An Oscar overview of all things Semitic

How foreign volunteers fought to get the fledgling Israeli Air Force off the ground and the antics of the Last of the Red Hot Mamas are two of the storylines explored by documentary filmmakers vying for a 2016 Oscar.

Of the 124 documentary features competing in a category that usually plays second fiddle to Hollywood blockbusters and glamorous stars, at least 10 percent deal with themes or personalities of special interest to Jewish (and pro-Semitic) viewers.

In “Above and Beyond,” archival footage and interviews re-create the tense days of 1948, when pilots, navigators, bombardiers and radio operators from English-speaking countries smuggled in and flew planes to form the nucleus of the Israeli Air Force.

The emphasis is on a different war and mood in “Censored Voices,” in which Israeli soldiers who fought in the Six-Day War talk about their experiences immediately after returning to their kibbutzim in 1967.

Far from boasting about their miraculous victory over the forces of five Arab nations, the returning veterans dwell mainly on the brutalizing effect of war on the victors.

The British documentary “Amy” probes the life and early death of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, described by her brother as “a little Jewish kid from North London with a big talent.”

Her meteoric career and tortured life was cut short at 27 through drug abuse and alcohol poisoning.

Among the greatest gifts Jewish immigrants brought to the New World is the old-time deli, and the film “Deli Man” proves it by touring some of the best establishments from Broadway to Hollywood to Montreal.

David “Ziggy” Gruber runs Kenny & Ziggy’s, in the documentary “Deli Man.” Photo courtesey of Cohen Media Group

“The Diplomat” honors the career of the late U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who, despite his Anglo last name, was the son of Jewish refugees from Germany and Poland. In the greatest achievement of his distinguished service, Holbrooke brokered the 1995 peace treaty among warring factions in the Balkans.

Jan Karski was a Polish Catholic and resistance fighter who sneaked into the Warsaw Ghetto to witness for himself the fate of Jews under Nazi rule. “Karski and the Lords of Humanity” tracks his desperate mission to convince British and American leaders, including a face-to-face meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that unless they took action, the Jews of Europe would be exterminated.

“The Outrageous Sophie Tucker” chronicles the ups and downs of the title character, who transformed herself from immigrant girl Sonya Kalish into America’s top female entertainer in the 1930s. She got her start singing for the patrons of her parents’ kosher deli, before hitting the big time as the Last of the Red Hot Mamas.

As confidante of a who’s-who of Israeli prime ministers, Yehuda Avner has literally written the book on the country’s leadership and diplomacy. His writings yielded the earlier film “The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers,” which has now been followed up by the documentary “The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers,” focusing on the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres.

 “Rosenwald” honors the life and works of Julius Rosenwald, a son of German-Jewish immigrants and a high school dropout, who rose to become the head of Sears, Roebuck and Co. He spent a large part of his fortune on funding thousands of schools for Black students in the Jim Crow South of the early 1900s.

Henry Schoenker was born in the Polish town of Oswiecim, which the German occupiers renamed Auschwitz, and was the only member of his extended family to survive the Holocaust. Now deaf but unimpaired in voice and memory, he tells of fleeing from one hiding place to another in “The Touch of an Angel.” Amid a world indifference to the fate of Jews, Schoenker also encountered heroic strangers who risked their own lives to save those of hunted strangers.

Some Palestinian filmmakers apparently have realized that the absurd may cut even deeper than a knife. Based on an actual incident, “The Wanted 18” tells the story of an Arab village in Israel that decides to stop buying milk from Jews by purchasing 18 cows to make “intifada milk.” When some Israeli authorities declare the cows a national security threat, the villagers hide the animals.

The documentary is a Palestinian-Canadian co-production, created by Muslim, Christian and Jewish filmmakers.

Hans Frank and Otto von Wachter were Hitler’s two top deputies in Poland, responsible for the killing of millions of Jews and Poles. In the film “What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy,” human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, himself raised by survivors, takes the sons — Niklas Frank and Horst von Wachter — back to the scenes of their fathers’ crimes and witnesses their different reactions.

In addition to the longer feature documentaries listed, a separate Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences category applies to short documentaries. The list of 74 entries already has been whittled down to 10 semifinalists, including “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah.”

In the short, French director Lanzmann dissects the making of his epic, 9 1/2-hour documentary, “Shoah,” which was 11 years in the making and was released in 1985.

The Journal will, in a follow-up article, survey some of the foreign-language films submitted by 81 countries competing for Oscar honors.

The 88th Academy Award nominations will be announced on Jan. 14. The Oscar winners will deliver their acceptance remarks on the evening of Feb. 28.

The Israel Film Festival gives locals a glimpse of Israel’s soul

The Israel Film Festival (IFF), which annually gives viewers a close-up of the nation’s heartbeat beneath the glaring headlines, has been set for Oct. 23 through Nov. 6.

A red carpet opening-night gala at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on Oct. 23 will be followed a week later by a Centerpiece Community Event at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills on Oct. 30. Primary venues for the 28th annual festival are the Laemmle theaters in Beverly Hills, North Hollywood and Encino.

Included are feature films, long and short documentaries, as well as short, small-budget and student films, but with a special twist, Meir Fenigstein, the festival’s founding director, told the Journal in a phone call from Israel.

The Israel Academy for Film and Television, similar to its big sister academy in Hollywood, announces a long list of nominees in numerous categories in the run-up to the glitzy awards night.

The nominees will be announced Sept. 21 in Israel and Fenigstein said he hopes to get the rights to show as many of the nominated films as possible at the Los Angeles Israel Film Festival.

Only then will he be able to announce the titles of the selected IFF films.

Traditionally, the IFF is held in the spring of each year in Los Angeles, but this year had to be delayed after Fenigstein underwent surgery in Israel in March. He said he is making an excellent recovery and will be on-hand for the fest’s Los Angeles opening. Fenigstein and his family have returned to their native Israel as their main residence.

Because of the recent Gaza-based fighting, this has been a difficult year for the Israeli film industry, Fenigstein noted.

Currently, there are two trends in the Israeli filmmaking industry, he observed. One indicates less emphasis on movies about the Israel-Palestinian conflict and more interest in personal stories, particularly those centering on the hardships and experiences of the Jewish communities in Israel originating in Arab countries and Iran.

According to Fenigstein, an increasing number of these so-called Mizrahi Jews are pointing out that the struggles of their communities are largely unknown, in contrast to the flow of Holocaust-centered movies, picturing the sufferings of predominantly Ashkenazi Jews.

Customarily, Los Angeles, Miami and New York have annually hosted Israeli film fests. But because of Fenigstein’s surgery and recuperation period, the New York screenings have been eliminated for this year, while the Miami event has been postponed until close to Chanukah.

For updates on the Los Angeles festival events and schedule, visit

A season of documentaries

This autumn offers a boutique collection of documentaries with wide-ranging and enticing themes. Two of them, in particular, stand out.

“Bobby Fischer Against the World” chronicles the controversial life of the man widely acknowledged to be the greatest chess player of all time. 

The film traces Fischer’s journey from his childhood in Brooklyn during the 1950s, when he taught himself to play chess at age 6, through his unbroken winning streak against a series of chess champions, his elevation to world champion status, his subsequent lapse into seclusion and eventual flight from U.S. justice, and, ultimately, his death in 2008 at the age of 64.

What emerges is a portrait of an enigmatic, contradictory individual whose addiction to chess developed during a difficult childhood. Fischer was raised by a single mother who was an active communist and was often absent from the home. Although widely admired for his singular ability, he was considered by many to be isolated, arrogant and even mad. He was given to paranoia, particularly in later life, when he would rant and rave against the United States and the Jews, though he himself was Jewish, a fact he vehemently denied.

For director Liz Garbus, Fischer’s life is archetypal. “Bobby Fischer exemplifies the great American rise-and-fall story,” she said in a recent interview.  “He is a rich and complex subject into which a filmmaker can really sink her teeth.”

Garbus added, “Bobby was an obsessive, monomaniacal person who, from the age of 6, developed very little of himself other than as a chess player. I think it was that monomaniacal devotion to one thing, and one thing only, to the exclusion of all else, that really defined his character.”

The film contains archival news footage, including interviews with Fischer, as well as the director’s recent interviews with people who knew the icon and who provide varying perspectives on his paradoxical nature.  Among her interviewees is Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser and intervened at one point in 1972 when Fischer won the 24-game World Championship match against Russian competitor Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The competition had far-reaching political implications, as the Soviets had long held the world chess title and considered it proof of the intellectual superiority of Russia over the United States. That image was shattered with Fischer’s defeat of Spassky, making the American, in Garbus’ words, “a Cold War superstar.”

After his victory at Reykjavik, Fischer virtually dropped out of sight, only to surface some 20 years later, when he played a rematch against Spassky in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, defying United Nations sanctions against that country. As a result, he became a fugitive for more than 10 years to avoid being imprisoned in the United States. He ultimately landed in Iceland, the only country to offer him sanctuary.  His ravings against America and the Jews had become so virulent and uncontrollable that, by the time of his death, he had alienated most of his closest friends. 

The documentary opens Sept. 23.

Jamie Fidler with a student, as seen in “American Teacher.” Photo courtesy First Run Features

From an examination of genius and madness against the background of the chess world, we move to an exploration of the teaching profession in this country. Unlike last year’s film, “Waiting for Superman,” which blamed teachers and their unions for our failing public schools, “American Teacher” views the state of our schools from the perspective of the classroom teacher.

“I realized that this was a group of people who are scapegoated and misunderstood,” said filmmaker Vanessa Roth, “when, really, the way we value teachers is so antiquated, as though the job is sort of a hobby and not completely essential.” 

To personalize the challenges faced by today’s public school teachers, the narrative focuses on four of them from different areas of the country. They are shown struggling to make ends meet on an insufficient salary, often having to buy supplies with their own money, taking work home and even taking on second and third jobs to support a household, trying to balance parenthood with the demands of the job, and sometimes seeing their marriage dissolve due to the difficulties surrounding their work.

“One thing the film makes very clear,” Roth said, “is that salary is a huge piece of this puzzle; too many teachers just can’t afford to stay in teaching, whether they are single or have a family, but especially once they do have a family. The percentage of teachers that leave within the first five years is just incredible. Teachers also leave because they have to deal with a lack of support, a lack of resources and insufficient training.”

Roth, who comes from a Jewish family, said her paternal grandparents both taught at the university level. “Until he passed away, my grandpa would tutor people in English and would help people get their passports and pass immigration tests. Education was the center of everything that was important, as were learning, intellect and reading.”

Roth added that she is saddened by the fact that her grandparents never got to see “American Teacher” because she believes the film would have made them proud.

“Whether or not it has to do with being Jewish, what I think would have interested them is that, while the film talks about policy and practice, it’s really about the people whose lives are affected by those policy choices. My grandparents would have taken that discussion and figured out what has to happen. The film is one that can promote a really engaging conversation and, hopefully, inspire people to take action and make some changes.”

“American Teacher” begins its run Sept. 30.

Three additional documentaries deserve mention:

“There Was Once …” centers on Catholic teacher Gyöngyi Mago in Kalocsa, Hungary, who marked the 65th anniversary of the local Jewish ghetto’s destruction and the deportation of its inhabitants to concentration camps by arranging a memorial service that takes place as a nearby neo-Nazi protest is being staged. The movie, opening Sept. 23, is directed by Holocaust survivor Gabor Kalman from Kalocsa.

“Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace,” opening Oct. 14, takes down the media blackout to reveal, for the first time, the people behind the scenes who engineered the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords and treaty between Israel and Egypt. 

Finally, those who are interested in the World War II era will enjoy Edmon Roch’s “Garbo the Spy,” which opens Nov. 18, and tells the story of Juan Pujol Garcia, who posed as a Nazi spy but was, in reality, working for the Allies.  He was the only man to be decorated by both sides.

The ‘Boys’ at the Front


Werner Angress was attached to a U.S. paratroop platoon winging behind German lines on D-Day, when the sergeant told him he’d be the first to jump.

“But I’ve never jumped before in my life,” Angress protested.

“That’s OK,” the sergeant said, “the newest guy always goes first.”

Angress was one of “The Ritchie Boys,” a special Army unit made up mainly of young Jewish refugees from Germany, whose World War II exploits have been recorded for the first time in a documentary by German filmmaker Christian Bauer.

The German-Canadian co-production is one of 12 documentaries still in competition for Academy Award honors.

The Ritchie Boys got their names from Camp Ritchie in Maryland, where the ex-refugees reported for duty at the Military Intelligence Training Camp.

From the beaches of Normandy until the end of the war, the men served on and behind the front lines as interrogators, psychological warriors, authors of anti-Nazi leaflets and broadcasts, experts on the inner workings of the German war machine and liberators of concentration camps.

Urging German soldiers to surrender from trucks equipped with loudspeakers, they became a favorite target of enemy artillery, but they encountered their greatest danger in the Battle of the Bulge.

During a last desperate push, the Wehrmacht infiltrated English-speaking German soldiers in GI uniforms into the U.S. lines. The infiltrators often spoke English with the same German accent as the boys.

In the heat of the battle, the Ritchie boys were likely to be shot by their fellow GIs or, worse, by the Germans.

Ten of the Ritchie veterans, now mostly in their 80s, recall their experiences in the 90-minute film,

Not all the recollections are grim. With the fall of Berlin, some of the boys concocted a story that they had captured Hitler’s personal toilet and latrine orderly, which made headlines across the world.

“The Ritchie Boys” documentary adds a little known chapter to the story of Jewish service in the fight against Nazi tyranny.

For more information, visit


Polito-tainment: Movies as Diatribes

When Canadian Jewish filmmaker Mark Achbar decided which talking heads would discuss business history in his new, capitalist-critiquing film, “The Corporation,” the lineup was a quartet of four Jewish left intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.

“And that wasn’t done consciously,” Achbar told The Journal by telephone from his Vancouver home. “It’s just that these happened to be the most articulate spokespersons for this critique.”

“The Corporation” is part of a summer of left-of-center political and anti-corporate documentaries, some by Jewish filmmakers, who have found boosted audiences after the success of Michael Moore’s anti-Bush film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” This Friday sees the Los Angeles debut of producer-director Robert Greenwald’s Bush foreign policy critique, “Uncovered: The War In Iraq,” at the Landmark in West Los Angeles and at Laemmle theaters in Encino and Pasadena.

“People are responding to them in that they’re doing a remarkable amount of business,” said Ray Price, Landmark head of marketing. “There are times in which showing political films can be like trying to offer free leprosy; people just go away. You have people booking them for normal business reasons, because at the moment it’s very viable in the market.”

“The Corporation” and “Uncovered” join similar films on Laemmle and Landmark screens, Southern California’s main documentary film homes. Laemmle screens have been showing, “The Hunting of the President,” about some conservatives’ long campaign against President Bill Clinton. On Sept. 24, Landmark shows MGM’s R-rated documentary, “The Yes Men,” about two anti-corporate activists pulling pranks at global trade conferences. On Aug. 20, two Laemmle theaters began screening, “Imelda,” about the Philippines’ infamous first lady, Imelda Marcos, and Sept. 10 has Laemmle’s Music Hall theater debut of the Zinn biography, “Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.” This month, two Laemmle theaters are showing the anti-Bush comedy, “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” and opening Sept. 3 at three more Laemmle theaters is the documentary, “Bush’s Brain,” about White House adviser Karl Rove.

Art house theaters, said Laemmle president Greg Laemmle, can be a venue for leftists and progressives who feel shut out by more conservative-driven talk radio.

“It can’t come close to the penetration that the right-wing point of view has on talk radio,” Laemmle said. “So the left wing point of view finds this forum to make a point and reach a market.”

Because many of his Southern California theaters are in heavily Democratic areas with noteworthy Jewish populations, Landmark’s Price knows it makes sense, on the weekend before the Republican National Convention, to use the Westside’s Nuart Theater for a midnight screening of “Bob Roberts,” actor Tim Robbins’ 1992 political satire.

“We service, in large, a particular constituency, which tends to be a very liberal, Jewish left-leaning audience,” Price said. “In general, our audience has a certain set of values; we do well when we cater to those values.”

But problems can arise with left-of-center political documentaries finding audiences beyond Westside liberals.

“The dilemma here is that there is a dynamic between speculation and progressive criticism, which is then converted into claims of fact by a vast audience of conspiracy mongers,” said Chip Berlet, an analyst at Boston’s Political Research Associates, which tracks far-right extremism and conspiracy theories.

“They’ll take a claim that is in the Michael Moore film; suddenly it’s a proven fact and they build layer on layer. It’s a dynamic of piggybacking on speculative films,” said Berlet, adding that conspiracy theories eventually involve some anti-Israel or anti-Semitic sentiments. “Where conspiracism flourishes; anti-Semitism flourishes.”

Conservative Jewish and Israel-allied non-Jewish filmmakers also are finding homes for their films — not on the Westside but in Dallas. Longtime Los Angeles filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd’s 2003 Showtime documentary, “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis,” on the nine days between Sept. 11 and Bush’s Sept. 20 national address, will be shown at the Sept. 10-12 American Film Renaissance festival in Texas.

Under a festival logo of “Doing Film the Right Way,” Chetwynd’s film joins other conservative-fueled documentaries, such as, “George W. Bush: Faith in the White House,” “Beyond the Passion of the Christ: The Impact,” plus both “Michael Moore Hates America” and “Michael and Me,” the latter by pro-Israel radio talk show host Larry Elder. But that one conservative film festival contrasts with the often well-funded, generally left-of-center independent film festival circuit from influential Sundance to small college town venues.

“We don’t have a George Soros,” Chetwynd said of life as a conservative documentarian. “We don’t have someone with messianic zeal. Republicans raise their money in small amounts by large numbers of donors. Republicans are very lame in terms of understanding the power of popular culture and film. They approach political debate in a very sober fashion. The problem is not finding a distributor once you get the film; the problem is getting there. It may be a plastic medium, but it’s very expensive plastic.”

For more information, visit and

7 Days In Arts


Laemmle Theatres serves up more Jewish documentariesthis weekend under the banner of their cleverly titled screening series “Bagelsand Docs.” At Laemmle Monica, early risers can catch “Undying Love,” a film thatrecounts the stories of young couples whose relationships were affected by WorldWar II. “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good,” and “Ruthie and Connie: Every Roomin the House” will also be shown as part of the morning screening series thisweekend, at the Laemmle Fallbrook and Sunset 5, respectively. Bagels notincluded.



Short and stout? Think again. Encouraging a reexamination of such houseware stereotypes, Long Beach Museum of Art unveils its new exhibition today, “Teapots Everywhere.” Designs by Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring are just two of the more than 250 mold-breaking variations featured in the show. Other contributors include Cindy Sherman, Ron Nagle and Tony Marsh, promising kettles in every size, shape and material imaginable.11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday). Runs through Sept. 14. $5 (general), $4 (students and seniors), free (children under 12 and for everyone on the first Friday of the month). 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. (562) 439-2119.”Mona Lisa/Van Gogh” by Noi Volkoy.


Zehava Ben lends her unique voice and singing style totwo new CDs that manage to feature many of the same Israeli standards and, atthe same time, sound completely different. In “Beit Avi” (“My Father’s House”)Ben is accompanied by the Symphonic Orchestra of Hadera, lending a soulful,classic Mediterranean sound to songs like “Hanasich Hakatan” (“The LittlePrince”) and “Zemer Noge” (“Sentimental Tune”). In “Laroz Variations,” Ben’spairing with top Israeli electronic music producer Haim Laroz adds trance beatsfor a world-fusion treatment of those same melodies and others. $15-$17.



The tale begins when Ivy League-educated Richard Rubin takes a job as a reporter in the small Mississippi town of Greenwood. Part coming-of-age story, part courtroom drama, “Confederacy of Silence: A True Tale of the New Old South” dispels some assumptions about the New South just as it corroborates others, and is out in paperback this month.Atria Books, $14.


Do you aspire to hobnob, but can’t afford thegrand-a-plate dinners quite yet? Benefiting Lifeline to Argentina, an emergencyrelief project that helps Argentine Jews, Charity Stars sponsors an artexhibition and wine tasting on the beach in Santa Monica. At $25 a ticket (inadvance), it’s a good deed you can afford, plus excellent preparation forplayers-in-training. 7:30-10:30 p.m. $25 (in advance), $35 (at the door).Hamilton Galleries, 1431 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (310) 936-5674



Grab a date and head out for good jazz and good food tonight. Steve March Torme (as in Mel Torme’s offspring) performs at The Vic in Santa Monica, the upstairs part of the romantic Victorian. Expect some old standards like “Blue Skies” and “Stardust,” both from his new album “The Essence of Love.” Just be sure to make a reservation. That’s the only way you’ll find out the password required to gain entry to this modern-day speakeasy.8 p.m. and 10 p.m. $10 (cover). 2640 Main St., Santa Monica. R.S.V.P., (888) 367-5299.


Jennifer Maisel’s “The Last Seder” tells the story of a family’s last gathering before the father, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, will be placed in a care facility. Through the course of the play, the ritual of the seder becomes a channel for the family’s healing. Having helped launch the careers of playwrights like Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein, the Ensemble Studio Theatre (through their West Coast branch, “The L.A. Project”) presents a staged reading of this new play tonight and Sunday.8 p.m. (June 27 and 29). $10. Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., fourth floor, Hollywood. (213) 368-9552.

Lights, Camera, Israel

Los Angeles will welcome the 18th Annual Israel Film Festival this month, with 31 Israeli feature films, documentaries, TV dramas and student shorts to be screened at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills and at Laemmle’s Town Center 5 in Encino. The festival continues in Chicago, Miami and New York.

During the April 10 opening night gala at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, actress/director Penny Marshall, producer Mike Medavoy and Israeli director Eli Cohen will be honored for their contributions to the film industry.

A symposium on April 11 on "How Do Current Events in Israel Affect Film and Television Production?" will feature a panel of Israeli and American experts, including Israel’s Minister of Science, Culture and Sports Matan Vilnai.

Among the feature selections, the light and lightweight "Desperado Square" takes us to a hardscrabble development town. Its predominantly Sephardi immigrants desperately miss the town’s only movie theater, which was closed down nearly three decades earlier, despite the immense popularity of its films from India, with their star-crossed lovers and extravagant song-and-dance production numbers.

Morris, the deceased owner of the theater, shuttered the place in despondency when he learned that his beautiful wife, Siniora (Yona Elian), really loved his brother, Avram (played by Muhammad Bakri, Israel’s leading Arab actor).

As the film opens, the estranged Avram has returned after a 25-year absence and begins a low-key pursuit of Siniora. Meanwhile Morris’ sons, with the help of the town’s quaint residents, try to resurrect the movie palace for a showing of the love-triangle themed "Sangam," the neighborhood’s favorite film, much to the agitation of Siniora because Avram owns the only copy.

Nobody will mistake this variation on the eternal triangle, directed by Benny Torati, as high art, but the film, by its setting in a development town, focuses on one aspect of Israeli life rarely seen in feature movies.

"It’s About Time" is an hour-long documentary, which in a humorous and unassuming way tells us a great deal about today’s Israelis by probing their attitudes toward the concept of time.

Talking to a cross section of Israelis, the film contrasts the nostalgic past, when "we had time and seasons," to the obsessive listening of newscasts every half hour in today’s "microwave generation — we want it cooked right now."

Directors Ayelet Menahemi and Elona Ariel trace their country’s frantic pace back to the beginning, when "the state was born in a hurry, we rushed through the process."

"More happens here in a week than in Switzerland in a year," notes one respondent, and another skewers the infamous "Israeli time" by noting that "we set an event for 2:00, come at 2:30 and think we’ve arrived early."

For more information, see Calendar.

Tune In to Israel

A newly formed Israel-based television network has begun transmitting programs around the clock to expatriates in the United States and Canada and to anyone else who want to stay in touch with news, education, music, sports and sitcoms in the Jewish State.

The Israeli Network will feature three eight-hour segments every day — except Yom Kippur — drawing its programs from Israel’s Channel 1, Channel 2, Sports Channel and Educational Television, as well as movies and documentaries from Israel’s Broadcasting Authority.

The primary target audience consists of Israelis in North America, which Shlomo Wolfhart, the new company’s founder and CEO, pegs at around 600,000.

“We also hope to reach American Jews through daily English-language newscasts, children’s programs geared toward teaching Hebrew, general cultural events and some Hebrew programs with English subtitles,” Wolfhart said, speaking by phone from his studio in Kfar Saba.

If American tourists are worried about traveling to Israel, the new network can bring Israel into their living rooms, Wolfhart suggested.

“We’ll bring you the Israeli perspective, so you don’t have to rely on CNN,” he said. The service is available through the Dish Network, a digital broadcasting satellite company (

Subscribers can sign up for the Israeli package alone at $19.99 per month, or combine it, at a higher fee, with a selection of American channels. (Homes with cable television alone cannot receive the programs.)

The Israel Network’s U.S. office is in New York and can be contacted by phone at (212) 925-9907, or through the Web site at Commercials will advertise both Israeli and American products, with sales representatives in New York and Los Angeles.

Wolfhart lived in Los Angeles from 1984 to 1993, first as a college student majoring in film and video, then as head of his own company, Ivory Video Productions, specializing in promotional videos.

Because of the time difference between the United States and Israel, most programs will be by delayed transmission, except for soccer games and breaking news, which will air live.

The Israeli Network was officially launched Sept. 14 with full-page ads in Hebrew-language newspapers in North America, three days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. As a result of the disaster, phone calls were erratic, and the New York office had to close down for its first four days. It is now up and running, said manager Anat Weinstock.

During its first full year, the network expects to sign up between 20,000 and 25,000 subscribers. Future plans include expanding the satellite feed to Europe (including Russia) and South America, and originating some programs from the Israeli enclaves in Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

Financial backers of the new venture include New Regency Productions in Hollywood, headed by Israeli-American producer Arnon Milchan, as well as a number of Israeli investors.

Wolfhart declined to give an exact figure for his company’s total assets, but said that they ran into the millions of dollars.