Khalemoyed (chol hamoed for the non-YIVO transliterating among you) is, hands-down, the best Jewish holiday I never knew existed. Not until I was an adult, at least, and actually spent yontev with folks much more observant and knowledgeable than I.
Khalemoyed isn’t really a holiday, of course. Khalemoyed refers to the intermediary, non-yontev days of the festivals of Peysakh and Sukes. Its in-betweenness gives rise to wonderful Yiddish expressions like “host mikh gekhapt umgerikht, mitn khalemoyed in droysn” or, as my friend Michael Wex translates it, “You caught me unawares, with my Abrahamic covenant in my hand.” Khalemoyed being the thing beyn regel le-regel (between festivals) but regel having the double meaning of “leg.” (I know, it’s not funny when I have to explain the joke. Go buy Wex’s Born to Kvetch and let him do it much better than I can.) Anyway…
Khalemoyed is one of the few times within the traditional Jewish year when we are freed from the demands of work but still allowed — commanded, even— to go forth and have fun. (Fun being a relative thing, of course.) Apple picking, the circus (yes, it’s a thing) and going to cultural sites are a few popular ways of spending the intermediate days. Khalemoyd is the exact perfect level of observance for me, as it combines three of my favorite activities: going out with my observant friends, not going to shul, and always, always, museums.
L’moshl (for example), khalemoyed sukes I met up with my dear friend Jennifer Young to see Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Usually, I only venture all the way downtown to MJH for Folksbiene shows. I shouldn’t have worried, though. As soon as Jen and I entered the Eichmann exhibit we found ourselves next to three very excited hasidish yingermen talking about the exhibit in Yiddish. They were accompanied by about 10 other folks clearly visiting from Hasidic Brooklyn. Khalemoyed.
Normally I’m not that interested in Nazis, to be honest. I’ve had enough of Nazis to last me a lifetime. But there’s something compelling for me in the Eichmann-capture story, aside from it being a “happy ending.” We think of WWII being over at the end of 1945. But the process of de-Nazification took much longer and extended far beyond Germany and Austria. The story of Nazis in Argentina, and the networks that protected them, is an important one. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for the thousands of Argentine Jews living in a country now permeated with former Nazis, living with seeming impunity. Operation Finale takes you to that moment and raises many important questions for visitors.
I was surprised by two noticeable absences from the story of Operation Finale, however. One, the writer Hannah Arendt, whose Eichmann in Jerusalem brought the trial, and the idea of the “banality of evil,” to the American-Jewish consciousness. Also missing was a personal hero of mine, Rokhl Oyerbakh, a Warsaw Ghetto survivor and researcher at Yad Vashem whose work gathering eyewitness testimony was an integral part of the trial.
This may be the first museum exhibit I’ve ever seen where a secret-intelligence agency — Mossad, in this case — is explicitly credited as a co-creator. Obviously, the Mossad is the star of the story, but when intelligence agencies get to write their own history, I get a little skeptical. For example, this book claims that the Mossad had little interest in pursuing Eichmann until Lothar Hermann, a half-Jewish German living in Buenos Aires realized his daughter had dated Eichmann’s son (!!) and set in motion the chain of events that led to Eichmann senior’s capture. Lothar and Sylvia Hermann are mentioned prominently in the exhibit, but the Mossad’s reluctance to pursue Eichmann, not so much.
I’m thrilled to see that my new favorite all-female klezmer band, Tsibele, is finally releasing their debut CD this week. Indroysn iz finster (It’s Dark Outside) is a moving and moody collection of traditional and new songs, with some delightfully inventive twists on skarabove (extremely familiar) tunes. You may have heard Naftule Brandwein’s Nifty’s Eigene a thousand times (I certainly have) but have you heard it with wooden flute and trumpet instead of clarinet at the center? Eva Boodman’s trumpet playing is a revelation here, and Zoe Guigueno’s bass playing, especially on the title track, is just gorgeous. In fact, if anything, Indroysn iz finster reminds me of the work of bassist Benjy Fox-Rosen and his postmodern interpretations of the poetry of Mordkhe Gebirtig and more. Tsibele will be celebrating the release of Indroysn with a bunch of shows including tonight (Wednesday) at Barbès at 8 p.m. If you can’t make it tonight, or to one of their upcoming shows, you can download the CD (and a beautiful booklet with Yiddish and English) right now.
Listen: Tsibele will be at Barbès on Wednesday, Oct. 11 and at Jalopy on Nov. 7. See their website for more info.
Watch: Understandably, the Eichmann capture and trial made a considerable impact on popular culture. One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek—Deep Space Nine’s “Duet”—was inspired by The Man in the Glass Booth. A couple years ago the BBC produced an excellent drama about the filming of the trial itself titled The Eichmann Show.
ALSO: Now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Sara Berman’s Closet, a micro installation by Maira Kalman inspired by her mother, Sara Berman. Sara Berman’s Closet is a celebration of joyful minimalism and precision city living. Total #goals. … The Sholem-Aleichem Cultural Center continues its fall schedule of Yiddish-language talks: Bella Bryks-Klein will speak about her father, Rakhmiel, and the literature of the Lodz Ghetto Sunday, Oct. 15 at 1:30 p.m. Take the D to the last stop and walk two blocks uphill. … I know not everyone is as obsessed with interwar Poland and Jewish education as I am, but you could at least give it a try. This academic talk at YIVO on Shimon Engel and the challenges of Hasidic yeshiva education in interwar Poland looks amazing. And finally, Oct. 21 is a celebration of all things Golem in Brooklyn. The evening includes a performance by the band Golem (one of my all-time faves) so make sure to bring your dancing shoes.
Rokhl Kafrissen is a New York-based cultural critic and playwright.