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Mitch Abidor (contributing writer): A new exhibition on the work of Belgian Jewish artist Stéphane Mandelbaum, which runs through February 18th at the Drawing Center in Manhattan, has no title other than the artist’s name. But one piece in the show includes a Yiddish phrase that would have been an apt title: “Kush mir in tukhis!” This brusque order—Kiss my ass!—captures the rebellious attitude that animates Mandelbaum’s work. Over the course of his short, brazenly Jewish life, he refused to be a “nice Jewish boy.” His 1986 murder at the age of 25 was almost a natural capstone to a life lived on the edge: He had been involved in a failed plot to steal a Modigliani painting, and when he insisted on payment, the ring of art thieves he’d collaborated with killed him, poured acid on his face, and left his body in a vacant lot.

Mandelbaum’s outsider ethos, rooted in the ineluctable otherness of a Jew, comes through in all of his drawings. (Unsurprisingly, he was an admirer of Pierre Goldman, whom I wrote about last week; Goldman’s political and ethical defiance receive their artistic expression in Mandelbaum’s oeuvre.) For the most part, he did his drawings on cheap paper with graphite pencil and ballpoint pen, often sprinkled with French or Yiddish text. Through these limited means, he produced riveting portraits of a wide variety of subjects, from his father—a pre-war immigrant from Poland who worked as a miner and was also an artist—to his fellow denizens of louche bars and hangouts in Brussels, to intellectual icons like the painter Francis Bacon and the writer and director Pier Paolo Pasolini. His most audacious pieces feature Nazis like SA leader Ernst Röhm and chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Mandelbaum understood that he was only around to draw because his parents survived the evil of people like them, and the Holocaust loomed over his life and art. Indeed, even his most seemingly offhand works somehow carry this enormous historical weight.

Jessica de Koninck (contributor): All of Us (Saddle Road Press, 2023) is a book about miracles, not miracles in any supernatural sense, but the more important miracles of everyday life, of human beings, of our ability to relate to one another, of the small details that make living an exquisite joy to those who pay attention, and Esther Cohen pays close attention. Cohen was the long-time arts consultant for Jewish Currents and director of Bread and Roses, the cultural arm of 1199/SEIU, health and human services union, but mostly she is a consummate poet, writer, and workshop leader. In alternating stories and poems, All of Us depicts decades of life along Route 17 in upstate New York through the people Cohen finds there—Democrats and Republicans, single mothers, Brooklyn transplants, etc.—and what she has come to love about each of them. Her voice is both fresh and authentic. It’s a book about sitting on the porch and watching the world go by, a book unafraid to acknowledge the beauty inherent in all things. And it’s fun, and it’s funny. Reading All of Us made me smile again and again.

Jonathan Shamir (JC fellow): In 1998, the Israeli filmmaker Asher Tlalim moved to London after his wife, Ronit, was accepted onto a PhD program. Their relocation, Tlalim says in his documentary Galoot (2003) “swept away the ground beneath my feet.” But this radical estrangement also forced him to turn to “my Israel here: my home, my children, and our friends”—and enabled him to probe some of the central tensions of Israeliness.In the 99-minute film, as Tlalim follows a troupe of Israeli expats in London, we are granted a window into a homogenous social world unraveling amidst the rousing diversity of a metropolis; their own oscillating self-perceptions (a journalist called Boaz quips that Israelis in Israel think they’re Finnish and find out that they’re Lebanese when they go abroad); and the ways that the formation of Israeli identity is bound up in relationships with Palestinians.

At the university of SOAS, where Ronit is pursuing her PhD, Tlalim encounters Khaled, a Palestinian working there as a service and shop manager. While their meeting is initially colored by mutual suspicion, the men soon become friendly, and Khaled invites Tlalim to his home. There, Tlalim learns of the dispossession suffered by Khaled and his housemate Amjad—both of whose home villages were destroyed by Zionist militias in 1948—and he weaves these stories into the film’s center.

Despite its lofty ambitions—the filmmaker says his primary subject matter is Israeli society— Galoot is ultimately an intimate portrait. But a portrait, the film makes clear, can never be confined to a single person, a single people. Though the film is guided by the director’s voice, we only ever briefly glimpse his reflection; in this autobiography of sorts, Tlalim sidelines his own image to make space for others, especially Khaled and Amjad. He takes trips not only to his own childhood home in Tangiers, and to his wife’s ancestral town of Leżajsk, but also to the erased villages of Khaled and Amjad—affirming the entanglements between these uneven and multisited experiences of exile.

Without looking away from the “very high cost” of exile, the film also shows its generative potential. It is only away from Israel/Palestine that connections like that Tlalim shares with Khaled and Amjad can be forged, and Ronit comes to understand that “with the perspective of distance, disconnection, and hardship, it forces you to look at things differently.” In the film’s final scene, Khaled plays with Tlalim’s son, Jonathan, and the director notes: “This miracle can only happen in galoot.” Exile, the film makes clear, is not only a marker of physical distance, but also a condition of transformed relation that can point a way forward.

One more thing: This Shabbat, Rabbis for Ceasefire is hosting a Shabbat for Ceasefire, bringing together Jews (and friends!) in the ceasefire movement. Services will be livestreamed Friday evening, Saturday morning, and for havdalah. They are also offering some incredible workshops Shabbat afternoon.