A Few of Our Favorite Things
2008, not quite in review
Best Predictably Awesome Cameo in a Christmas Special
Jon Stewart thrilled and reassured us all year with the Daily Show‘s political coverage, but soon after the election results were in, he appeared on pal Stephen Colbert’s much-hyped special, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All. The other semi-bold-faced names to make appearances carried out their duties with aplomb, but it was Stewart’s sad-faced Hanukkah song (the holiday is a sensible alternative to Christmas,” he warbled sweetly) that stole the show. —Eryn Loeb
Best Reason to Become a Vegetarian
After years of allegations that it mistreated both animals and humans, Agriprocessors’ kosher slaughterhouse faced its most high-profile challenge yet: the Bush administration’s largest crackdown on illegal workers at a single site. The 54-year-old company eventually filed for bankruptcy, but not before sparking a mainstream debate about the laws and ethics of keeping kosher.
Best Substitutes for Actually Joining the Israeli Defense Force
Jobnik!, Miriam Libicki’s autobiographical graphic novel, bleakly chronicles her formative years in the IDF during the second Intifada. Against the backdrop of war, Libicki moves through a parade of disappointing relationships, making the grayscale illustrations particularly fitting. Similarly inspired by her years in the IDF, photographer Rachel Papo set out to capture the experiences of young women in the army. Her Serial No. 3817131 is a meditation on the incongruities of military adolescence, juxtaposing classic portraiture and yearbook-style candids to mesmerizing effect. —Rachel Sugar
Best Fictional Taste of Chicago Political Corruption
While the blogosphere parses the Blagosphere, readers greedy for all things Windy City can look to Aleksander Hemon’s novel The Lazarus Project. In following an immigrant from Sarajevo who becomes obsessed with the century-old story of Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish newcomer killed by the city’s chief of police, Hemon weaves together contemporary and historical tales of loneliness and dislocation, showing, despite contextual differences, the unity among immigrant tales. —Sara Ivry
Best Traditional Ladino Wedding Song Most Worthy of Inclusion on the Soundtrack to a Pedro Almodóvar Film
“Shecharchoret” (“Black Beauty”), by 22-year-old London-based Israeli singer Mor Karbasi, is a haunting, epic song; like the other tracks on her debut album The Beauty and the Sea, it conjures a palette of emotions that have imbued my apartment-cleaning and subway-riding rituals with a sense of dramatic Mediterranean grandeur. Karbasi brings to mind a more dignified Shakira with her tragic, timeless, romantic songs. She sings in Hebrew, Spanish, and Ladino, but listeners need not understand the words to be
transported to one of the amber-lit cobblestone corridors depicted in the CD’s liner notes. —Hadara Graubart
Best Revisionist History
Earnest beneath a veneer of irony, Camp Camp aims to capture the essence of so many youthful summers. It’s the Wonder Years of coffee-table books: color war bullies and awkward mixers, athletic humiliation and profound weeklong romances, all seen through the rose-colored glasses that come with distance from adolescence. Camp Camp‘s grainy photos and glib anecdotes are enough to convince you that camp was a formative Jewish-American experience—and that you loved every minute of it. —Rachel Sugar
Best and Least Likely Depiction of Someone Using Tefillin
In Surfwise, Doug Pray’s documentary tracing a family’s beyond-unconventional lifestyle, Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz—the man responsible for bringing surfing to Israel—holds forth variously on the merits of rigorous self-sufficiency, meticulously calculated sexual compatibility, and robust Judaism. His nine kids, the products of an unofficial sociological experiment, also have things to say about growing up as nomadic truants and chasing waves while packed into an RV—some wistful, some resentful, all riveting. —Hadara Graubart
Best Fruitful Obsession
Rafael Goldchain reconstructed his family’s photo album by putting himself at the center of every image, in a host of guises. The self-portraits that comprise I Am My Family are alternately funny and haunting, enriched by their creator’s palpable sense of curiosity about the story behind every character” he embodies. The rich result of Goldchain’s inquiry into his family’s past is as generous as it is personal. —Eryn Loeb
Best Scandal with a Cantor in a Starring Role
In April, news broke that Naftali Hershtik—one of the most famous and well-respected cantors in the world—was the target of a bizarre entrapment scheme allegedly orchestrated by one of his former students. Sex! Rivalry! Hazzanut! We’ll wait years for another story like this one. —Alana Newhouse
Best Movie Experience That’s Akin to Torture
In My Father My Lord, the debut feature from Israeli writer-director David Volach, the young child of an ultra-Orthodox couple grows resistant to their beliefs—and since his father’s a rabbi, it’s a problem. Volach, who grew up ultra-Orthodox, portrays the boy (Ilan Griff) with sensitivity, and takes theology seriously. But a film this schematic can end only one way, and when it does—when it goes from incisive to mawkish—you’ll want to scream. —Lawrence Levi
Best Thrill-Ride Primer on the Siege of Leningrad
It’s hard to keep up with global brutalities—this year alone we’ve had massacres in the Congo, terror in Mumbai, and aggression in Georgia. And yet violence of the past, at least in Leningrad’s case, holds a rightful place on the podium of extreme malevolence. What David Benioff achieves in his fast-paced novel City of Thieves is nothing short of a coup—offering a primer on the German occupation of that Russian city in 1941, as well as a riveting buddies-on-the-run thriller that is long on pathos and entertainment. War may be hell, but reading about it doesn’t have to be. —Sara Ivry
Best Revenge of the Nerds
As part of its 60th-anniversary celebrations, Israel sent the band Oy Division to entertain at its embassies in southeast Asia. The irony, as frontman Noam Inbar is quick to point out, is that Oy Division, virtually the only klezmer band in Israel, passionately embraces the shtetl culture Israel’s founders were so determined to eradicate. While the host ambassadors looked on with some measure of discomfort, Inbar and company performed manic, unmanly songs in Yiddish, Russian, and Romanian. —Julie Subrin
Best Result of Growing up Jewish in Nebraska
In her collection of autobiographical essays, Have You No Shame, Rachel Shukert walks us through the rites of passage in her precocious girl-to-womanhood—from Holocaust obsession, to stealthy youth-group hook-ups, to losing a grandparent. As she points out the uncomfortable details in all-too-familiar situations, Shukert’s frenzied voice is honest and, moreover, hilarious. —Eryn Loeb
Paul Schrader’s movie adaptation of Yoram Kaniuk’s novel Adam Resurrected is far from perfect, but it does have two things going for it: Jeff Goldblum, who plays Adam Stein, a
onetime Weimar cabaret performer who survives the Holocaust by pretending to be a dog (long story) and winds up in an experimental Israeli asylum, and Ayelet Zurer, who plays the asylum’s head nurse and carries on a steamy affair with Adam. How does she turn him on? Arf! —Lawrence Levi
Best Cautionary Tale
Janice Erlbaum’s wrenching memoir Have You Found Her recounts her all-consuming relationship with a homeless teenage girl who turned out to be more messed up than anyone
could have imagined. The story’s concluding twist is probably also the year’s Best Surprise Ending—or would be, if it hadn’t broken real people’s hearts. —Eryn Loeb
Best Reason to Wonder if Contender for First Jewish President” Might Be Some Sort of Curse
In March, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned after it was revealed that he had engaged the services of a high-priced prostitution ring. This was widely considered a shoo-in for Shande of the Year…until Bernard Madoff came along. —Alana Newhouse
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