July 31: The Only Hebrew-Speaking Child

itamarBen-Zion Ben-Yehuda, the son of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who almost singlehandedly turned Hebrew from a religious language into a modern language for everyday life, was born in Palestine on this date in 1882. His lexicographer father and his mother, Devora Jonas, spoke only Hebrew to him, which made him the first native Hebrew speaker on the planet in more than a thousand years. Itamar was denied friendships with children so as not to expose him to any other languages, and lost several siblings to diphtheria when it ravaged Jerusalem. His family was also ostracized by the Orthodox community in which they lived, due to their blasphemous usage of the loshen kodesh as a daily language. Notwithstanding his isolation, he grew up to be a Zionist activist, journalist, and publisher — as well as an advocate of the international language of Esperanto. Ben-Yehuda eventually took the name Itamar Ben-Avi (son of the father), and wrote a Hebrew biography of his father in a Latin script that he had long campaigned to see adopted for modern Hebrew. Itamar Ben-Avi also campaigned to marry Lea Abushded, whose family scorned his lack of wealth, by writing love poems to her in his newspaper (including one threatening suicide). These mobilized all of Jerusalem in favor of the couple, who married two years later.

“Ever since I loved her and my heart aches/My pistol will never leave my sight . . .” —Itamar Ben-Avi


July 30: A Post-War Pogrom in Hungary

ghetto-1A workers’ demonstration became an anti-Semitic pogrom in Miskolc, Hungary on this date in 1946. The riot was part of a series of post-war pogroms that rocked Hungary under its new Communist leaders. A contemporary report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency called the rioters “a fascist mob,” yet the Communists, according to Peter Kenez’s Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets, “explicitly approved . . . spontaneous demonstrations, and even lynching . . . by promising to hang black marketers. The leaders knew or certainly should have known that many of these traders were Jewish, and even if they were not, in the eyes of the common folk they were. . . . In effect, the party attempted to turn the powerful anti-Semitic currents, which were present in Hungarian society at the time, to its own advantage in the struggle for power.” Two Jews were killed and one wounded in Miskolc, an industrial town with a Jewish population of some 14,000 at the start of World War II, of whom little more than 100 were alive by 1945. The town served as a transit point for concentration camp survivors, however, and had a population of more than 2,300 at the time of the pogrom.

The plaque reads: “On this site stood the Miskolc ghetto during the summer of 1944, from where the fascist authority carried off 14,000 Jewish-classified Hungarian city-residents to Nazi death camps. With everlasting reverence, we remember them and the other senselessly massacred Miskolc martyrs
of the Holocaust of the Second World War.”


July 29: Mama Cass

TheMamasAndThePapas-IfYouCanBelieveYourEyesAndEarsCass Elliot (Ellen Naomi Cohen), one of the four members of The Mamas and the Papas, died from a heart attack at age 32 on this date in 1974. Elliot had already recorded as a big-voiced folksinger when the Mamas and the Papas began to harmonize in 1966, and her voice and charisma were a large part of their success before their break-up in 1971. Their hits, mostly written and arranged by Papa John Phillips,  included “California Dreaming,” “Monday, Monday,” “Words of Love,” and “I Saw Her Again,” among several others. Elliot was a big woman, ranging in weight above 300 pounds, and her rapid, drug-fueled weight loss in 1973 as she was pursuing a reasonably successful solo career may have helped wreck her health. She was also a single mother and would not reveal the identity of her baby’s father, a rare choice in her time. The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2009. To see her singing her solo number, “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” look below.

“[T]he group epitomized sunny optimism and galvanized westward-bound youths at the dawn of the hippie era with strong harmonies and expectant lyrics, all slightly ringed with darkness.” —New York Times


July 28: Judith Martin and the Paper Bag Players

MARTIN-obit-articleLargeJudith Martin, the co-founder and director for half a century of the children’s theater The Paper Bag Players, died at 93 on this date in 2012. “The troupe’s approach,” wrote Douglas Martin in a New York Times obituary, “was to do quick, witty skits — 12 to 15 in a one-hour show — on aspects of children’s lives, from sleepovers to homework to taking baths. Bouncy music from a harpsichord or piano propelled the antic, vaudeville-like capers” — and paper bags and similar household paraphernalia served as costumes and props. Martin’s co-founders were Shirley Kaplin, Sudie Bond and Remy Charlip. She created and performed in more than 35 shows before several million audience members in 37 states and countries around the world. Martin helped run the dance project of the National Youth Administration during the New Deal, studied dance with Martha Graham, and performed with Merce Cunningham and Anna Sokolow. To see the contemporary Paper Bag Players in action, look below.

“Ours is a lovely field to work in. It compels you to do something more basic, more fun-loving, more joyous. It is a great support to your imagination.”—Judith Martin

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July 27: William Wyler

wyler-hepburn crGerman-born film director and screenwriter William Wyler, whose films three times won Academy Awards both for Best Director and Best Picture, died at 79 on this date in 1981. Wyler came to Hollywood in 1923 and began to work his way up (his mother was a cousin to Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures). His best-known films include Ben-Hur (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Mrs. Miniver (1942), which were his Oscar-winners. He also directed Dodsworth (1936), Dead End (1937), Wuthering Heights (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), The Heiress (1948), Roman Holiday (1953), Funny Girl (1968), and numerous other movies that brought Academy Awards fourteen times to his performers. Wyler was known as a difficult director who reshot scenes over and over. This approach allowed him to use fewer, longer takes in his finished films, but resulted in few actors performing in more than two of his films — with the notable exceptions of Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, and Walter Brennan. To see Audrey Hepburn getting a haircut in Roman Holiday, look below.

“From the early 1930s, William Wyler was either planning or directing films that tackled such issues as capitalism, class struggle, war and pacifism, and repressive politics . . .” –Gabriel Miller, William Wyler

William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Most Celebrated Director – See more at: