers of meaning. The thing about art is that ultimately you like a piece because it speaks to you. It captured Alison and certainly captures me.”

Our call ends, and so I turn to find that section of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Colerige, a poem my father had me memorize as a youth. Its fullness capturing the essence of our the feelings they’d presented with such unity of vision:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade.

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring-
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
wetly, sweetly blew the breeze-
On me alone it blew.

Observations, the solo exhibition of works by Seattle artist Juliette Aristides continues until September 14 at the Reading Public Museum.

Book Chat: Austenland

— by Hannah Lee

“Jane Austen fever” is heating up, as the Bank of England has announced plans to feature the image of the beloved female novelist on their ten-pound note. The auction of a ring with Austen provenance prompted a public outcry, and the British Minister of Culture stopped its sale to the American singer Kelly Clarkson. The movie premiere of Austenland has rolled out in Los Angeles and New York last Friday. There are no dates for Philly showings yet, but I am preparing by taking the 2007 novel off my bookshelf.  

Full review after the jump.
Written by Shannon Hale, winner of a Newbery Honor medal for Princess Academy, the novel is about a single New York career woman, Jane Hayes, with an obsession for Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, or specifically, Colin Firth’s depiction of Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation. When her great-aunt bequeaths her an all-expenses-paid vacation, to a resort where the regency world of 1816 rules, the heroine accepts the gift, with the hope of getting her obsession out of her system.

Pembroke Park is where cell phones are banned, and modern garb is switched for Empire-style gowns, bonnets, and garters (although mascara and modern toilets escaped the rule of authenticity). Going further than your typical costume ball and fan convention, this is a place where patrons live out their fantasies of a bygone world of servants, carriages and horses, and games of whist. The added bonus of a romance — under strict regency guidelines on modest behavior — detracted from the innocence of the fantasy play. The predicament for the heroine is assessing what is real and what is acting.

What was difficult for me was the concept of patrons paying for romance, which falls just within the legal boundary. What about the players who embody the regency characters they meet? This is no mere acting gig, because they spend days and nights with their roles.

Humorously drawn are the cast of characters, including the proprietress Mrs. Wattlesbrook, who grills her patrons on the proper regency rules of conduct; the charming Amelia Heartwright, who returns for a repeat vacation; and the farcical Miss Charming, embodying the tone-deaf patron, who sprinkles her language with the anachronistic “what, what” and “jolly good.” The male players include Colonel Andrews, with “a decent set of shoulders;” the disapproving Mr. Nobley; and the gardener Martin, with a taste for American basketball, although it is off-limits and out-of-time.

The $4 million film was produced by Stephanie Meyers, who channeled her earnings from her successful Twilight series of book and film. In a highly unusual move, the advance screenings are shown to women only, following the Sundance Film Festival, where women viewers praised the movie, and men trashed it.

While I am waiting for the movie to arrive in my neighborhood, I can review my copies of An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray, and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. I would learn much, without any complicated plotting.

Race and Children’s Literature

— by Hannah Lee

Do you remember the joy of finding a book that reflected your life, your family? As an immigrant living on the Lower East Side, I learned about American ways through the Girl Scout manual, and was puzzled by the young adult stories of Beverly Cleary, who wrote about teenage boys who played football, and girls who rallied them with cheers in formation. By the time I became a mother, books about Asian-American families had become available, and I still happily collect them.

Back in the mid-20th century, book publishers were not interested in reaching a wider audience beyond the mainstream culture. Ezra Jack Keats was a pioneer, who convinced Viking Press to allow depiction of a black boy, Peter, in his 1962 book, The Snowy Day. He also broke new literary ground in portraying an urban setting and using collage to illustrate his text. The book won the 1963 Caldecott Award for “most distinguished American picture book for children.”

More after the jump.
Born in 1916 to Polish Jewish immigrants, Keats grew up poor in East New York, Brooklyn. His father discouraged his interest in writing, while simultaneously supporting his talent with tubes of paint. Keats changed his name from Jack Ezra Katz in 1947 in reaction to the Antisemitism in the country.

The reaction to The Snowy Day ranged from outrage for that Keats was not himself black to gratitude for expanding the racial profile of the book world. The poet and leader of the “Harlem Renaissance,” Langston Hughes, praised it as “a perfectly charming little book.” The writer Sherman Alexie read it as a child on an Indian reservation in the 1970s and reminisced:

It was the first time I looked at a book and saw a brown, black, beige character — a character who resembled me physically and spiritually in all his gorgeous loneliness and splendid isolation.

This summer we are treated with overlapping exhibits in our city’s institutions, with The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats at the National Museum of American Jewish History, a retrospective collection of the work of Jerry Pinkney at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and a companion exhibit on Pinkney’s body of work at the Free Library on Vine Street.

A native son of Germantown born in 1939, Pinkney struggled with dyslexia, but he soared through his talent in drawing. Whereas Keats’ black characters could have been anybody, Pinkey’s artwork explicitly incorporates African-American motifs. He won the 2010 Caldecott Medal for his illustration of The Lion & the Mouse, a version of Aesop’s fable that he also wrote. He also has five Caldecott Honors, among other awards. One of my favorite of his works is of Goin’ Someplace Special, written by Patricia McKissack. Set in the late 1950s in Nashville, it is about a time and place where the library was one of the few places that disregarded the segregationist Jim Crow laws and treated blacks with respect.

Books may not lead social movements, but they have lasting impacts in supporting individuals who live outside the mainstream. You are no longer fringe when there are books that reflect your life.

Book Review: Pazuzu’s Girl by Rachel Coles

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Rachel Coles’ use of science fiction and fantasy in Pazuzu’s Girl allows her to creatively convey a contemporary version of the immigrant family’s teen-parent cultural divide: the agility of youth in adapting, prejudices encountered, and the parental frustrations and foibles. Written in the action language and imagery style of a teen movie, the literally alien father, daughter and her peers also suffer the horrific overreaction of the single parent father with his super-temper and super-powers. Another theme is the daughter’s learning to respect and love a human student who isn’t so much hot and hip as genuinely supportive and caring. Pazuzu’s Girl raises a fundamental question for teens: when to obey a parent, and when parental commands must be set aside for the sake of survival.

More after the jump.
The relevance of this work, when paired with the following mitzvot, makes this book relevant for Hebrew high school and day school settings:

  1. The Fifth Commandment: Honor Parents — kibud av v’em. Educators and parents may want to have teens explore why this mitzvah doesn’t instead read unconditionally to “obey your parents” and neither is written in the Torah or tradition that one must love one’s parents. It is a good time to see that the Mishna, in the Kiddushin tractate, says this mitzvah requires a child to ensure their parents are, when unable to do so for themselves, fed, given fluids, dressed, shoed and transported as needed, and to understand this in synergy with the mitzvah of ezrat cholim — helping those who are ill or frail.
  2. Another traditional take is to associate the mitzvah of hakarat ha-tov (acknowledging the good) with honoring one’s parents, naming the good they have done and acknowledging it to them and others. This is while they are alive, and also after their souls have ascended in death, through saying Kaddish and philanthropy honoring them by name. Our sages teach that this leads us to the mitzvah of yirat ha-shem (God fearing): the awesome/fearsome way of nature, divinely amazing and sometimes very hard to accept.
  3. The mitzvah of survival, pikuakh nefesh (soul watching) — saving a life, your own first, and then others. Here is where our sages temper the mitzvah of kibud av v’em, such that if they put you at risk with their actions, then you must act to save yourself.

Somehow secondary to the well-drawn, strong emotions of the main characters, is a plot originating from ancient Mesopotamian myths, involving a “Tablet of Destiny” that must not be found by those who would destroy the world: Pazuzu — the demon of plague, Enlil, and many other period names of gods and leaders, and even a demoness, known for killing children. A museum adventure, to learn about cultures from the times before and during the development of Judaism, could be another meaningful adjunct activity.

The author does call a bit too much on recent popular culture to have the volume stand the test of time, and the father’s ability to turn into a host of grasshoppers would likely send Michael Creighton fans into fond recollections of some of the devices in his works. But for now and all-in-all, Rachael Coles is an author to watch. Pazuzu’s Girl is a well-articulated young-adult novel, from an author with a great imagination and awareness of the challenges brought on during teenage years in the Western World. The book is available in paperback and Kindle editions.

South Philly/Old City Hidden City Festival And Mural Tour Highlights

— by Jenna Slowey

Hidden City Philadelphia and the Mural Arts Program are joining forces this weekend to offer a bus tour that visits Hidden City festival sites, as well as some of the city’s more prominent murals in South Philadelphia and Old City.  The tour will be held at 1:00 pm every day from Thursday, June 20 to Sunday, June 30. The tour costs $35 per person and includes a one-day Hidden City Festival Pass.

The tour begins at John Grass Wood Turning, 141 North 3rd Street, a legacy woodturning business started by Bavarian immigrant John Grass in 1863 that closed in 2003. The workshop has remained intact and essentially unchanged for a century. Located in America’s first manufacturing district (and crucible of Philadelphia’s “Workshop of the World”), the company made tool handles, flag poles and furniture — almost anything made of wood that needed to be turned on a lathe.

More after the jump.
The on-site Wood Shop project serves as a pilot project to introduce John Grass to the wider public, to exhibit handcrafted products created throughout its 160-year history and as a custom railing and balustrade by maker Joe McTeague, who will be incorporating found lathe-turned products created at John Grass.

Later, the tour visits Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel, a small converted storefront synagogue from 1909. In the century since, as Jewish South Philly grew then shrunk then grew again, this tiny synagogue has persisted, almost unchanged, as one of the last pre-World War I row house “shuls” of its kind.

Textile artist Andrew Dahlgren is working on site in his ADMK Knit Lab. He will meet visitors as he creates a knitted quilt that will cover the facade of the synagogue.

In between the two visits, several of the city’s murals will be visited.

“Marrying Philadelphia’s forgotten historical and architectural treasures with the far-ranging mural program is a natural fit,” Hidden City Creative Director Lee Tusman said. “This tour provides a sampling of the best of both worlds.”

The six-week Hidden City festival is a unique combination of art, history and architecture, as well as an exercise in building community and imagining new futures for vacant spaces. It will present the largest showing to date in Philadelphia — and one of the largest in the country — of what’s been called “social practice art,” a burgeoning grassroots movement recently spotlighted in The New York Times and also on

Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel
2015 South 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148

The nine Hidden City sites are located in a wide array of neighborhoods, including Center City, Germantown, Frankford, South Philadelphia and University City:

  1. Kelly Natatorium at Fairmount Park,
  2. Germantown Town Hall,
  3. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia,
  4. the Historical Society of Frankford,
  5. Congregation Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel,
  6. Hawthorne Hall,
  7. Fort Mifflin,
  8. John Grass Woodturning and
  9. Globe Dye Works.

Other highlights this week include:

  • Punk Jews screening, 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 20 at Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel, 2015 S. 4th St. Profiling Hassidic punk rockers, Yiddish street performers, African-American Jewish activists and more, Punk Jews explores an emerging movement of provocateurs and committed Jews who are asking, each in his or her own way, what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. After the screening, co-producer Saul Saludin will hold a Q&A with the audience. Tickets are $10.
  • Independent Germantown Flagmaking Workshop, 12-7 p.m. Sunday at Germantown Town Hall, 5928 Germantown Ave. Come work with Katie Hargrave of the Think Tank that has yet to be named to design and create the new flag of independent Germantown. No prior knowledge required. Drop in any time to contribute.
  • Radical Jewish Music: A Concert Series — Uri Caine plays Moloch.  8 p.m. Monday at Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel, 2015 S. 4th St. Tickets are $25 online and $30 at the door. Caine is a musician of astonishing virtuosity and versatility. Coming out of the legendary Philly Jazz scene, his playing is an encyclopedia of styles. Ars Nova Workshop, in partnership with Hidden City Philadelphia, holds the third of its three-part concert series featuring the work of composer John Zorn inside this 19th century South Philly synagogue.

Tickets for Hidden City Philadelphia are available online at http://festival.hiddencityphil… or over the phone at 267-428-0575.

Tickets cost $20 for a one-day pass, $40 for a weekend pass and $70 for an all-festival pass. Hidden City members pay reduced rates of $15 for a one-day pass, $30 for a weekend pass and $50 for an all-festival pass.

About Hidden City Philadelphia
Hidden City Philadelphia pulls back the curtain on the city’s most remarkable places and connects them to new people, functions and resources. We celebrate the power of place and inspire social action to make our city a better place to live, work and play. We do this through four complementary programs: Hidden City Daily, our online magazine; Hidden City Tours & Events; immersive experiences of remarkable places; and Hidden City Festival, an award-winning and widely acclaimed artistic, historical and community event.

Main Line’s Thirst for Books Quenched at Last

Cathy Fiebach outside the store

— by Hannah Lee

I and other residents of the Main Line have been in lack of books since the bankruptcy of the Borders bookstore chain in July 2011, and the renovations of the Ludington and Bala Cynwyd branch libraries, the latter closing in December 2011. For a few months, we were bereft of all three resources, until Ludington reopened last September, and Bala Cynwyd reopened last month. Another pleasure awaits us at the newly opened Main Point Books, an independent bookstore in Bryn Mawr, run by local resident Cathy Fiebach.

Main Point Books stocks a broad range of books, with a particular emphasis on literary fiction. Fiebach is eager to hear from customers about the kinds of books they like, and especially about books they do not, because it helps her develop her inventory. (When was the last time you had fun chatting books with the staff at a chain store?)

One of the charming books available in the store is My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, a collection of essays by writers on their favorite bookstores. Some of those stores are in the writers’ communities, and others are their stops along a book tour. I have my own copy, and I told Fiebach that it is “armchair traveling” for me to read about lovely bookstores across the country. Her store could easily join their ranks.

More after the jump.
Main Point Books has comfortable armchairs, round tables and 17,000 square feet of space. The bookcases in the middle are on wheels, and are able to be moved out for an audience. Events with authors will begin in the fall. Interested customers may get alerts on Facebook or Twitter, or by email. (Visitors could satisfy any hunger pangs with the dairy selection from the *ndulge Cupcake Boutique located next door, in the former Medley Music building, with kosher supervision from Rabbi Dov Lerner of Traditional Kosher Supervision.)  

Main Point Books, located at 1041 W. Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open seven days a week, with hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday 10 am to 6 pm; Thursday and Friday 10 am to 8 pm; and Sunday noon to 4 pm. Phone: 610-525-1480; email: [email protected].