Falling For The Arts


With crisp blue skies and burnished foliage, fall is an ideal time to visit Boston.

Nobody’s fretting about hurricanes. Winter — always your real worry in Boston — still feels far off.

Along with apples and late tomatoes, fall brings a harvest of Jewish culture to both sides of the Charles. Visit anytime between the High Holidays and Chanukah, and you can easily fill a weekend with klezmer concerts, meet Jewish authors, sample traditional pastries and take in the latest in great Jewish film.

Boston hosts one of the country’s best Jewish film festivals every November — two weeks of screenings and events for the kind of passionate, engaged audience that walks out arguing and kvelling.

This year’s Boston Film Festival, from Nov. 8-20, has plenty to generate debate: a Karl Marx biopic and a documentary on Hedy Lamarr, an evening of virtual reality film and cocktails, French and holographic (really) looks at the Holocaust, a short film series called “Women on the Verge” and comedies about kosher butchers and Chanukah dating.

This Friday (Sept. 22) is opening night at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which enjoys one of the warmest relationships with its local Jewish audience of any orchestra I know. The long career of Maestro James Levine had a lot to do with it, but the late, great Leonard Bernstein also had a long association with the BSO.

Beginning with tonight’s all-Bernstein program, the orchestra is celebrating the Jewish composer and conductor’s centennial birthday year, which continues with performances of his (less-known) symphonies throughout the season. As always, the BSO is also a magnet for young Jewish classical-music talent; alongside legends like Gil Shaham and Emanuel Ax are younger Jewish stars like pianist Kirill Gerstein and violinist Vadim Gluzman.

Boston’s profusion of museums and colleges mean you don’t have to head to the most obvious venues for Jewish culture. A theater-world friend of mine, who’s headed to Boston for this year’s Alliance for Jewish Theatre conference in October, is looking forward to catching the Fringe Festival at Boston University.

And the darkly idiosyncratic rooms of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which I find less than optimal for viewing art, make a delightful backdrop for Sunday afternoon chamber concerts. In October, you can catch the young Israeli pianist Tomer Gewirtzman or the venerable Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio doing a Beethoven series.

At any time of year, one of your first clicks for culture should be on the website of Boston’s Jewish Arts Collaborative. JArts, as it is known, is a newish arts organization with very kosher roots in Boston’s Jewish community; its programming showcases some of the newest and coolest Jewish voices around, in ways that feel inviting and modern (think pop-up dinners and Shabbat yoga).

This November, for instance, you can head out to Tufts University in Medford to hear the Semer Project, an ensemble composed of stellar musicians who will recreate the lost sounds of Jewish Berlin before the war — music painstakingly uncovered from the Semer Records catalogue, performed with Yiddish supertitles and preceded by a communal dinner for those inclined to make a night of it.

Or how about the august lyrics of former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky … against a backdrop of flute-and-saxophone jazz? That’s on tap in late November, when City Winery hosts Pinsky, pianist Hankus Netsky and woodwind player Stan Strickland for Pinsky’s POEMJAZZ happenings.

Boston’s most vibrant Shabbat of mid-fall will likely be Oct. 27, featuring Jewish events around the city and beyond for Arts Matter Day — a statewide Massachusetts celebration promoted by the arts advocacy organization MASSCreative.

That weekend features dinners, talks and concerts around greater Boston. In Brookline, popular Jewish life cycles author Anita Diamant will be at Temple Sinai, while Congregation Ohabei Shalom hosts a reggae-style Kabbalat Shabbat. Another highlight: In Swampscott, Shirat Hayam will host a concert featuring Neshama Carlebach and the Glory to God Gospel Singers the following day, Oct. 28.

I haven’t yet made it to Boston for Chanukah, but I keep hearing about JArts’ program at the Museum of Fine Arts … so if the snow holds off, this may be the year I schlep Zelda up north to check it out.

December’s fifth annual Chanukah Celebration is an open house with music and storytelling for kids, live drawing and a scavenger hunt, a community menorah lighting and performances. This year, Sarah Aroeste will read her new Ladino children’s book, “Ora de Despertar (Time to Wake Up), ” and clarinetist Ilene Stahl will entertain with her group, Klezperanto. By then the snow may have set in, but Boston’s lively enough to brave the cold.