Hosting: Yonatan Gutfeld

Singer-songwriter, Yonatan Gutfeld, known to Congregation Beth Elohim parents and children as the creator of the unforgettable “Ha’Geemnasia” hymn; that unmistakable tall figure with a guitar strapped to his back; he schools our children and shares his soulful poetic songs.


Yonatan Gutfeld

Yonatan brings an intangible authentically ‘Israeli’ quality to his work among the New York Jewish diaspora.  Our conversation at the Room starts and ends with songs. It isn’t political. The Israeli feeling washes over you like love, not poking with demands or guilt. When he tells us about his childhood in the hills of Judea, the tunnel road, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Brooklyn… these are landscapes, not points of contention. Yet there is a moment in our conversation when the bitter controversies close below the skin surfaces briefly; a quickening in the conversation. It came after Yonatan sing his  ‘Lo Bagilgul ha’ze’ (Not in this reincarnation). Here is my translation:



Not in this reincarnation

This is it, it’s over

Too many Israelis in the West Bank to reach an agreement,

Too many

Not in this reincarnation

What will we do with ourselves now?

What kind of an airplane will take us?

Who will be our new friends?


And what about the language?

All those things we’ve gotten used to?

Who will be our children?


Which neighborhood will we circle at night, when we cannot sleep?

What would the cheap beer be like? The plain cigarettes?

The flavour of bread? And the water?

The afternoon light,


Yonatan finished his singing and the room started to ring with questions. Why leave? Who is leaving? The Jews? Some of the Jews? The privileged (asked the Marxist in the room…)? … Are we reverting back to the Jewish landless condition? Is it accusatory? Is there a note of bitterness? Of resignation? Or maybe – as Shai suggested, these are just the poets who are uprooted(?)

The questions, and the poignant words, remain unanswered

Here is Yonatan in another song: Continue reading

Hosting: Tirtzah Bassel


Tirtzah Bassel has that magic; that skill that is impossible to explain except by calling it ‘Art’; to make stains of color- colored duct tape, in her recent work – convey a living moment, a mood, a compelling set of circumstances, a frozen story. She studies human situations – often of people waiting – in a border crossing, at Ikea, a supermarket, in a waiting room… and the mood is palpable, somewhat removed, somewhat melancholic.

Tirtzah joins us for a conversation on the eve of the opening of her new show at the BRIC. We talk about her biography, the eldest daughter of an orthodox family, which elicit many question about her Jewish identity: How are you being a Jew? How are you being an Israeli? But the eloquent and earnest Tirtzah hesitates to define herself on these terms. She prefers to talk about Orthodoxy in more general terms, whether in religion or in art. At last, she tells us about her friendship with a former roommate, a young Vietnamese woman whose father survived for nine years in a Northern Vietnamese concentration camp. And now we get it. It’s not all about us, Jews, it not always about us, we don’t necessarily have to be Jews in every connection. Tirtza is an artist, a human. She also has an interesting biography related to the Jewish tribe, which may, or may not, inform her artwork in some way.

Hosting: Ruby Namdar


Author and scholar Ruby Namdar joins “The ROOM” to talk about his new book “הבית אשר נחרב” (“The Ruined House”); about writing Hebrew literature in NY; about the modern, urbane and sophisticated Jew, and about conjuring up ancient ritual blood-offerings.

“The Ruined House” is a story about the mysterious workings of the ancient temple sacrifice in the life of Professor Andrew Cohen, a thoroughly modern, aesthetic, successful, and culturally detached Jew, whose mental life start to fall apart unexpectedly one day.

Written in Hebrew, in New York City, in almost complete secrecy, the book took almost a decade to complete. Yet, upon its publication in 2015 it became an instant sensation and was awarded the prestigious Sapir Prize. The award proved controversial, however, in a particularly Israeli way. Since the prize is intended to support Israeli literature, resistance was raised to the idea of awarding it to a work composed in the diaspora.

The issue of geography and Hebrew identity is bigger than literary awards. Zionists still insist on actual physical existence Eretz Israel. The conversation turns to an encounter between Namdar and A. B. Yehoshua, which Namdar later described in an Haaretz op ed. During a public literary event, Yehoshua verbally assaulted another American-Jewish author with his often-repeated assertions regarding the authenticity of Jewish life in the land of Israel, versus the lighter, “elective” engagement of American Jews with their national identity.

Namdar rejects Yehoshua’s formulations. The Jewish way is one of multiplicity of perspectives, without one voice possessing a higher degree of ‘authenticity’ over another. A Hebrew language voice coming from New York expands and enriches Hebrew culture, and should be a cause for celebration. This is not a ‘post-Zionist’ position.

%d7%a8%d7%95%d7%91%d7%99“Don’t get me wrong”, says Ruby in one of his many pearls, “I’m a Humus and Falafel connoisseur, but I also know that the ancients would not have recognized these street foods as Jewish. Jews, traditionally, eat at home! As it is stated in the mishnah that “He who eats in the market resembles a dog, and some say: unfit to give testimony.”  Namdar points to the irony of the revival of independent Jewish life in the Holy Land; that with its overconfidence it can actually pose a danger to Jewish culture. A single, dominant, voice is not what Hebrew culture should thrive for, he says.

Still, I insist, it is not only the Zionists, but God himself, who demands that his covenant be fulfilled on the His land. Abraham is commanded first to leave his homeland and go to Canaan, and so is Moses, and the Jews return again, and again…

To that Ruby replies that he does not have an ordered theology about this, but he does believe that when it comes to culture, it is complexity and subtlety that should guides our attitude.


א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל אַבְרָם לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ. ב וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ וֶהְיֵה בְּרָכָה. ג וַאֲבָרֲכָה מְבָרְכֶיךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ אָאֹר וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה. ד וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו יְהוָה וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ לוֹט וְאַבְרָם בֶּן חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵחָרָן. ה וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת לוֹט בֶּן אָחִיו וְאֶת כָּל רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ וְאֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן. ו וַיַּעֲבֹר אַבְרָם בָּאָרֶץ עַד מְקוֹם שְׁכֶם עַד אֵלוֹן מוֹרֶה וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי אָז בָּאָרֶץ. ז וַיֵּרָא יְהוָה אֶל אַבְרָם וַיֹּאמֶר לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת וַיִּבֶן שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ לַיהוָה הַנִּרְאֶה אֵלָיו. ח וַיַּעְתֵּק מִשָּׁם הָהָרָה מִקֶּדֶם לְבֵית אֵל וַיֵּט אָהֳלֹה בֵּית אֵל מִיָּם וְהָעַי מִקֶּדֶם וַיִּבֶן שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ לַיהוָה וַיִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה. ט וַיִּסַּע אַבְרָם הָלוֹךְ וְנָסוֹעַ הַנֶּגְבָּה.

א ומשה, היה רעה את-צאן יתרו חתנו–כהן מדין; וינהג את-הצאן אחר המדבר, ויבא אל-הר האלהים חרבה. ב וירא מלאך יהוה אליו, בלבת-אש–מתוך הסנה; וירא, והנה הסנה בער באש, והסנה, איננו אכל. ג ויאמר משה–אסרה-נא ואראה, את-המראה הגדל הזה: מדוע, לא-יבער הסנה. ד וירא יהוה, כי סר לראות; ויקרא אליו אלהים מתוך הסנה, ויאמר משה משה–ויאמר הנני. ה ויאמר, אל-תקרב הלם; של-נעליך, מעל רגליך–כי המקום אשר אתה עומד עליו, אדמת-קדש הוא. ו ויאמר, אנכי אלהי אביך, אלהי אברהם אלהי יצחק, ואלהי יעקב; ויסתר משה, פניו, כי ירא, מהביט אל-האלהים. ז ויאמר יהוה, ראה ראיתי את-עני עמי אשר במצרים; ואת-צעקתם שמעתי מפני נגשיו, כי ידעתי את-מכאביו. ח וארד להצילו מיד מצרים, ולהעלתו מן-הארץ ההוא, אל-ארץ טובה ורחבה, אל-ארץ זבת חלב ודבש–אל-מקום הכנעני, והחתי, והאמרי והפרזי, והחוי והיבוסי. ט ועתה, הנה צעקת בני-ישראל באה אלי; וגם-ראיתי, את-הלחץ, אשר מצרים, לחצים אתם. י ועתה לכה, ואשלחך אל-פרעה; והוצא את-עמי בני-ישראל, ממצרים.

א וּבִשְׁנַת אַחַת, לְכוֹרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרַס, לִכְלוֹת דְּבַר-יְהוָה, מִפִּי יִרְמְיָה: הֵעִיר יְהוָה, אֶת-רוּחַ כֹּרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ-פָּרַס, וַיַּעֲבֶר-קוֹל בְּכָל-מַלְכוּתוֹ, וְגַם-בְּמִכְתָּב לֵאמֹר. ב כֹּה אָמַר, כֹּרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרַס–כֹּל מַמְלְכוֹת הָאָרֶץ, נָתַן לִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם; וְהוּא-פָקַד עָלַי לִבְנוֹת-לוֹ בַיִת, בִּירוּשָׁלִַם אֲשֶׁר בִּיהוּדָה. ג מִי-בָכֶם מִכָּל-עַמּוֹ, יְהִי אֱלֹהָיו עִמּוֹ, וְיַעַל, לִירוּשָׁלִַם אֲשֶׁר בִּיהוּדָה; וְיִבֶן, אֶת-בֵּית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים, אֲשֶׁר בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. ד וְכָל-הַנִּשְׁאָר, מִכָּל-הַמְּקֹמוֹת אֲשֶׁר הוּא גָר-שָׁם–יְנַשְּׂאוּהוּ אַנְשֵׁי מְקֹמוֹ, בְּכֶסֶף וּבְזָהָב וּבִרְכוּשׁ וּבִבְהֵמָה; עִם-הַנְּדָבָה–לְבֵית הָאֱלֹהִים, אֲשֶׁר בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. ה וַיָּקוּמוּ רָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת, לִיהוּדָה וּבִנְיָמִן, וְהַכֹּהֲנִים, וְהַלְוִיִּם; לְכֹל הֵעִיר הָאֱלֹהִים, אֶת-רוּחוֹ, לַעֲלוֹת לִבְנוֹת, אֶת-בֵּית יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. ו וְכָל-סְבִיבֹתֵיהֶם חִזְּקוּ בִידֵיהֶם, בִּכְלֵי-כֶסֶף בַּזָּהָב בָּרְכוּשׁ וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבַמִּגְדָּנוֹת–לְבַד, עַל-כָּל-הִתְנַדֵּב. {ס} ז וְהַמֶּלֶךְ כּוֹרֶשׁ, הוֹצִיא אֶת-כְּלֵי בֵית-יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיא נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּר מִירוּשָׁלִַם, וַיִּתְּנֵם בְּבֵית אֱלֹהָיו. ח וַיּוֹצִיאֵם, כּוֹרֶשׁ מֶלֶךְ פָּרַס, עַל-יַד, מִתְרְדָת הַגִּזְבָּר; וַיִּסְפְּרֵם, לְשֵׁשְׁבַּצַּר, הַנָּשִׂיא, לִיהוּדָה. ט וְאֵלֶּה, מִסְפָּרָם: אֲגַרְטְלֵי זָהָב שְׁלֹשִׁים, אֲגַרְטְלֵי-כֶסֶף אָלֶף, מַחֲלָפִים, תִּשְׁעָה וְעֶשְׂרִים. {ס} י כְּפוֹרֵי זָהָב, שְׁלֹשִׁים– {ס} כְּפוֹרֵי כֶסֶף מִשְׁנִים, אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת וַעֲשָׂרָה; כֵּלִים אֲחֵרִים, אָלֶף. {ס} יא כָּל-כֵּלִים לַזָּהָב וְלַכֶּסֶף, חֲמֵשֶׁת אֲלָפִים וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת; הַכֹּל הֶעֱלָה שֵׁשְׁבַּצַּר, עִם הֵעָלוֹת הַגּוֹלָה–מִבָּבֶל, לִירוּשָׁלִָם