Baruch Spinoza (1632 – 1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Sephardi/Portuguese origin who laid the groundwork for the 18th-century Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe. Spinoza’s magnum opus, the posthumous Ethics, in which he opposed Descartes’ mind–body dualism, has earned him recognition as one of Western philosophy’s most important thinkers. In this talk, Rabbi Mark Daniels will look at his “excommunication” from the Dutch Jewish community and discuss why he was so important in the history of Western thought.
Mark Daniels is currently Rabbi of Bristol Park Row Synagogue and course director of Judith Lady Montefiore College in London. He read philosophy at Warwick University and was Chairman of the Society for Jewish Study in London from 1999 to 2009.
The Blues of Jewish Eastern Europe – music to make you dance, laugh & cry – come to Saint Stephens’ in a concert on 1st December featuring the London Klezmer Quartet (LKQ), with support from Bristol band Chai for All.
The London Klezmer Quartet’s old and new melodies on fiddle, clarinet, accordion and double bass, and colourful stories about musicians’ lives and times, take you on a journey from the Baltic to the Black Sea and beyond, delving deep into the celebratory and soulful music of Jewish eastern Europe. Prepare to be engaged in backing vocals, the occasional tear and plenty of toe-tapping – if not all-out dancing! – as you join the LKQ party.
The band’s new CD, ‘To the Tavern’ is their fourth, and tells a dawn-to-dawn story of a klezmer band’s arrival in a central European town that they recreate in performance, combining the subtleties of the original tradition with a kick-the-chairs-over ability to party.
Formed in 2009 by four London-based klezmorim with a shared interest in the traditional playing style, LKQ brings fresh life to an almost-lost instrumental folk tradition through a huge repertoire of dance tunes and lyrical melodies – some self-composed. The band also features the irresistibly sonorous vocals of multi-tasking bass player Indra Buraczewska in traditional laments, a Warsaw Yiddish theatre hit with a hint of jazz (‘Goodbye New York’) and even a song about beetroot soup.
Chai for All is led by veteran trumpeter David Mowat, once in Bristol’s legendary Klezmernauts. Chai For All bring together New York Yiddish songs delivered by charismatic Dutch chanteuse Marianna Moralis, Arabic Music played by the astonishing German oud player and guitar harmony maestro Knud Stuwe with the versatile Saudi Arabia-born Simon Leach on derabukka, and jazz-singed klezmer classics. They’ll be joined by clarinet virtuoso Katie Stevens. A “highly skilled” and “class act” notes 24/7 columnist Tony Benjamin (in Venue Magazine) . With roots in traditional klezmer, it stretches out way beyond.
USA 2015, 95 minutes, English
Director Lisa Vreeland, featuring Peggy Guggenheim
Back by popular demand. This film was sold out last season and as many members did not get in, we have given it a second viewing. This documentary film about the life of the art collector Peggy Guggenheim, is constructed around rediscovered audiotapes from the late 1970s and includes several classic film extracts (1929 to 1997). A colourful character who was not only ahead of her time but helped to define it, Peggy Guggenheim was an heiress to her family fortune who became a central figure in the modern art movement. As she moved through the cultural upheaval of the 20th century, she collected not only art, but artists. Her personal history included such figures as Samuel Beckett, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp as well as countless others. While fighting through personal tragedy, she maintained her vision to build one of the most important collections of modern art.
The advent of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century sent shock waves through Europe. The emerging Christian confessions had to return to fundamental questions relating to their claims to authority, their understanding of doctrine, and their collective identity. In all of these, their relationship with Jews – both biblical and contemporary – was central. The Reformation undoubtedly witnessed a sharpening of tensions between Christians and Jews, and some deeply unpleasant pronouncements by the former; but it also saw a growing awareness of shared interests, and efforts at collaboration and enhanced mutual understanding. This talk will seek to sketch out a more nuanced picture of this relationship in a comparative European perspective.
Kenneth Austin is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Bristol. His first book, From Judaism to Calvinism: The Life and Works of Immanuel Tremellius (c.1510-1580) was published in 2007. He is currently writing a full-length study of the Jews and the Reformation. His other research interests include the history of scholarship, and friendship and correspondence networks in the Renaissance and the Reformation.
Hungary, France, Israel, USA 2015, 107 mins, cert 15, subtitled
Director László Nemes, featuring Geza Rohrig, Levente Molnar, Urs Rech
This devastating and terrifying film by László Nemes is set in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau death camp in 1944. Saul, played by the 48-year-old Hungarian actor Géza Röhrig, is a Jewish prisoner who has been made part of the Sonderkommando. They must manage the day-to-day business of herding bewildered prisoners out of the trains and up to the very doors of the gas chambers and then removing the bodies. With staggering audacity, Son of Saul begins with something other, comparable movies would hardly dare approach even at the very end – the gas chamber itself. Here is where Saul discovers the body of a boy, whom he believes to be his son, and sets out to find a rabbi among the prisoners to give him a proper burial. Röhrig’s performance is transfixing, without ever drifting into the realm of actorly pretence. The final image of his face – transformed by events that may be real or hallucinatory – is extraordinary. Son of Saul reopens the debate around the Holocaust and its cinematic thinkability, addresses the aesthetic and moral issues connected with creating a fiction within it and probes the nature of Wittgenstein’s axiom “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent”. (amended from Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review)
Concert to celebrate 80th birthday of Steve Reich
Steve Reich: Different Trains; Clapping Music; City Life; Proverb; Know What is Above You
A concert celebrating Steve Reich’s 80th birthday and his remarkable contribution to contemporary classical music. He is one of a handful of composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history. The minimalist works Different Trains and City Life (performed with visuals) both use amplification alongside samplers and recordings of speech fragments, while Clapping Music has become one of his most famous and accessible works.
“Different Trains” concerns a journey through Reich’s childhood covering the years 1939 to 1942 when he travelled back and forth between New York and Los Angeles with his governess (Reich’s parents were divorced). She is interviewed along with Lawrence Davis, a retired black porter, who worked the trains between New York and Los Angeles. Had Reich been in Europe at this time, his Jewish faith would have caused him to experience very different train journeys, hence the title. The work falls into three movements: America before the war, Europe during the war, and the subsequent post-war situation.
DAVAR members are eligible for a 10% discount on any ticket. Please use the DAVAR code when booking
UK 2015, 95 mins, PG Director David Evans featuruing Philippe Sands, Nilklas Frank, Horst von Wachter
This outstanding documentary about history and guilt from author and human rights lawyer Philippe Sands concerns the two elderly sons of prominent officials in Nazi Germany. Sands interviews Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter, the sons of Hans Frank and Otto Wächter, respectively (among their other grim distinctions) the Nazi governor of occupied Poland and Nazi governor of Galicia in Ukraine. It becomes disturbingly clear that although Frank Jr has come to terms with what his father did, Wächter Jr is still in denial – wriggling, squirming, trying to claim that his father was not personally guilty. Increasingly angry, Sands confronts him with documentary proof that Otto Wächter had substantial administrative responsibility for the slaughter of Ukrainian Jews, including Sands’s own family. It is a chilling demonstration of how the poison of the past can live in the bloodstream of the present. (amended from Peter Bradshaw’s Guardian review)
Where are the roots of Jewish comedy? What makes a joke Jewish? The Bible has comedy and jokes – not much, but who’s counting? The Talmud and early Rabbinic literature grew a special brand of Jewish humour, as has our experience of Diaspora. Throw in some history, the festival of Purim, struggle, persecution, poverty, Rabbinic discourse and a fear of assimilation, and we find a rich culture of Jewish humour which everybody loves, we hope. And if they don’t, we will make a joke about that too. Before anyone else does….
Maureen Kendler is a Teaching Fellow at the London School of Jewish Studies and has degrees in English Literature and Jewish Education. She is a dedicated Limmudnik and teaches there and internationally on a wide variety of Jewish texts, ancient and modern. She broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 2 “Pause For Thought” and contributes to the Jewish Chronicle “Thought For the Week” column.