Israel’s dance superstar, cultural ambassador

Ido Tadmor is probably the closest any Israeli dancer and choreographer has come to achieving rock-star status in his home country. 

He’s a former dancer with Israel’s Bat-Dor and Batsheva dance companies who earned the 2011 Landau Prize in Israel for lifetime achievement. He was also the main judge for four years of the popular TV reality competition “Nolad Lirkod” (“Born to Dance”), the Israeli version of “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Now the Israeli legend is coming to Los Angeles to perform two duets with Elwira Piorun, a former soloist with the Polish Dance Theatre and the Polish National Ballet. They’ll perform “Engagé” and “Rust” on Sept. 26 at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at CSU Los Angeles.

Piorun is a choreographer, dance teacher and co-founder of the Zawirowania Dance Theatre in Warsaw. That’s where Tadmor and Piorun met — he taught master workshops at a dance festival, and she participated in them. After the classes, he proposed that they try collaborating.

“Elwira is a beautiful and mature artist who brings a lot of depth into the work. There was an immediate professional attraction between the two of us. I feel like it comes across on stage in a very positive way,” he recounted in a phone interview from Tel Aviv.

Tadmor, the artistic director of the prestigious Israel Ballet, invited Piorun to Israel for a dance residency, where they began working on “Rust” and “Engagé” with Rachel Erdos, a British choreographer based in Tel Aviv. 

“Our collaborative process was based on Ido proposing fragments of choreography which I was learning, and adjusting it to my body and coordination,” Piorun wrote in an e-mail interview.

The two have much in common: Both are artistic directors of dance companies as well as artistic advisers to festivals. But their language barrier forced them to communicate with their hands to make themselves understood. That became the central theme of “Engagé.” The dancers play a couple that become romantically involved and even move into an apartment together, but they never physically interact.

“A certain barrier came into the creation, probably because it was, especially at the beginning, quite difficult to communicate,” Tadmor said. “But in the end of the day, we have a very special bond onstage and in rehearsals, and also in our private life, we became close friends.”

Tadmor regularly visits L.A. for performances and workshops, including at the Luckman in 2012. He was invited to perform these two pieces here after Luckman Executive Director Wendy Baker saw the premiere of “Engagé” at the 2013 Tel Aviv Dance Festival.

“I was so moved by the sincere expressiveness of the artists,” Baker wrote in an e-mail. “The performance was exceptional, and I knew I wanted this work danced by these artists in the Luckman season.”

Tadmor, 51, is in excellent physical condition because of a strict training regimen. He dances five to seven hours a day and works out at the gym five times a week. He became a principal dancer at 19, and his style combines classical ballet and contemporary dance. In recent years, he has also worked as an actor and fashion designer but said he wants to continue in dance. He’s currently preparing a new piece, “Episodes of Soldiers and Widows,” which will premiere at the annual Jerusalem International Dance Week in December.

Tadmor was one of Israel’s first public figures to speak openly about his sexuality and the challenges facing the country’s LGBT community. He came out in 1982 and has continued to advocate for gay rights and HIV awareness. In 1990, he choreographed his first work, “Seven Last Words,” as part of an event he produced for the Israel AIDS Task Force. In 2006, he played a son dying of AIDS in the movie “Tied Hands,” directed by Dan Wolman, alongside leading Israeli actress Gila Almagor. In 2007, he danced at a gala fundraiser supported by the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai, India, to raise funds for a shelter for HIV-affected children run by the Catholic Church.

The dancer made headlines in Israel in August, after a stranger began shouting homophobic slurs at him while he was sitting with friends at an outdoor cafe in Tel Aviv. The man, Shay Navian, blamed homosexuals for the decay of Israeli society and said they should all be forced to leave. The incident happened shortly after an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stabbed six people during a gay pride parade in Jerusalem; that attacker has been charged with fatally stabbing a teenage girl.

“It became more frightening and became more dangerous when he started saying that if the gay people continue having parades in Jerusalem, more people will be stabbed and that I will be stabbed. It was very aggressive and very extreme,” Tadmor said.

Tadmor filed a complaint with the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court, and police arrested Navian the next day. He said he decided to report the incident to help bring visibility to the issue. As a TV personality and esteemed member of Tel Aviv’s cultural elite, he knew he could draw media attention to the event. Religious Jews in Israel have become more hostile to gay rights, Tadmor said, and gay people in Israel are feeling a backlash to their increased visibility. 

“We are unfortunately in a very bad time, where more extreme people and extreme parts of the society are becoming more vocal and more physical in their deeds,” he said. 

Tadmor has spent plenty of time outside Israel. He formed his own troupe in 1995, and toured with it to Tokyo, Madrid, Paris, Moscow and the U.S. He also lived in Spain and the Netherlands, but chose to return to Israel to live and create there. As he leads workshops and performances abroad, he said he’s called upon to explain Israel to those who view the country as aggressive and militant.

“In this country, we have, of course, a lot of problems. We have a war going on all the time, but there are also amazing things going on here. There is beautiful art developing here. The dance scene in Israel is getting stronger. Feature films are getting better and better, and being shown all over the world,” Tadmor said. “In that sense, I am kind of an ambassador of art and culture of Israel.”

Ido Tadmor and Elwira Piorun perform “Engagé” and “Rust” at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at CSU Los Angeles. Tickets are $25-$45. For more information, go to

CAMERA Is Out of Focus

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America’s (CAMERA) Andrea Levin wants to start a boycott. She has urged Jewish listeners to stop supporting National Public Radio (NPR). Levin said that NPR’s coverage of events in the Middle East amounts to biased reporting and a "defamation of Israel."

As the ombudsman at NPR, I have received much mail about NPR’s coverage of the Middle East. My role is to make sure that the listeners’ concerns are conveyed to management and to help NPR journalists understand how their reporting is perceived. Many of the criticisms have been very helpful. But some critics are not interested in bettering our coverage. The idea of a boycott falls into that latter category. Levin said it’s not really a boycott, but ending funding for NPR is precisely what she wants, and that sounds like a boycott to me.

As history has shown, boycotts have had a dangerous role in the life of the Jewish community — whether it is the Arab boycott of Israel or the calls today for universities to divest themselves of their Israeli investments.

I would like to speak against this dangerous proposal by CAMERA and why a boycott of NPR would work against the best traditions and best interests of the Jewish community:

NPR is one of the very few American news organizations to maintain a continuous presence in Jerusalem since 1982. In Israel, NPR has two permanent correspondents, Linda Gradstein and Peter Kenyon. A third correspondent will join them over the next few months. NPR reporting has been recognized as a leader in its international coverage from the Middle East and around the world. Other news organizations have reduced their presence overseas. Many news bureaus have been closed as money-saving measures. NPR now operates 12 foreign bureaus. CBS, once the gold standard for foreign broadcast journalism, now has only six.

That does not mean that NPR gets it right every time. Like every other news organization, it makes mistakes. But NPR does try to report this story with all its complexity and in context. NPR also reports on an hourly basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like CBS and CNN and the Los Angeles Times, it makes mistakes. When they happen, NPR corrects them quickly — both on the air and on the NPR Web site.

CAMERA, along with other media watchdogs, tells NPR when it has made an error. NPR acknowledges those mistakes and learns to be a better news organization as a result. One important result of the criticisms was to place all reports in written form on the NPR Web site ( Listeners can now go back and read the reports to decide for themselves.

Another result was to create a nimble corrections policy so that errors are caught and acknowledged in a much more timely fashion.

NPR has reinforced its own policies on attribution of sources, the use of interviews and the use of natural sound from the scene. It remains NPR policy that all reporting must be fact based and fair.

But for some critics, those improvements are too little and too cosmetic. Many listeners still feel that NPR’s reporting on the Middle East remains subtly — or not so subtly — biased.

Some of that is because this story is enormously painful and deeply disturbing to many listeners — both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. We hear from people in both communities how the coverage seems tilted away from their concerns. The intensity of this feeling from the Jewish community has been powerful.

In July 2002, NPR’s President Kevin Klose, along with News Vice President Bruce Drake and I went to Israel to see for ourselves. The goal was to talk to our correspondents, to meet with Israeli politicians, academics, pollsters and journalists and to meet their Palestinian counterparts. We came back with a renewed commitment to this story and a deeper understanding of the need to broaden our perspectives beyond the violence. While the terror attacks and the military pressure can’t and mustn’t be ignored, there are other stories as well. We resolve to tell those stories about the anguish along with the hopes of individuals and communities.

We also need to continue to report on the political and military events in the region and the effects they might have back here in the United States. As the United States continues to press the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and against Iraq, the situation in the Middle East becomes increasingly critical and dangerous. This is not a time to reduce our reporting, or to confine it to one side or the other. CAMERA would like NPR to do precisely that. When it comes to NPR, CAMERA sees only the faults and presumes only a malign intent.

We will continue to listen to the critics, and provide our stations with the most reliable information possible. The listeners deserve no less. But the most serious consequence of CAMERA’s disingenuous appeal lies in what might happen to the entire public radio system if a boycott should succeed.

Most of NPR’s funding comes from its more than 600 member stations. NPR collects dues for the programs it produces, and the stations subscribe to the service. So a boycott of NPR is really a boycott of the local public radio stations — not just NPR. In Los Angeles, that includes several public radio stations such as KPCC, KUSC and KCRW.

Public radio has an increasingly important role for communities around the country. Not only do the stations provide quality information, the stations also nourish their communities by playing a critical cultural role. Many also have their own local news programs. There are more than 1,000 public radio stations throughout the United States. They represent a reflection of their communities by providing local information, music, drama and discussion of significant local issues. More than 30 million listeners a week now listen to public radio in order to find a serious source of news and culture that is, frankly, better than anything else that can be found on the radio. Public radio stations play that role brilliantly. More and more community groups around the United States are asking NPR how they can set up public radio stations in their towns.

NPR can always do better reporting. And it must. Public radio will continue to serve the cultural and information needs of all its listeners. But NPR also needs the support of all its listeners at this critical time in our history.

Public radio has always found some of its deepest support inside the Jewish community. It is because public radio’s commitment to quality information and humanist culture finds a kindred spirit among many in the Jewish community. Rather than exacerbating community anxieties and tensions, a more useful role for CAMERA would be to redefine its role to that of media critic and gadfly. Every news organization — NPR included — can benefit from that kind of constructive criticism.

CAMERA needs to find a way to engage in effective feedback, something it has failed to do as it attempts to demonize the media. Should it do so, it might be surprised at the response from news organizations that now view CAMERA as shrill and unrepresentative of the community it purports to serve.

NPR and public radio are much more than just the Middle East coverage. In these times, never has public radio been more needed and more valued. Never has a call for a boycott seemed more shortsighted.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR’s ombudsman, writes a regular column on media criticism at and can be reached by e-mail at

6 Million Memorialized

At Yom HaShoah commemorations across Los Angeles, the Jewish community and friends looked to the past to remember and to the present to engage.

The Citywide Youth Commemoration at Wilshire Boulevard Temple on April 9 was a by-the-kid, for-the-kids affair, with elementary, middle and high school students presenting artistic renditions of their understanding of the Holocaust. Through song, story, poetry and the testimony of survivors they had interviewed, students from 15 Los Angeles area schools ensured that the memory of what happened will be passed on to the next generation. After the Emanuel Academy sang the Yiddish "Partisan’s Song," students from Fulton Middle School recounted a survivor’s testimony, "Seven Days Locked Up," in English and Spanish.

The state got involved in Yom HaShoah in part by honoring a Holocaust educator. Peter Fischl had spent his childhood in hiding in Budapest, and though he lost his family, he moved to America and forged a life for himself, working as a security guard for Pinkerton. Though he claims, "I am not a poet — you cannot ask me or pay me to write a poem," Fischl was so inspired by a Holocaust-era photo that his poetic response has become the basis of a high school curriculum on the Holocaust.

The photo, which Fischl first saw in a November 1960 Life Magazine, shows a young boy, arms up, fearfully walking away from Nazi gunmen during the roundup of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Fischl’s poem, "To the Little Polish Boy Standing With His Arms Up," reads in part: "And the monument will tremble/ so the blind world/ Now/ will know/ What fear is in the darkness." It ends: "I/ am/ Sorry/ that/ It was you/ and/ Not me."

Fischl’s poem inspired Morristown, N.J., English teacher Nancy Gorrell to develop a high school curriculum called, "Teaching Empathy Through Ecphrastic Poetry," to teach students to put themselves in the emotional place of Holocaust victims.

For his part in the curriculum, along with his long history of outreach in local schools, the state Lottery awarded Fischl its Hero in Education Award. The award ceremony will be broadcast on KCAL Channel 9 at 7 p.m.on Saturday, May 18. Educators can download lesson plans using the poem at’pb.

At Valley Beth Shalom on April 12, Rabbi Harold Schulweis and the VBS congregation continued their Yom HaShoah tradition of honoring the stories of Holocaust heroism. In previous years, VBS has celebrated the efforts of people in Denmark, Italy and Spain to save Jews. This year, the little known but extremely successful efforts of Bulgarian leaders was spotlighted.

Princess Maria Louisa of Bulgaria and Metropolitan Galactyon, leader of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church of Bulgaria, attended a Shabbat dinner at the synagogue honoring King Boris III of Bulgaria (the princess’ father), who worked with Bulgarian Orthodox Church leaders to convince the Nazis that Bulgaria’s Jews were needed to work in Bulgaria.

Before World War II, there were approximately 48,000 Jews in Bulgaria. Immediately afterward, there were approximately 50,000.

Yom HaShoah is about more than the past. It is a day of remembrance, but also a day of vigilance. This was apparent at Sinai Temple on April 14, where tight security measures were in place for the dignitaries in attendance.

Among the officials on hand at the temple were Gov. Gray Davis; Mayor James Hahn; Rep. Brad Sherman; City Councilmembers Jan Perry, Nate Holden, Eric Garcetti, Jack Weiss and Alex Padilla; District Attorney Steve Cooley; L.A. Board of Education members Julie Korenstein and David Tarkofsky; Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Yvonne Brathwaite-Burke; Sheriff Lee Baca, and state senators and members of the Assembly.

The Temple Sinai event focused on the present, with Ambassador Dennis Ross (see below) and Davis devoting their remarks to the violence in Israel, connecting unjustifiable death past and present.

Israeli Consul-General Yuval Rotem urged Palestinian leadership to take heed of the lesson of our shared ancestor Abraham: "Our sons cannot be sacrificed, for any reason." Davis drew some of the loudest applause as he acknowledged "the shared values that Israelis and Americans hold," and told the multigenerational crowd "We unequivocally declare our support for the state of Israel."