Holiday films that provoke, (and Some Just for Fun)


In addition to the traditional family and feel-good holiday films, this season offers a small selection of unexpectedly provocative productions.

Among the latter is the documentary “West of Memphis,” which follows an attempt to exonerate three men convicted as teenagers of the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys in the rural town of West Memphis, Ark. The three convicts — known as the WM3 — served 18 years in prison, with one of them, Damien Echols, on death row. Two years after his conviction, Echols met Lorri Davis, who began a campaign to prove that he and the other two convicted young men were innocent. A few years later, Echols and Davis married.

Producers Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson got involved in the case in 2005 and began helping the defense team with funds and with the investigation of new evidence, including DNA discoveries, alleged juror misconduct and various other anomalies. When the new exculpatory evidence, which was supported by many noted experts, was presented to the original judge, he dismissed it all.

About five years ago, Walsh and Jackson contacted filmmaker Amy Berg, hoping to spark her interest in making a documentary probing the case, the original police investigation and the new findings, in order to argue for the innocence of the WM3.

Berg recalled that her interest was aroused, but she did not commit to the project until she was sure the three were innocent.

“It took about six months of research,” she said, “reading the case files, watching the trial in its entirety, looking at new evidence and speaking to Damien directly. At that point, I knew I had to make this film, as it would likely change the fate of his life.” 

Berg pondered the reasons for the whole community’s rush to judgment.

“It happens everywhere, unfortunately. We are a capitalistic society with the goal of winning. The justice system is set up for this by allowing judges and prosecutors to get elected, instead of selected. They have to appease their voters, and there is often a debt to pay in this regard. 

“I think there is also the fact that Arkansas and, more specifically, West Memphis, Ark., is set up as a police state in many ways. The town is full of informants, and people often don’t trust their neighbors.” 

At a certain point in the defense investigation, suspicion fell on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murder victims, who had abused the child and had reportedly confessed his guilt to his own brother. Berg interviewed Hobbs and said that he trivialized everything and was given to laughing inappropriately.

“He seemed to have come from a very broken home, and his morals seemed out of check. 

He never mentions his stepson, Stevie, by name. He was forthcoming initially and then asked if I knew anyone who could help him get a book deal.”

The story has a hopeful outcome, and Berg feels her film shows that people often have to go outside the system to find justice. She said she has always fought for the underdog, that she grew up questioning things, and that these inclinations help guide her work.

“I feel that being a Jew and a woman helps me to ask the right questions. Like many, I grew up with the belief that the justice system actually works. But it’s fallible, just like humans. We have to come to a place where we can admit when we make an error and take responsibility for our mistakes. The officials in this story have acted as if they are above error, when so much human life has suffered at great consequence.”

“West of Memphis” opens Dec. 25. 



Bill Murray in “Hyde Park on Hudson.”

A crucial event influencing American involvement in World War II is the subject of “Hyde Park on Hudson,” which depicts the weekend visit by the king and queen of England (Samuel West and Olivia Colman) to the Hyde Park home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) in June 1939.  It was the first time a British monarch had ever visited the United States. England was on the brink of war with Germany, and the royal family felt it was vital to have American support.

FDR was inclined to do all he could, short of declaring war, to oppose Hitler, against the wishes of most members of his party. 

In the press notes, screenwriter Richard Nelson states, “Much of America needed convincing; the mood of the country was to stay out of another European war. Add to this an historical (and understandable) American reticence toward British royalty and all things royal, exacerbated by the recent royal abdication of Edward VIII, forced by his wish to marry not only a divorced woman (Wallis Simpson) but also, ‘Heaven forbid,’ as it was perceived by us, ‘an American, of all things.’ The inexperienced and accidental King George VI, or Bertie, needed to show America that he admired our country and its people, and respected us as equals. That was his mission. And Franklin Roosevelt gave him just such an opportunity — by serving him a hot dog!”

According to Nelson, the action is presented from the viewpoint of Roosevelt’s neighbor, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, a distant cousin and close companion to the president. The screenwriter indicates that his script assumes Suckley and Roosevelt had an intimate relationship, an assumption he bases on letters to and from Roosevelt found under Suckley’s bed after her death at nearly 100 years old.  

Nelson writes, “The two stories — the affair with Daisy and the weekend with the King and Queen — are at the center of our tale. As I worked on the script, the two stories became intertwined, each commenting upon the other; a woman painfully learns the truth behind the world-famous image of her lover, while a king learns to hide his insecurity and project courage.

“Finally,” Nelson adds, “ ‘Hyde Park on Hudson’ is also a personal story. I have lived in Rhinebeck, Daisy’s hometown, for over 30 years and raised a family here. Although this is a story with ramifications across the globe, dealing with great historical figures, it is also about a woman from my village, a woman I once saw on her sofa, who, for a time, had a chance to see the world — the public and the private — through her own innocent eyes.”

“Hyde Park on Hudson” opens Dec. 7.



Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in “The Guilt Trip.”Photo by Sam Emerson

We now turn to some amusing family fare. “The Guilt Trip,” starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as a mother and son on a road trip, is based on a real trip screenwriter Dan Fogelman took with his own now-deceased mother some years ago. “The movie’s theme is, basically, when you discover that your parent isn’t just a parent, but actually is a human being who had a life before you — and the point that a parent realizes her child is actually a grown-up, and you have to let them go a little bit,” Fogelman said in a Journal interview last year. 

“The Guilt Trip” opens Dec. 19.



Billy Crystal and Bette Midler in “Parental Guidance.” 

In the comedy “Parental Guidance,” baseball sportscaster Artie Decker (Billy Crystal) is fired from his job for not being up-to-speed with the lifestyle of the younger generation. When their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei), asks them to take care of her three children while she joins her husband, Phil (Tom Everett Scott), on a business trip, Artie’s wife, Diane (Bette Midler), persuades him to agree. Once Artie and Diane arrive at their daughter’s home, they experience a form of culture shock, as the latter’s ultramodern method of raising her children is completely foreign to them.  

Director Andy Fickman said he got involved in the project after having lunch with Crystal, who had developed the film based on an incident that had actually happened to him. The director added that he also relates to the story.  

“I’m a father of a 15-year-old, and, certainly, having my mom in our lives, you can see what generational experiences are like between how our parents raised us and how we raise our children. So I felt it was also just a very universal theme. Everybody to whom I spoke, at some point had some story to tell me about what it was like when the grandparents came to visit.”

Fickman has been highly successful as a producer and director of comedies and family films. He believes his ethnic heritage has contributed to his facility for comedy.

“I was raised as a Conservative Jew,” he said, “and we were a very observant family.  Judaism certainly has been a fertile breeding ground for comedy.  I think my comedic sense of humor from an early age definitely was established in my Jewish household.” 

“Parental Guidance” opens Dec. 25.



From left: Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in “This Is 40.”

Judd Apatow, another Jewish director of comedies, offers up a sequel to his 2007 hit movie, “Knocked Up,” this one titled “This Is 40.” It focuses on the ups and downs in the marriage of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (played by Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann), who were supporting characters in the original story and are now having financial problems and depending on income from Debbie’s clothing store. Apatow’s daughters, Maude and Iris, who also appear, are repeating their “Knocked Up” roles.  

“This Is 40” opens Dec. 21.



From left: Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins in “Quartet.”

Finally, the award-winning actor Dustin Hoffman makes his screen directorial debut with the British film “Quartet,” based on the play by Ronald Harwood.

The action is set in Beecham House, a retirement home for musicians. A gala is being planned to celebrate the birthday of 19th century composer Giuseppe Verdi, with the hope of raising enough money from ticket sales to keep the residence going. The tenants are also awaiting the arrival of a new guest, who is rumored to be a star. Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins) are stunned when they learn that the new arrival is Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), who sang the quartet “Bella Figlia Dell’Amore” from the opera “Rigoletto” with them in their heyday. It seems Jean and Reginald were briefly married, but she cheated one night and was more concerned with success than with her husband or her friends. Jean’s arrival is particularly upsetting to Reginald, who is secretly still in love with her. When the four are asked to reprise their quartet for the gala, Jean resists at first, insecure about her ability to carry it off at this stage of her life.  

In addition to helping make opera accessible to mainstream audiences, the film touches on such themes as the life of an artist, the demands of a musical career and the vicissitudes of aging.

Hoffman is quoted in the press material as saying that the film is “about people in their ‘third act’ who still have so much to give.”

Writer Harwood is quoted as adding, “It’s about surviving, and surviving with dignity. Old age can demean people, and I hope in this film it doesn’t.”

“Quartet” opens Dec. 28.

Beyond the blockbusters


Among the holiday-oriented movies slated for this season, we find some quite unusual, fascinating fare, including a spy story, a silent movie, a couple of films from Iran and the latest project of the celebrated, though controversial, French-Polish filmmaker, Roman Polanski.

Polanski’s offering, “Carnage,” based on Yasmina Reza’s internationally acclaimed Tony Award-winning play, “God of Carnage,” strips the mask from our assumed middle-class civility.

The story centers on two couples in Brooklyn who meet in an attempt at conciliation after their sons have been involved in a playground fight, during which one of the boys broke the other boy’s tooth. Jodie Foster plays the victim’s mother, a liberal activist and writer married to a dealer in wholesale bathroom accouterments (John C. Reilly). The aggressor’s mother (Kate Winslett) is an investment broker whose husband (Christoph Waltz) is a high-powered attorney currently involved in a major lawsuit that has him talking on his cell phone throughout the proceedings. As the meeting goes on, the extreme politeness with which it started degenerates into a virtual brawl that has them all turning on one another.

Reza, who collaborated with Polanski on the film script, has previously worked with the director and said this kind of material is perfect for him, because she considers him a master at helming films that unfold within a confined space.

“I think he’s one of the best in the world for that. A lot of his former movies are set in close quarters. He also has a great sense of humor that he has made use of in the past, although not very much in his last movies. In addition, he is an expert at directing actors when they’re portraying people in a state of crisis. So, when he asked me if I would consent to making the play into a movie, I immediately thought, ‘Who could do it better than he?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ ”

There are no Jewish elements in the film, but both Reza and Polanski are of Jewish descent. Polanski, born in Paris in 1933, was raised in Kraków, Poland, and as a child was forced into the city’s Jewish ghetto following the Nazi invasion. His youthful experiences during the war were horrific; his father survived the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, but his mother died at Auschwitz. Polanski was sometimes hidden by various Catholic peasant families and at other times had to wander the Polish countryside, trying to remain alive on his own. He was barely 12 when the war ended.

Reza’s family was much luckier. “Thank God, my family was not victimized during the Holocaust. My father’s parents were Iranian and could pass as Muslim. They were sent to Drancy, which was a camp, but they survived. My maternal grandparents, from Budapest, were very influential and assimilated Jews. They had the means to buy their survival.”

“Carnage” begins its Los Angeles run Dec. 16.


Juan Pujol Garcia is “Garbo: The Spy.” Photo courtesy of Ikiru Films

The World War II years and a little-known double agent are the focus of the documentary “Garbo: The Spy.” The film chronicles the adventures of Juan Pujol Garcia, a Spaniard who offered his services to British Intelligence during the war, but was repeatedly rebuffed. He then volunteered to spy for the Nazis, convincing them that he had access to valuable information about the Allies through a global network of informants that was, in reality, totally fictitious. Under the code name Alaric, he fed the Germans outdated or false information.

Eventually, the British recognized Pujol’s masterful ruse and recruited him, giving him the code name Garbo because he was so adroit at playing a role. His most noteworthy accomplishment was his success convincing the Germans that the Allied invasion of Normandy was merely a diversion, and that the real invasion was planned for Calais, thereby causing the Nazis to concentrate the bulk of their forces in the wrong location.

Though the Nazis lost the war, they awarded their spy Alaric (Pujol) the Iron Cross, one of that regime’s highest honors. As Garbo, Pujol also received the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire), making him the only person in World War II to be honored by both the Allies and the Nazis.

“Garbo: The Spy” opens Nov. 25.


Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller in “The Artist.” Photo courtesy of the Weinstein Co.

From the thousands of words involved in being an informant, we move to the wordlessness of the silent black-and-white film “The Artist,” which hearkens back to Hollywood in 1927, when talking pictures were first making their appearance.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a vain, self-centered silent-film star. He meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) a young, ambitious extra, and gets her a job in one of his films, over the objections of producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman). Talkies are taking over the film industry, and Peppy ultimately becomes a major star, just as George’s career spirals downward.

“The theme is about someone who has to face a transition,” explained filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, “and I think that’s an issue that’s much larger than just what’s happening in the movie industry. I think this is a new issue. I believe that, before the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the world didn’t change very much in the span of a person’s lifetime.

“Now it’s very different, starting, I think, from the beginning of the 20th century. By that time, if you were born into a certain world, you died in a very, very different world, and that means we all have to face some changes, many times, and we have to adapt ourselves to those changes.”

Hazanavicius also intended his movie to pay homage to the classical Hollywood film period, which was the era of industry pioneers, most of them Jewish. The filmmaker, who is Jewish, said that while the religion of the characters is not really germane to his story, he gave the name of Zimmer to the character of the producer to suggest the man’s ethnicity.

“But, also, some of the greatest people who built Hollywood were Jewish, and they were not just the moguls. I’m thinking, for example, of Billy Wilder or Ernst Lubitsch, and a lot of other directors. In addition, and this is really important, there were the composers: Bernstein, Steiner, Franz Waxman. A lot of these guys came from Eastern Europe, and they were Jewish. There’s something about the music of Hollywood that is deeply Jewish and Eastern European. We took this reference, and I think you can feel that flavor in our music.” 

“The Artist” is scheduled to open Nov. 25.


From Hollywood, we move to the Middle East with two films from Iran.

Tahereh Azadi as Katie in “Dog Sweat.” Photo courtesy of Deluxe Art Films

Director Hossein Keshavarz went underground at great risk to shoot “Dog Sweat,” which reveals aspects of a youth culture lived in secret rebellion against the strictures of fundamentalist Islamic society. The film depicts the lives of six such youths, including a feminist engaged in a clandestine affair with her cousin’s husband, a gay man in an arranged marriage with a woman who has been recording illegal pop songs, two lovers looking for a place in which to consummate their relationship, and a man whose mother has been killed in a car accident violently confronting fundamentalists who are listening to religious music.

Keshavarz, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., frequently traveled to Iran with his parents when he was a child, and lived there from 2006 to 2009. He said he made the movie to show what he described as the real face of Iran.

“The images we see of Iran are distorted. Outside Iran, the country is often seen as a threat — a nation of fundamentalists. Inside Iran, because of censorship, films feature idealized Islamic families that don’t really exist, or parable films that show life in faraway villages. But Iran is mostly urban — Tehran is a city of 20 million people. Whenever I come back to New York, I find it absolutely tranquil. It is also a very young country, with two-thirds of the population under the age of 35. The majority of the country is well educated, urban and young. Living in Iran is full of contradictions — yes, there are a lot of restrictions — but there is also a lot of life.”

“It was very difficult making the film,” Keshavarz continued, “and we had to be with whom we trusted. There are many great Iranian filmmakers and artists in jail because of their works, with Jafar Panahi being the most prominent example. 

“There were several close calls that we thankfully escaped. The danger of filming was always hovering around us, and we just had to get used to it. Making the film underground also presented us with a host of more mundane problems, because we didn’t have the control over production that you’d normally have doing a film.” 

When asked how these rebels view the United States, the filmmaker replied that young people in Iran have very favorable attitudes toward America.

“They consume American culture: TV shows, movies and music, you name it. This puts them at odds with the government, which spouts a steady stream of anti-American rhetoric.”

As for their feelings toward Jews, Keshavarz said, “there is a large population of Iranian Jews. The history of Iranian Jews is an ancient one. It dates back to when the king of the Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, overthrew the Babylonian empire in the sixth century B.C. and allowed the Jews, who were in captivity, to return to their native lands. The Persian kingdom is historically known to be very tolerant. Actually, the first known declaration of human rights — the Cyrus Cylinder — was proclaimed by Cyrus the Great over two and a half millennia ago, and it still exists and can be seen at the British Museum.”

He added: “Due to this history, people, by and large, have positive images of Jews. Their attitude toward Israel is more complicated; many people criticize Israel because of what they feel is the country’s unfair treatment of the Palestinians.”

“Dog Sweat” opened Nov. 18.


Leila Hatami (left) as Simin and Peyman Moaadi as Nader in “A Separation.” Photo by Habib Madjidi ©, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The fallout that occurs from the disintegration of a marriage is at the heart of the second Iranian film, “A Separation,” which depicts a slice of modern-day life in that country. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to leave Iran to assure a better future for her daughter (Sarina Farhadi). She tries to obtain a divorce after her husband, Nader (Peyman Moaadi), refuses to go because he has to care for his father (Ali-Ashgar Shahbazi), who suffers from Alzheimer’s. 

When Simin leaves the home, Nader hires a woman (Sareh Bayat) to help with his father, but a cascading series of events forces them all to become adversaries before the law.

The juxtaposition of up-to-date conveniences, including home appliances and new automobiles, with traditional practices, such as wearing headscarves and paying “blood money” as reparation for an injury, is particularly noteworthy. So is the rather old-fashioned depiction of legal hearings, presided over by a judge in ordinary clothes, during which the opposing parties address him directly, while squabbling vehemently with each other. Also significant is the more fundamentalist orientation of the working class as opposed to that of the middle class.

The movie is scheduled to open Dec. 30.


Two additional films worthy of mention are examined in more detail elsewhere in this issue.

“A Dangerous Method,” opening Nov. 23, explores the turbulent, questionable relationships between psychiatrist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender); his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen); and his onetime patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who herself became a psychoanalyst.

Finally, “In Darkness,” from director Agnieszka Holland, tells the true story of Jews who try to flee the destruction of the ghetto in Lvov, Poland, and pay a sewer worker (Robert Wieckiewicz) to hide them underneath the city. In the course of the ensuing catastrophes, the worker undergoes a profound change. The film is slated for a Dec. 9 release.

Suicide bomb in Jerusalem kills 10


JERUSALEM, Jan. 29 (JTA) — “How will I find anyone alive?” the 21-year-old
security guard asked as he broke down the door and climbed onto the charred
ruins of bus no. 19, stepping over body parts and choking on the smell of
burned flesh.

Then Nir Azouly spotted a young woman with dark curly hair slumped in her
seat, her face and eyes drenched in blood. She was breathing, and he moved
aside the body at her feet to pick her up and carry her off the bus.

Azouly kept going in after that, pulling out five people — including a teenage
boy stuck between seats — from the tangled carnage of the bus that had been
full of morning commuters.

At least 10 people were killed and dozens were wounded in Thursday
morning’s suicide bombing in Rehavia, a quaint residential neighborhood of
the capital. The bomber left a note calling the attack revenge for Israel’s killing
of five terrorists and three bystanders in a Gaza Strip raid the day before.

“There was a huge fireball and the bus went up in flames,” eyewitness
Meshulam Perlman, a florist, told reporters. The blast scattered debris and
body parts as far as the prime minister’s official residence, though Ariel
Sharon was at his Negev Desert ranch at the time.

The Al-Aksa Brigade, part of the PLO’s mainstream Fatah movement, claimed
responsibility for the attack. The United States, United Nations and European
Union all condemned the attack.

Terrorists “have once again stuck a blow against the aspirations of the
Palestinian people,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said.

The attack came a day after Israel killed eight Palestinians — five members of
Islamic Jihad and three bystanders — in gun battles in the Gaza Strip.

Thursday’s attack also clouded a landmark prisoner exchange between Israel
and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, brokered by Germany.

Azouly and another security guard were the first ones on the bus moments
after it exploded on a street lined with cafes and flower shops.

“I saw a lot in the army, but what I saw today there are no words for,” said
Azouly, who was released from a paratrooper unit just over two months ago.

He is a security guard on Jerusalem’s city buses and had been traveling on a
no. 19 bus in the opposite direction when he heard the thunderous rip of the
other bus exploding.

Azouly jumped off and ran the 10 yards to the bombed-out bus.

Identifying the bodies has been a slow process, said Tal Malovec,
spokeswoman for the Jerusalem municipality, because the bodies are in such
bad condition. She said the blast was especially powerful.

“I mostly saw bodies in pieces. It was hard to identify what I was seeing,”
Azouly said. “The bus was full of smoke. There was a stench of bodies and
death.”

Among the passengers was Victor Chaim. He had just stepped onto the bus at
the previous stop and was looking for a seat when the explosion occurred.
Chaim was hurled backward and injured both his legs lightly. Someone pulled
him out of the bus, dragging him by his jacket.

“It was chaos. The people in front of me were not moving,” he said, “and the
silence after the explosion was incredible.”

Chaim, 41, who immigrated from France a year ago, said the bombing would
not shake his determination to stay.

“I want to stay in Israel. This is my life here, in this land,” Chaim said, speaking
from his bed at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.

As if timed to ratchet up regional tensions, the bombing came just as Israeli
forensic scientists were in Cologne confirming that three bodies recovered
from Lebanon were soldiers killed in a border ambush in October 2000. Also
repatriated was an Israeli businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was
abducted by Hezbollah shortly afterward.

The forensic team’s findings gave the green light for Israel to free some 435
Arab security prisoners. Many Palestinians who gathered to meet their
liberated kinsmen in the West Bank carried yellow Hezbollah flags, a mark of
the prestige the swap bestowed on the Lebanese group.

Freed Lebanese prisoners received a hero’s welcome in a ceremony in Beirut.

Tannenbaum and the bodies of the dead soldiers arrived back in Israel on
Thursday evening. The coffins of the soldiers, draped in Israeli flags, were on
display in a hangar at the base, where several hundred people gathered for a
state ceremony.

Tannenbaum will be questioned by intelligence officials about how he ended
up in Hezbollah hands, Ha’aretz reported. After his arrival, he spent time with
his family and then was taken for a medical examination.

Many Israelis worried that the swap would encourage terrorist groups to
kidnap more Israelis and hold them for ransom.

“We will grind our teeth at the almost unbearably heavy price we are paying for
captives both alive and dead, and we will also wilt with worry that the
wholesale release of terrorists will brings waves of attacks in its wake,” the
editor in chief of Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, Amnon Dankner, wrote in a
front-page opinion piece.

In fact, Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned that Israel would
regret its refusal to release Samir Kuntar, a terrorist who murdered an Israeli
family in a particularly gruesome attack in 1979.

In future kidnappings, Nasrallah said, every effort would be made to keep the
Israelis alive — making them more valuable as ransom.

Sharon, speaking at the state military ceremony for the dead soldiers, said
Israel would resort to more extreme measures if terrorists made a practice of
kidnapping Israelis.

Sharon called the decision to go through with the exchange “a Jewish
decision,” adding that Israel would make every effort to bring home other
missing Israelis — an apparent reference to Ron Arad, an Israel Air Force
navigator who has been missing since he bailed out of his fighter jet over
Lebanon in 1986.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Thursday that any
retaliation for the morning’s bus bombing would be muted — possibly in a nod
to two U.S. envoys, John Wolf and David Satterfield, who were in the region to
try to shore up the U.S.-led “road map” peace plan.

Instead, Jerusalem mounted a media offensive, running graphic bombing
photographs on the Foreign Ministry Web site and citing the attack as proof of
the need for a West Bank security fence.

“This hideous attack is another indication that Palestinian terrorists have not
missed a beat in their complete dedication for striking at Israelis in the heart of
their own cities,” David Baker, of the Prime Minister’s Office, told JTA. “If anyone
has not been convinced of the necessity of the security fence, they need only
look at the pictures.”

In another grim twist of fate, the bombing interrupted an international
Jerusalem symposium on the resurgence of international hostility toward
Zionism and Jews, drawing an usually heated condemnation from the U.S.
ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, who was in attendance.

“It is a cruel irony that during the midst of a conference focused on ways of
dealing with the problems of anti-Semitism, we are reminded of it in such a
horrific manner,” Kurtzer said in his address.

At Hadassah hospital, the intensive-care unit was full, and it was one of those
busy mornings where staff had been wondering how they would cope with all
their patients. Then news of the bombing arrived, and then the victims.

The emergency staff — veterans of the many bombings that have plagued the
city — went into full action, treating injured who arrived in blood-soaked
stretchers.

The staffs at Hadassah and Shaarei Zedek, the other main hospital where the
injured were sent, dealt mostly with blast and other internal injuries, broken
limbs and cuts from metal pieces.

Reporters waited for photographs outside the emergency room and guards
manned the hospital entrance as hospital workers tried to make order amid
the chaos.

“We’ve seen too much,” said Irit Yagen, chief nurse, who was worried about
recruiting extra staff for Sabbath shifts.

Patients piled in — one with broken limbs, another with a blasted lung.

In one bed, Shalom Zaken, 54, the bus driver, said his head hurt and he
couldn’t hear. He had seen nothing unusual, he said.

Next to him, security guard Azouly was injured from lifting the wounded. His
mother already was waiting in the hospital when he arrived.

Azouly said he wanted to know the status of the woman he pulled from the bus.

“I don’t know where she is. I want to know how she is doing and I hope to see
her,” he said. “I hope she is alive.”

Our Heroes and Theirs


Last night’s terror struck close to home. The boom of the blast at Cafe Hillel on Emek Refaim shook the windows of our house and left no doubt that we were hit again — this time in our own neighborhood. Our son, Yossi, was on the phone with his brother, Momo, asking when he would be back so they could watch another DVD episode of "24," the addictive series about terrorism. Momo was crossing Emek Refaim, which is two blocks from our house, and they both heard the blast. Momo, 16, a trained paramedic with Magen David Adom, took out his plastic gloves, which he keeps in his school backpack, and began to run the block to the cafe to help with the injured. Yossi ran out the door with my wife, Jane, to go get Momo. (For more on the bombing, see page 24.)

Momo was one of the first to arrive at the scene. As he described it later, it was a scene straight out of Dante or Eli Wiesel. Victims were screaming and strewn about. A group of bystanders was attempting to put out a fire that was consuming a man. Amputated legs and arms were lying in pools of blood. A man’s head was in the middle of the street.

Momo acted according to the training he received this summer from a course designed to teach him how to handle these kind of events. As soon as the lead ambulance arrived, he was told whom to evacuate and he helped carry the injured on stretchers. Within 10 minutes it was over, and the amazing Israeli emergency medical teams had again acted with alacrity and professionalism. His mother and brother found him covered with victims’ blood and walked him home.

I was in the office when the blast hit, and was frantic with worry because I could not find anyone by phone. Finally, I got a call from my Yossi telling me that our family was OK and that we would meet at home.

Getting home and seeing your son’s clothes splattered with blood of a terror attack is a parental experience I will not forget. The relief of seeing him unhurt mixed together with the pain, outrage and grief of an attack so close to home. After Momo showered, we watched on TV the surreal scenes of our amazing and beautiful neighborhood hit, hurt and bleeding. Momo was curled up with his dog, Lucy, hugging her and trying to regain some semblance of normalcy. A 16-year-old boy, having done his heroic work and having seen scenes that one should never see, trying to return to what’s left of his adolescence.

We watched the scenes of jubilation in Gaza, with thousands of Palestinians taking to the streets in spontaneous celebration, delirious with joy at the "quality" attacks. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and others praised the "bravery" of the suicide bombers and shouted their satisfaction. He in particular mentioned the "great" Abu Shnab, the "engineer" of dozens of Israeli deaths whose own death was now avenged.

I was struck by the contrast between the two societies: Our heroes were out on Emek Refaim fighting to save lives, to practice emergency medicine, to reduce casualties; their heroes were sowing death and destruction, their engineering was the science of terror.

This morning, as the bright Jerusalem sun came up again over our neighborhood, most of the outward signs of destruction had been washed away and cleaned up. Despite the continued terror alerts and torrent of news about yesterday’s attacks, our children needed to go to school; we needed to get on with our lives. But the news contained more bitter tidings. Among the dead in last nights blast was Dr. David Applebaum, 51, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and his daughter Nava, 20. Nava was due to be married tonight in a joyous wedding of 500 guests. David Applebaum, a native of Cleveland, was a fixture in Jerusalem’s medical scene, having treated hundreds of terror victims. He had just returned from New York, where he addressed a symposium on Mass Casualty Medicine at NYU Downtown Hospital near Ground Zero. He was the founder of Terem, Jerusalem’s private emergency medical clinic, and he was my best friend’s partner. He was a learned man, a kind man, a tzadik. He was a true hero of Jerusalem.

I am letting Momo "sleep in" this morning. I tried to wake him, but he said he needed some more sleep. His teacher just called to say that he heard from Momo’s friends that he had a "tough night" and was among the first on the terror scene. He suggested that after we attend this morning’s funeral for Applebaum and his daughter that I take him to school, so he can be with his friends and talk about what has happened. My son and his friends, true heroes of Jerusalem.


Los Angeles native Jonathan Medved is the founder of Israel Seed Partners, a venture capital fund, and resides with his family in Jerusalem.

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