In a small Israeli jail cell, a 17-year-old settler hears the air raid siren that signals the beginning of the Sabbath. From her pocket, she pulls out two travel-friendly candles. When the last of the matches in her small box breaks, her cellmate, a vegan left-wing activist who was on the other side of that morning’s protest, hands the young religious girl her lighter.
The settler hesitates for a moment; the lighter is emblazoned with the Palestinian national flag. Finally, she takes it and lights the Shabbat candles.
This only-in-the-movies moment is part of a student short, titled “Chaotic,” that will be shown at an event affiliated with this year’s Israel Film Festival, which began in Los Angeles on March 15. But what is perhaps most unusual about this and two other short films to be shown on March 25 in Beverly Hills is that they were made by students in a film and television program at Ariel University Center (AUC), the largest public college in the West Bank.
“Coming with films from Ariel is a little surprise, because of the traditional thinking of film and television as a left-wing industry,” said Eyal Boers, a documentary filmmaker who is the head of the nearly five-year-old television and film track at AUC’s School of Communication.
That the Israeli film industry leans left — and has a particular problem with Ariel, a city-sized settlement located deep in the West Bank — is more than just perception.
In 2010, when a group of 36 Israeli actors announced that they would boycott the Ariel Regional Center for the Performing Arts, which opened later that year, dozens of artists, including some of the best-known Israeli film directors, signed on to support them.
Ariel has been a flashpoint of contention since shortly after it was established in 1978, but the settlement’s size (population 20,000) and location (more than 10 miles east of the pre-1967 borders of Israel) have recently made it the focus of particular attention for those on the left and right.
So while Peter Beinart, in a recent New York Times op-ed piece urging Zionist Jews to boycott settlements, singled out Ariel as an obstacle to achieving a peaceful two-state solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) became a patron of the Israel Film Festival this year for the express purpose of showcasing the work of AUC students in Los Angeles.
“Ariel is actually a consensus city in Judea and Samaria,” said Orit Arfa, executive director of the ZOA’s Western region, using the biblical terms for the West Bank preferred by those wishing to emphasize its Jewish roots. “I don’t believe any prime minister has ever put Ariel on the table as an area to be ceded in any peace negotiation.”
ZOA and American Friends of Ariel, an organization that supports the development of Ariel and is also a patron of this year’s Israel Film Festival, are screening the three films by students in the AUC’s film and television track at a midday event they are calling “The Ariel Breakfast Club.”
After watching nine of the best films from the program’s students, “We chose these three films because they have the same theme,” Arfa said, “young people of different backgrounds coming together and working out their differences.”
To an extent, anyway. While one of the shorts — a romantic comedy that pairs a spoiled rich boy from Tel Aviv with a young, studious and feisty Ethiopian immigrant — ends as happily as any film coming out of Hollywood, the protagonists of the other films are left with more questions than answers.
Yael Gruber, who wrote and directed “Chaotic,” said she was interested in how young people on the political fringes in Israel live out their ideologies in parallel, albeit opposing ways.
“It was amazing to see how someone from the far-left fringe of the political map and someone from its rightmost edge speak about almost the same things,” Gruber wrote in an e-mail. “The establishment, the country — they sometimes even use the same phrases.”
Gruber, 27, is a religious mother of two who grew up and lives in a settlement near Ariel, and she describes herself as on the right politically, but Boers said that students in the AUC’s film and television track are a diverse bunch. The film and television track now even has a few Arab students, Boers said, and is drawing students from around the country.
“Application specifications become more and more difficult every year, and that’s in our interest,” he said.
Attracting faculty to work in Ariel is another matter, though.
“One of the main difficulties I face is attracting teachers, lecturers, directors to become a part of the track or collaborate with us,” Boers said. Of those he approaches about the possibility of coming to teach his students, three out of four turn Boers down right away.
Avi Zimmerman, executive director of American Friends of Ariel, would prefer to focus on those individuals and groups who have come to Ariel, despite the unwillingness of some in the theater community and film industry to perform or work there.
“All of the leading theaters in Israel perform in Ariel consistently,” Zimmerman wrote in an e-mail, noting that pop star Eyal Golan, who will be performing in Los Angeles in April, waived his fee when he played the opening concert at Ariel’s new cultural center.
Boers is expected to travel to Los Angeles for the March 25 screening of the AUC students’ shorts, and he said he hopes people who come to see them also pay attention to the films as films.
“I hope it’s not going to be too political,” Boers said. “But I’m an Israeli — I’m very realistic.
“My country, Israel, is full of contradictions and volcanic eruptions. We fluctuate between extremes. One morning you say peace is at hand and all problems will be resolved. The next day, it’s the apocalypse.”
The thumbnail description comes from Amos Gitai, who, more than any other Israeli filmmaker, has explored the emotional peaks and valleys of his people in more than 40 feature films and documentaries.
A retrospective of seven films, illustrating different stages in Gitai’s 30-year career, will start March 15 at the Skirball Cultural Center, continuing March 16 at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre and March 17 on the USC campus.
The organizer and sponsor of the three screenings is the Institut Français, an agency supported by the French government to promote French culture abroad and international cultural exchange.
At first sight, it seems odd that the Gitai fest, supplemented by a richly illustrated booklet in French, English and Spanish, falls under the French aegis, rather than under Israeli or local Jewish auspices.
By way of explanation, French diplomat Mathieu Fournet noted that Gitai spends much of his working life in Paris, and many of his films have been made in France, where he is fervently admired as an international auteur of the first rank.
Fournet heads the Los Angeles Film and Television Department of the French Embassy and is the chief organizer of the Gitai tribute.
If the French and other Europeans love Gitai the cinema artist, Israelis are conflicted, to put it politely, about Gitai, the disturber of the peace.
Though Gitai, now 60, is a Haifa-born sabra whose helicopter was shot down during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and he barely escaped death, his films upset many of his countrymen.
His first film, the made-for-television documentary “House,” was banned by TV executives for showing, in Gitai’s view, “that Palestinians have the same attachment to the land as Israelis.”
Though all his subsequent movies have been shown in Israeli theaters, they have generally been controversial.
For instance, the autobiographical movie “Kippur,” which portrayed the confusion and brutalities of the 1973 war with unrelenting graphic images, received a mixed reception.
Gitai likes to group his movies into trilogies, examining the same topic from three different perspectives. In his “city trilogy” of Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the capital city is represented by “Kadosh” (Holy), set in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter.
Orthodox Jews bitterly attacked the film as presenting a twisted picture of their way of life.
In Europe, Gitai is admired not only for the content of his films, but equally for his cinematic virtuosity and diversity.
“Gitai is now one of the most respected filmmakers in the international arena, who continually explores new narrative methods and styles,” wrote French film historian Jean-Michel Frodon.
Such homages have earned Gitai awards at prestigious film festivals at Cannes and Venice, as well as retrospectives of his works in London, Paris, Berlin, Sao Paulo, Moscow, Tokyo and New York.
By contrast, not once has the Israeli Film and Television Academy, which annually selects the country’s top film to compete for Oscar honors, chosen a Gitai work.
Gitai gave a short laugh when an interviewer asked him if he considered himself, as a filmmaker if not prophet, “not without honor save in his own country.”
“I don’t think this [lack of recognition] is strictly a political matter,” he answered. “Israel has a small film industry, which is very competitive. Maybe there are too many Jews concentrated in a small territory.
“But it is kind of bizarre,” he added, “and there is such a thing as jealousy.”
Gitai is an artistic multitasker, working simultaneously or separately as film director, producer, actor and scriptwriter, as well as author and director of stage plays.
His father, the noted Bauhaus architect Munio Weinraub, was imprisoned and then expelled from Germany by the newly empowered Nazi regime in 1933. He moved to Palestine in 1935 and married native-born Efratia Margalit, a Zionist activist.
Initially, Gitai, born in 1950, followed in his father’s footsteps, earning architecture degrees from the Technion and a doctorate at UC Berkeley. His son, Benjamin, a veteran of the second Lebanon War, is now studying to become an architect himself.
After decades of focusing on his countrymen’s lives and travails, Gitai is now turning his attention to the Diaspora, first examined in his 2008 film, “One Day You Will Understand.”
He is currently working on a movie, “Lullaby to My Father,” exploring the lost European world of his paternal forebears.
“As you get older, you think more about your roots,” Gitai said.
The Los Angeles Gitai retrospective will present the following films:
“Kippur”: Gitai’s experiences during the 1973 war.
“Alila”: The intersecting lives of residents in a run-down Tel Aviv apartment building.
“Kadosh”: Two ultra-Orthodox women question their lifestyles.
“Esther”: The Purim story set in a modern Middle East context.
“Free Zone”: An American woman (Natalie Portman) gets involved in a Jordanian-Israeli money scheme.
“Disengagement”: A Frenchwoman (Juliette Binoche) and her Israeli half-brother are caught up in the Gaza removal of settlers.
“News From Home/News from House”: Last in a trilogy centering on a house in Jerusalem and its Arab and Jewish owners.
Venues, films and dates
Skirball Cultural Center:
“Kippur” on March 15, 8 p.m., features Q&A With Gitai;
“Alila” on March 30, 8 p.m.;
“Kadosh” on April 10, 2 p.m.;
“Esther” on April 21, 8 p.m.;
For advance tickets, phone (877) 722-4849, or visit http://www.skirball.org
American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre:
“Free Zone” and “Disengagement,” March 16 double feature starting at 7:30 p.m. Q&A with Gitai between films, moderated by The Journal’s Tom Tugend; for tickets, visit http://www.fandango.com/egyptiantheatre_aaofx/theaterpage”www.fandango.com/egyptiantheatre_aaofx/theaterpage.
Ray Stark Family Theatre, George Lucas Bldg., USC campus:
March 17; “News From Home/News from House” at 5:30 p.m.; “Disengagement” at 7:30 p.m., followed by Q&A with Gitai, moderated by USC Associate Dean Michael Renov; Admission is free but reservations required through http://cinema.usc.edu/AmosGitai”http://cinema.usc.edu/AmosGitai.
Trailer for ‘Suicide Killers.’ Click on the big arrow to play.
The first person I met at the Liberty Film Festival preview was a riled up Asian American man with a pompadour, who quickly explained to me what was wrong withHollywood: It is a vast liberal conspiracy.
“But the founders of the studios were conservative,” I said, thinking of the Goldwyns, the Warners and the Mayers.
“Yes,” he said. “But their children are communists.”
The Liberty Film Festival, now in its third year, aims to present and promote the work of conservative filmmakers who, according to the organizers, are ignored, persecuted and otherwise absent from “Hollywood.”
I put Hollywood in quotes because its meaning, as the evening at the Luxe Bel Air Hotel wore on, was elusive.
The Festival, said Mike Finch, executive director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center that sponsored the event, “is a voice for sanity. [Hollywood’s] not just for the far left. All these viewpoints deserve to be heard in Hollywood.”
For him, Hollywood seemed to mean Westsiders who work in the entertainment industry and read the Huffington Post.
“It’s really important that we have films going out with the conservative viewpoint,” said actress Govindini Murty, who organized the festival with her husband Jason Apuzzo. “Because Hollywood is making a major effort on the left to undermine the war on terror.”
For her, Hollywood seemed to mean documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. But Moore himself railed against “Hollywood” when Disney refused to release his controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”A bit later, Murty referred to “Hollywood’s” love of documentaries “that undermine the military. They are all extremely radical, very anti-Israeli.”
Here she had me stumped. This clearly wasn’t the Hollywood of “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Marine,” which opened this week. And I couldn’t think of any anti-Israel Hollywood films. Which made me think that for Murty, “Hollywood” means anyone who won’t make movies she likes, or, perhaps, that she’s in.
This is the festival’s third year, and it has grown substantially since its founding, last year attracting some 3,500 viewers. This year’s event will be held Nov. 10-12 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood.
About 100 people gathered at last week’s preview to meet the organizers and get a taste of the 28 films on offer.
If the trailers are telling, I suspect there will be a lot of documentaries and some uneven features with a kind of look-ma-I-have-an-Apple quality. There will be some violence — I saw terrorist body parts splattered in something resembling POM — but no sex or nudity. At Liberty, “conservative” means Christian, and Christian means Family Research Council.
The most promising documentary appears to be “Suicide Killers,” by the Algerian-born Israeli filmmaker Pierre Rehov. The Arabic-speaking Rehov infiltrated a terrorist cell to provide a firsthand look at the people who perpetrate such inhuman crimes.
But the night’s preview was less about these movies and more about why “Hollywood” would never want to make them.
It took me a beat — as they say in Hollywood — but eventually I realized where I’d heard that same complaint: from liberals in Hollywood, from Asians in Hollywood and Latinos in Hollywood. From screenwriters and actors and union members and women and newcomers and old-timers in Hollywood.Heck, I’d even heard it from Jews in Hollywood.
Because here’s the truth: Hollywood doesn’t make anybody’s film.
Zillions of people dream of making a movie. But the studios only release a couple of dozen each year.
Chances are excellent your film — whether it’s about a Chinese lesbian dockworker who stands up to a right-wing corporate conspiracy, or about a blogger from Duluth who brings down a left-wing Washington conspiracy — isn’t going to be one of them.
The five top-grossing films of 2005 were “Star Wars-Episode III,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “The War of the Worlds” and “King Kong.” There’s not a political plotline in the bunch — unless you count Narnia’s Christian polemic.
Hollywood’s primary, overriding focus is on making movies that do big box office. That explains how this week, Paramount Studios tapped Oliver Stone, the bane of the Michael Medved School of Wholesome Cinema, and Cyrus Nawasteh, whom Clintonites despise for writing “The Path to 9/11” to make a movie version of “Jawbreaker,” about the CIA in Afghanistan. Ideology, shmideology — go make us a hit.
But none of this realmovietik puts conservative tushies in the Liberty Festival seats, so Murty and the other speakers resort to victimhood and conspiracy. Several speakers referred to left-wing Jewish billionaire investor George Soros’ reported interest in buying the 59-film library of Dreamworks. “Soros has taken over the Democratic Party,” said Finch, “and is now making a major play to take over Hollywood. But [Murty and Apuzzo] are gonna beat George Soros.”
Since when is buying the DVD rights to “Gladiator” “taking over Hollywood”?
All these ill-defined, overheated intimations of evil Hollywood are where the Liberty folks lose me. They begin to join thematic forces with the Internet cuckoos, for whom “Hollywood” means only one thing: the Jews. For centuries Jews were kept outside society’s gates. But in the industry they created and in which they are still heavily represented, Jews are often the gatekeepers. And though the Liberty folks stand with Israel and against anti-Semitism, their antagonism toward an amorphous, conspiratorial “Hollywood” has a discomfiting resonance.
The conservatives at Liberty should ease up on the rhetoric. The twin gods of Hollywood are talent and a track record. If you have those, you’re in, no matter how repellent your ideology, or your actions. Just ask Mel Gibson.
Saturday, April 15
The bread don’t rise, but spirits may. Two events tonight focus on Passover through music and comedy. Celebrate Chol Hamoed Pesach at Stephen S. Wise Temple with this evening’s “Let My People Sing” series event, “Tears, Laughter and Spirit.” Comedian Joel Chasnoff performs with The Lost Boys of Sudan Choir and Dream Freedom Performers of Milken Community High School. Or visit the Workmen’s Circle for “Music, Mayses … and Matse?!” a concert of Yiddish and klezmer tunes performed by renown musicians Yale Strom on violin, Mark Dresser on contrabass and singer Elizabeth Schwartz.
Stephen S. Wise: 7:30 p.m. Dessert and coffee follow. Donation. 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 476-8561. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Sunday, April 16
Ladies only, you are cordially invited to a special screening of “Together as One,” a multicamera video produced by Kol Neshama, an L.A. arts program for Orthodox girls and women. The film about positive attitude and watching what you say has a “Wizard of Oz”-ian spin, when the snide-mouthed protagonist, Bracha, ends up in The Land of Emes (Truth). There are elaborately choreographed musical numbers featuring now-Orthodox professional performers, along with local school girls. The video may only be viewed in today’s and tomorrow’s screenings.
April 16 and 17, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Upstairs@ Kehilas Yaakov, 7211 Beverly Blvd. (877) 637-4262.
Monday, April 17
Director Nicole Holofcener’s film about the midlife struggles of four female friends — and their uneasy relationships with money and each other-comes to theaters this week. Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and Frances McDormand star in the comedy/drama “Friends With Money,” which was the opening night film at the Sundance Film Festival.
Tuesday, April 18
Head to LACMA West for art that makes you go, “hmmmm….” Their new LACMALab installation, “Consider this…” features the work of six varied artists that all invite viewers to “examine the cultural and social landscape: who are we and what do we want to be?”
Through Jan. 15, 2007. Free (children 17 and under), $5-$9 (general). 6067 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. www.lacma.org
Wednesday, April 19
Pay homage to legends of different sorts at tonight’s American Cinematheque screening of “The Night of the Hunter.” This is the kickoff event for their new screening series of devoted film critic “Kevin Thomas’ Favorite Films.” The monthly event will feature 10 of Thomas’ favorites, including “Sunset Boulevard” and “A Star is Born.” Tonight also serves as a tribute to Thomas’ friend, actress Shelley Winters, who starred in “Hunter.”
7:30 p.m. $6-$9. 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. www.americancinematheque.com.
Thursday, April 20
The circle of life takes an unconventional turn or two in Michelle Kholos’ new play “Two Parents, Two Weddings, Two Years.” The story follows Sidney, a grown woman with a boyfriend and a career, who must reconcile herself with the fact that her divorced parents are both, separately, getting remarried, while she struggles to hang on to her significant other, and her brother tries to romance his soon-to-be sister-in-law. Wacky Jewish family drama ensues….
8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 3 p.m. (Sun.), through May 14. $25. The Hollywood Court Theatre, Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 692-8200.
Friday, April 21
A woman dressed in a white gown and veil stands at a border crossing between the Golan Heights and Syria. She is “The Syrian Bride,” the titular character in a new film by Eran Riklis, and her story is based on a real incident Riklis witnessed and filmed for his 1999 documentary, “Borders.” The bride’s story is a complicated one, of people’s lives caught between the politics and bureaucracies of border countries. The film played at this year’s Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, and is released theatrically today.
Hip Cynics for Export
Hip Cynics for Export
In Israel, no one wants to be a friar — a sucker, a patsy, a flunky, a tool.
It’s the Israeli equivalent of the Chinese never wanting to lose face. And in Israel, this primary motivation explains much of the country’s machismo — and perhaps even its political situation.
Yet who can resist making fun of such puffed-up pride?
That’s one of the appeals behind the music of Hadag Nachash (Snakefish), the best-selling Hebrew hip-hop band performing in Los Angeles on April 16 as part of the Let My People Sing weeklong festival.
“And we’ll do our reserve duty/pay our taxes/and get stuck in traffic/(No one screws with us)/We are definitely, definitely, definitely not, we’re definitely not friars,” go the lyrics of the “Not Sucker” song.
This tune comes from Hadag’s second of four albums, “To Move,” which features the silhouette of a little boy gleefully urinating on the cover. (This tidbit is animated graphic on the group’s tripped-out Web site.)
But the point of their rapping verses isn’t to mock just for irony’s sake. As “The Sucker Song” says,
“My friends say enough!/Stop being so heavy/and I’m not opposed to it/but the situation is absurd.”
The situation in Israel is absurd: for youths who have to cut their fun short by going to the army, and for everyone who has to live in a constant state of war. As their lyric puts it:
“If it’s a combat zone here/there’s a minefield/ what does it matter if I pay by check, credit or cash?”
What does it matter, indeed. These are the nihilistic sentiments of a band from Jerusalem that formed in 1996 and released its first studio album “The Groove Machine” in 2000. The group claimed to be a “funk band with a rapper” and proved, according to the Israeli music site Moomba, that “there can be good Israeli rap.”
But the music is more than rap; it’s got bluesy rhythms that are even lounge-y at times.
This is the band that The Village Voice said “holds the record on songs we aren’t embarrassed to play for the goyim.”
You don’t necessarily need to know Hebrew to enjoy the sound. But it would help if you were young — or had a young musical taste. That’s why the band was brought over for the otherwise more adult “Let My People Rock” concert.
“They are extremely popular with kids,” said Genie Benson, one of the festival organizers and the head of the Keshet Chaim Dance Troupe. “I think it is important for American Jewish kids to understand that Israel has artists that they can connect with, and through music they can connect to kids in Israel.”
It would be more than organizers bargained for if American Jewish kids also connect with Hadag Nachash’s attitude: fed-up, irreverent, bordering on anarchist.
“What do we do, what do we do, that I’m always stoned like this?
I don’t want/I don’t want to reach the edge.
What do we do, what do we do that my generation is crooked like this
I think it’s too late to come out of this.”
But of course, to really get the band’s groove, it would help if you spoke Hebrew — and not only spoke Hebrew, but lived in Israel to understand all the political, religious and artistic references.
For example, you’d have to have seen the hundreds, if not thousands of contradictory bumper stickers and slogans plastered across the country over the years to understand “The Sticker Song.” Consider all the times the word Shalom, or peace, occurs in the following lyrics:
“Dor Shalem Doresh Shalom … Am Chazak Oseh Shalom … Ayn Shalom Im Aravim … Ayn Aravim, Ayn Piguim.” — A Whole Nation Wants Peace … A Strong Nation Makes Peace … No Peace with Arabs … No Arabs, No Attacks.
“The Sticker Song,” off their 2004 album “Local Material,” was written by literary novelist David Grossman; such are the far-reaches of Hadag Nachash into the upper echelons of Israeli culture.
It’s a culture that mixes lowbrow with highbrow, humor with meaning, Bible with rap. Perhaps at this pre-Passover concert they will sing their “Numbers” song, which is a play on one of the Passover hagaddah’s closing songs, “Who Knows One?”
The song begins incrementally:
One is the number of the countries from Jordan to the sea
Two are the number of countries that here one day will be.
Three years and
Four months is the time I gave to the to IDF.
And up it goes:
Nine times I was close to a terrorist attack, at least for now.
Ten is the most Israeli answer to the question, “What’s going on?”
“Ten” means great, perfect. When someone asks, “How’s it going?” “Ten” is the answer an Israeli should give.
Eser. Great. Fabulous. Perfect.
For more information about Hadag Nachash, visit www.levantini.com/hadag/.
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Vintage Israeli posters, MethodFest, ‘Bush Is Bad’
Saturday the 31st
Theater with a historical lesson comes to The Other Space at Santa Monica Playhouse, with the guest production of “Black and Bluestein.” The dramedy written by Jerry Mayer takes place in early ’60s St. Louis, and tells the story of Jewish homeowner Jeff Bluestein and the issues he faces while deliberating whether to sell his home — in a largely white Jewish neighborhood — to a black family.
Monday the 2nd
Another independent film worth your attention is Russell Brown’s “Race You to the Bottom,” which opens this week. The film focuses on the relationship between two friends, Maggie and Nathan. Maggie is straight, and Nathan identifies as gay, and both of them are involved with other people. Despite all of this, however, the two are also in the midst of a passionate affair and decide to take a romantic road trip to Napa together.
Wednesday the 4th
AFI goes behind the music at the Arclight in their sixth-annual Music Documentary Series. Tonight’s opening night features the 1982 classic “Pink Floyd: The Wall.” Subsequent Wednesdays will screen “Buena Vista Social Club,” “Punk Rock Eats its Own: A Film About Face to Face,” “Shut Up and Sing,” “Rock the Bells” and “Last Days of Left Eye.” Post screening Q-and-A’s with filmmakers are also planned.
Friday the 6th
Following a successful 15-month run in New York, “Bush Is Bad” makes its West Coast debut this evening. Those making up that 30-something percent approval rating will want to ignore this suggestion; others, however, may welcome a show with a bit of comic relief, described as “the hysterical love-child of ‘Forbidden Broadway’ and ‘The Daily Show.'”
7 Days in The Arts
A Blizzard of Flicks for Jewish Eyes
At the Sundance wintertime festival, which began Jan. 19 and runs through Jan. 29, Jewish viewers can check out a blizzard of flicks, including:
Opening night film, “Friends With Money” (Jennifer Aniston, Jason Isaacs), spotlighting successful adults approaching midlife crisis. It’s the latest feature by Jewish writer-director Nicole Holofcener, whose self-deprecating comedy-dramas have been compared to the work of Woody Allen — not surprising, because her stepfather produced all of Allen’s films, and she virtually grew up on his sets.
Paul McGuigan’s “Lucky Number Slevin,” revolving around a Jewish mobster, “The Rabbi”; his arch rival (Morgan Freeman), and the chaos that ensues when the Jew declines to pick up his phone on Shabbat.
Tony Krawitz’s “Jewboy” (Australia), about an Orthodox youth searching for his place in the world (See last week’s story at www.jewishjournal.com).
Anders Thomas Jensen’s “Adam’s Apples” (Denmark), a black comedy spotlighting a disgruntled neo-Nazi sentenced to community service at church
Yoav Shamir’s documentary, “Five Days” (Israel), on the historic evacuation of 8,000 even more disgruntled Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.
Frieda Lee Mock’s “Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner,” which profiles the Pulitzer Prize winner who was raised Jewish on a bayou and channels Jewish themes into his work.
Alan Berliner’s “Wide Awake,” a self-portrait of the odd filmmaker’s insomnia, manias and obsessiveness.
Lian Lunson’s “Leonard Cohen I’m Your Man” (See main story).
Rex Bloomstein’s documentary, “KZ” (United Kingdom), about contemporary Germans living in the shadow of the Mauthausan concentration camp (See last week’s piece).
Tiffany Shlain’s short documentary, “The Tribe: An Unorthodox, Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and the Barbie Doll,” on how the busty blond figure — created by a Jewish American — serves as a metaphor of Jewish assimilation and identity
For film schedules and information, visit festival.sundance.org/2006.
Simultaneously, the sixth annual SchmoozeDance and KidzDance festivals — the Jewish counterpart to Sundance on Jan. 20-21 — kick off with a screening of Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone at Temple Har Shalom” in Park City, Utah. The Israeli film focuses on a confused American (Natalie Portman) on a road trip with a bickering Israeli and Palestinian. For information, visit www.jewishfilm.com.
Two Dark Tales Illuminated at Sundance
Calendars Remove Anti-Israel Day
A campaign by Berlin-based activists has resulted in the erasure of “Al Quds Day” from some interfaith calendars in the United States and United Kingdom.
As Iran’s president was calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, members of Together Against Political Islam and Anti-Semitism were busy calling for “Al Quds Day” to be wiped off calendars — and the campaign is paying off.
Institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, from Harvard University to Northumbria University in England, have announced that they are deleting Al Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day — a holiday that focuses on the destruction of Israel — from calendars where it had been listed as a religious holiday. Al Quds Day fell on Oct. 28 this year.
The point is not just to clean up calendars, said political scientist Arne Behrensen, a co-founder of the activist group, but “to engage the political left in confronting Islamism and Islamist anti-Semitism.”
Members of the pro-democracy group include people of Iranian, Kurdish and Turkish background. Many of the Iranian and Kurdish members are refugees from their homelands.
The annihilation of Israel is the raison d’etre of the “holiday” that the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is marked with anti-Israel demonstrations in some Islamic countries, as well as in cities with large Muslim populations outside the Islamic world.
Berlin police have taken increasing interest in defusing the event in recent years, since an incident in which an Al Quds Day demonstrator proudly displayed his small children wrapped in mock suicide bomb belts. All posters and banners at the event now must be submitted for approval, including those in Arabic, and statements calling for Israel’s destruction are banned.
That may be why Berlin’s Al Quds Day demonstrations have declined in numbers, Behrensen said. His group has held counter-demonstrations for three years running.
That trend held true this year as well. Only some 400 marchers attended this year’s event on Saturday, down from 1,500 in 2004 and 3,000 in 2003, said Anetta Kahane, a co-organizer of a counterdemonstration and a member of the Berlin Jewish community.
The group also succeeded in getting a German organization to remove Al Quds Day from its calendar in 2003. This year, Behrensen focused on British and American institutions that he found on the Internet.
One recipient of the campaign’s recent e-mail, Debra Dawson of Harvard United Ministries in Cambridge, Mass., said she had checked with her group’s Islamic chaplain “and he assured me that this day is not an Islamic holiday, so I am removing it from the site.”
Spike Ried, president of the Northumbria University Students’ Union in Newcastle, England, said his group had removed the event from its online calendar and issued a written apology. It reads in part, “We now understand that this day is considered offensive to Israeli and Jewish people worldwide.”
Students submit dates to the calendar, and Al Quds Day “was included on the understanding that it was a religious day,” Ried said. After discussions with both Islamic and Jewish student groups, he added, “we understand now that it is a political day, and have therefore removed it.”
The union also has “drawn up measures to ensure that this does not happen in future,” he said.
Del Krueger, creator of an online interfaith calendar (www.interfaithcalendar.org) that is a source for many others, said he also had removed Al Quds Day from future calendars.
However, the event remains on the calendar for 2006, where it is defined as a “somewhat controversial Islamic observance.”
George Fraser, a city council spokesman in Dundee, Scotland, said the “entire calendar is being removed” because of the issue. The University of North Carolina in Asheville said it had removed the Al Quds Day listing from its calendar of holy days.
Terry Allen, administrator at the Charnwood Arts Center in Leicestershire, England, said he added Al Quds Day after finding it on Krueger’s site, believing it “was a Muslim religious festival.” The activists’ letter pressed him to look deeper.
“I would like to apologize for any offense which has unintentionally been caused by this mistake,” he wrote to the group.
A spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America said the issue was under discussion there as well.
Behrensen chose to focus on the calendars after reading a lecture by Mansoor Limba, an Iranian, in Malaysia in December 2004. Limba spoke with pride of how Al Quds Day was becoming accepted as an Islamic holiday around the world, recognized by a long list of organizations, including some Jewish ones.
“This is their strategy, to spread their propaganda worldwide,” Behrensen said. “We thought, if we want to counter them, let’s see what they’re doing, and we’ll try to prevent their success.”
What your kids are learning about Israel, America and Islam
The 411 on the 818’s Israel Fest
•What, Where and When: The 17th annual Israel Independence Day Festival celebrating Israel’s 57th anniversary on May 15, from 10 a.m.- 7 p.m., Woodley Park, Van Nuys (between Burbank and Victory boulevards).
•Price: Admission is $5. Kids under 6 get in free.
•Parking: Free on the streets near the fenced-in, gated festival area. Satellite parking will be farther away at Lake Balboa, with shuttle buses running from there to the park.
•Numbers: More than 22,000 people attended the 2004 festival, which was held on Mother’s Day, and up to 45,000 are expected this year. More than 40,000 attended the 2003 festival, which started out in 1988 with about 500 people marking Independence Day at a Wilshire Boulevard hall, said festival executive director Yoram Goodman.
•Weather Forecast: In the great tradition of the Israel Independence Day festival — expect it to be hot (it is May in the Valley after all). Goodman said areas such as the Tel Aviv Cafe will put up extra shade nets to make things cool. Check www.weather.com for the latest temperatures.
•Security: Tight. The festival area’s central entrance will have metal detectors. Along with fire marshals, the LAPD’s Van Nuys Division will have at least 80 uniformed officers there.
•For Eyes & Ears: There will be five stages this time — including a Teen Stage and a Fashion Show Stage — “last year we had four,” Goodman said. Folk dancing will be going on in one area, there will be a large childrens’ play area in what Goodman called a “humongous amusement park” and many musicians will be performing throughout the day, including the Alter Rocker and the corned Beef Rangers, who will be at Tel Aviv Stage at 11 a.m.
•The Red Carpet: Israeli singer Sarit Haddad will be performing at 5 p.m. Orthodox talk show host Michael Medved will host the main stage’s one-hour Israel tribute at 1:30 p.m., with many local politicians, including both mayoral candidates. Talk show host Larry Elder has hosted the main stage event for the past three festivals, but Goodman said Elder wasn’t available this year.
•New This Year: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will be a festival co-host and is supporting this event instead of holding its own Jewish festival.
“They are pooling together with us, getting out the temples,” Goodman said. “The Jewish community at large knows that this is the place to come now.”
•Gone This Year: The Miss L.A. Israel Pageant. Last year, one of the pageants bikini-clad contestants became ill and dehydrated backstage. It was the festival’s first and last year for the pageant.
“We are not doing it; it brings too much controversy,” Goodman said. “This is a family event; we want the families to come. We decided to stay away from contests, stay away from beauty pageants.”
•Vendors: Count on getting brochures, free candy or what-have-you at booths from such organizations as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, Camp Ramah of California, Democrats for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Downtown L.A. Motors Mercedes Benz, Morgan Stanley, El Al, the Israeli consulate and government tourism offices, Jews for Judaism, the peace initiative 10,000 Kites, the Mount Sinai and Hillside memorial parks, The Jewish Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Shalom LA and other Israeli newspapers, pro-Israel Christian radio station KRLA, the Jewish Free Loan Association, Jewish World Watch, StandWithUs, at least a dozen synagogues, including three Chabads plus the Jewish Defense League (with two booths), the Kaballah Centre, Belly Dancing for Fitness and Psychic to the Stars.
•Water: Chabad of California will have a booth promoting its popular Jewish-questions Web site, www.askmoses.com and Chabad staffers will distribute an estimated 30,000 free bottles of water.
“We just have a whole truckload,” said Rabbi Simcha Beckman. “The idea is to fulfill people’s spiritual thirst and their actual thirst, with a bracha of course.”
•Food: For the first time, the Tel Aviv Cafe area will offer coffee and other coffeehouse beverages. Other vendors will be hawking lemonade, Red Bull, knishes, Tunisian cuisine and, of course, falafel for all.
“We can’t have more than four falafel servers,” said Goodman. “You don’t want everybody selling the same kind of food.”
Don’t forget to stop by The Jewish Journal’s booth No. 18 on “Ben Yehuda Street.” Meet your favorite Jewish Journal celebrities, pick up some free goodies and enter to win raffle prizes from Gelson’s. For more information on the festival, visit
Celebrate Israel Closer to Home
Arab-Israeli Tension, Love Focus of Fest
The 19th annual Israel Film Festival will showcase 33 movie features, television films, documentaries and student shorts from the Jewish State from May 28 through June 8.
CNN talk show host Larry King, Hollywood producer Laura Ziskin (“Spider-Man”) and Israeli director Erez Laufer will be honored during the May 28 gala opening night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.
The featured film of the evening will be “All I’ve Got,” part of the festival’s “Reflections of Women” series.
A dozen Israeli producers, directors and actors will attend the festival and participate in panel discussions and symposia.
Originally scheduled for early April, the festival opening was postponed because of the war in Iraq. The film fest originated in Los Angeles but now also plays in New York, Chicago and Miami.
Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the festival, estimates that some 500,000 Americans have gotten a close-up of Israeli life and culture through the festivals’ 500 theatrical and TV films over the past 19 years.
Of special interest, in light of the hostilities and brutalities engendered by the long-running intifada, are a number of films focusing on relations between Israel’s Jews and Arabs.
Where, in times of terrorism and warfare, Hollywood might produce a series of super-patriotic, John Wayne-like action movies, Israeli filmmakers have opted for sympathetic, even romantic, depictions of relations between two peoples, generally seen as antagonistic in news stories.
In “A Trumpet in the Wadi,” a Russian Jewish immigrant musician and an Arab woman slowly fall in love.
Genders and nationalities are reversed in “2 Minutes From Faradis,” when a rebellious Jewish teenage girl and an Arab boy start romancing each other.
“In the 9th Month,” by Arab director Ali Nassar, tells a darker story of Arab-Jewish suspicions through a folk tale dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire.
“Dugit Over Troubled Water” is a documentary on a business partnership between Jewish and Arab fishermen in the Gaza Strip, ultimately split apart by the intifada.
The TV film “Two Minutes From Faradis” is of much fluffier stuff, but shows another little-seen aspect of Israel — the life of the upper class. At the center of the film is Yuli, a 17-year-old girl, who feels it’s her teenage duty to rebel against her parents. The trouble is that her psychologist mother, spouting the clichés of her profession, and her wild-haired, pot-smoking father are so laid back and permissive that nothing she does can shock them.
Then Yuli encounters Amir, the handsome son of the family’s Arab maid, and the girl figures that romancing him will finally shake up her parents. The ploy works, but is Amir actually a terrorist using Yuli to smuggle explosives past a checkpoint? Stay tuned.
“A Trumpet in the Wadi” is one of the most sensitive and accomplished films to come out of Israel in a long time. Updated from the novel by Sami Michael, familiar to every Israeli high school student, the film is directed with a sure touch by Russian-born Lina and Sava Chaplin.
The protagonists are Alex (Alexander Senderovich), a newly arrived Russian trumpet player, and Hooda (Khawiah Hag Debsy), a 30-year-old Arab woman, working in a Jewish-owned travel agency. Both live in the Wadi Nisnas section of Haifa, but despite their wildly disparate backgrounds — and the fact that Alex is short and homely and Hooda is stately and beautiful — the two share an offbeat sense of humor and gradually fall in love.
What is striking at a time when Israeli Arabs are usually pictured as hassled second-class citizens is that Hooda’s extended family lives a quite normal, middle-class life.
Hooda’s mother kvetches constantly about the pickiness of her two unmarried daughters, brings in unsuitable suitors and cooks up a storm — in other words, like the stereotypical Jewish mother.
Not all is sweet harmony — Hooda’s family explodes in anger against the Jews when a cousin is killed during a demonstration, and there’s a bitter scene between the lovers when Alex reports for reserve duty — but one leaves the theater with a slightly more hopeful outlook.
“Wadi” opened the recently concluded Chicago leg of the festival circuit. Despite earlier concerns that the Israeli-Arab romance theme might upset some American Jewish viewers, Fenigstein said that the film was received enthusiastically.
Fenigstein has no answer why, precisely at this time, Israeli filmmakers are creating works that center on the common humanity, rather than the antagonisms, of the two people.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s an augur of better times to come, he ventures hopefully.
One tip for history buffs: The documentary “Moledet” (Homeland) resurrects footage of Jewish and Arab life in Palestine, shot between 1927 and 1934 by the country’s first movie company, happily named Moledet. The film becomes a bit repetitive, but it’s a cheerful antidote to those who picture the early yishuv (the Jewish community of the time) consisting solely of sweating pioneers constantly tilling the soil or draining swamps.
From the documentary’s evidence, the Jewish population rarely missed a chance to stage a lively parade, Purim or otherwise. Interspersed are commercials of the era shown in movie theaters, and hard as it is to fathom, they were even more terrible then than now.
After the opening night, all screenings will be at theLaemmle Fairfax Theatres, 7907 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles (corner of BeverlyBoulevard and Fairfax Avenue), and at the Laemmle Town Center 5, 17200 VenturaBlvd., Encino. For information and ticket reservations for all events, call(877) 966-5566, or visit
‘Shattered Dreams’ 10 Years After Oslo
Israel Fest Crowd Smaller, but Solid
Rides, kabobs, Mother’s Day and the Los Angeles Lakers made the 15th annual Israeli Festival an interesting experience this past Sunday. The combined forces of the holiday and the NBA playoffs brought the attendance rate at the May 11 event down to about 35,000 festival-goers — about 9,000 people less than the previous year, according to Adee Glazer-Drory, festival spokeswoman.
The unexpectedly hot weather at Woodley Park in Encino might also have been a factor in the 20 percent drop in attendance. By midday, singer Pini Cohen faced a wilting audience — despite the singer’s lively and enthusiastic performance.
The crowd rallied, however, when the parachuted members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s Golden Stars Skydiving Team performed and speakers, from event emcee and KABC-790 talk show host Larry Elder to Gov. Gray Davis, proclaimed their support for and commitment to the Jewish State.
Davis said that whatever the political differences of the people on the dais, "We are all united behind the view that we must support the only democracy in the Middle East."
Also in attendance were Reps. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks); Los Angeles City Councilmembers Wendy Gruel, Antonio Villaraigosa and Dennis Zine; California Assemblyman Paul Koretz; Los Angeles Unified School District Boardmember Julie Korenstein; Jewish Federation President John Fishel; and representatives of the Los Angles Police Department and Los Angeles Fire Department. Representing the State of Israel were Knesset member Natan B. Sharansky and Yuval Rotem, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was detained on a plane and his wife, Barbara, had to accept his award for "distinguished friend of the Israeli community."
Festival Chair Itzik Glazer said he was pleased by the number of people willing to come out to the festival, despite it falling on Mother’s Day.
"People have told me it’s the best festival yet," said his wife, Mikki Glazer.
For attendees, there were as many reasons to come out for the festival as there are ways to be Jewish. Marcie Elkin and her father, Robert Loring, came to the festival to "feel closer to my sister who made aliyah," Elkin said, adding that she was amazed by the crowd. "I was at the festival years ago, when it was in the city, and it’s tripled in size."
Vered Henn, who moved here from Haifa about eight years ago, said she missed the festival as it was when it was held at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles, but she felt it was too important an event to miss.
"This is the only thing we really have that connects us to Israel," Henn said.
“Od lo avda tikvataynu.”
A poster of Moshe Dayan hung in my childhood bedroom. Growing up in the light of the Six-Day War, I adored this new Jewish hero — tough, cocky, a Jew without fear. A generation later, we venerated Yitzchak Rabin — the warrior peacemaker, the realistic visionary, the taciturn prophet. This year, I celebrate a different kind of hero and a different kind of courage.
Every Israeli child knows someone who has been killed. Every child has a cousin or a playmate, a teacher or a neighbor who has been killed or maimed during the onslaught of terror. For every fatality, there are dozens who are brutally wounded, and hundreds of traumatized family, friends and neighbors.
What happens to kids 9, 10, 11 years old who are attending funerals on a regular basis? Or who are regularly visiting friends in the hospital trauma center? What part of their childhood is lost? What part of their innocence is betrayed? What happens to parents who want to protect their children, but there’s nothing they can do? The teacher of my friend’s 12-year-old daughter was killed in one of the bombings. My friend went into her bedroom that night to console her.
She looked at him with eyes suddenly so much older and said, “Don’t worry, Abba. I understand.”
Such is life in Israel these days.
Purim in Israel was different this year. Usually, a Mardi Gras delirium takes hold of the country for a day or two. Streets fill with costumed Queen Esthers and righteous Mordecais, as well as species of Spider-Man and Superman. Shopkeepers offer each passerby a “L’chaim!” Everyone has a party to attend. This year, however, security officials requested that masks not be worn on the streets and in public places, and that costumes remain simple, for fear that terrorists might take the opportunity and turn a festival of joy into an eruption of destruction. Such is life in Israel these days.
But there were masks — gas masks. Fearing the poisonous intentions of Saddam, Israelis were once again issued gas masks — even small children — and ordered to prepare sealed rooms in their homes and businesses. So Holocaust survivors must watch their children and grandchildren prepare to meet poisonous gas attacks. Such is life in Israel these days.
We think of heroism in flashing images of courage and daring: A Queen Esther or Judah Maccabee who risks it all to save the people. There is another image of heroism. It is the heroism of sustained resilience. There is heroism in a tenacity of conviction facing a steady surge of evil, rising and falling like the tide, but — like the tide — never subsiding. Perhaps this is a more authentically Jewish form of heroism: the steadfast refusal to surrender to the darkness, to collapse into despair — the refusal to give up the dream.
This week’s Torah reading begins: “The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin, except for the relatives that are closest to him” (Leviticus 21:1).
The Chasidic master, Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Ishbitzer Rebbe, read the verse as a warning against the defilement of the soul. The soul is defiled, its essence violated, when it is infected with the bitterness and rage that comes with senseless suffering and tragedy. Ironically, only those who hold out faith that human existence is ultimately meaningful are susceptible to this bitterness. One who believes that life is absurd and meaningless is never disappointed, never shaken. Without expectations or dreams, he knows no tragedy. The Ishbitzer taught that those who — like the priests, sons of Aaron — would serve God, are commanded to find the resources to resist the defilements of despair and darkness. Despair is the ultimate denial of God; surrender to darkness, the ultimate blasphemy.
This week, we celebrate the heroes who have given us the miracle of the State of Israel. We also celebrate those whose names are not listed in books or commemorated on plaques — heroes of resilience and resolution who cling to our ancient dream despite the relentless tide of evil. Od lo avda tikvataynu. For their sake, we haven’t lost our hope.
Rabbis for Rent
Miriam Garber refers to “Rabbis for Rent” (March 28) as a godsend because “they do God’s work without putting a price tag on it, as it should be.” After a quick review of the RabbiRentals.com Web site, however, I see that all of the rabbis on the site do, in fact, put a price tag (and might I say a high one) on their services. One rabbi has a price for a “traditional” wedding and a higher price for an “interfaith” wedding.
I’m not going to apologize for my synagogue, or any other, for that matter, charging membership dues — I don’t need to because the logic behind it is utterly apparent. I invite any Jew on the Westside in search of a community to visit us at Kehillat Ma’arav in Santa Monica, which has always addressed the issue of membership and school tuition to individuals and families based on income, as well as ability to pay, in a confidential and dignified manner.
Chazan Keith Miller, Director of Education Kehillat Ma’arav
In response to Miriam Garber’s letter (March 28) regarding “Rabbis for Rent” (March 7) and finding bar mitzvah training for her son, the Los Angeles Jewish community does indeed offer the bar mitzvah training she sought for her son. Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles, as well as other shuls in the area, has never turned anyone away. We have always had a policy that “no child is refused a Jewish education” and do not subscribe to the philosophy of either of the synagogues she queried. We are not a bar mitzvah factory, but we do believe that becoming a bar mitzvah is much more than just learning a haftorah and a few prayers for one Shabbat service. We prefer our students to be part of our religious school for four years. Our synagogue embraces our children as a part of our Jewish community and our religious school teaches our children what it means to be a Jew. This philosophy will ensure a future Jewish generation.
Mandy Altman , Treasurer Adat Shalom
A Just War
I agree with Rabbi [Joel] Rembaum that the war will more than likely have a negative impact on Israel (“A Just War May Be Great Risk to Israel,” March 28). This will particularly be the case if it increases the forces of radical Islam and weakens such moderate Arab governments as Egypt and Jordan.
People may differ on factual judgments, but to those American Jews whose primary justification for this war is its presumed benefit to Israel, I say, shame!
David Perel ,Los Angeles
Aunt Coca’s Ghost
Annabelle Stevens’ article, “Aunt Coca’s Ghost” (April 4), hit close to home and felt real. Please keep bringing new pens. There is a difference between vulnerable and open, and lovable. The kvetcher group complains a lot, but also wants too much and is aggressive. Stevens touches and scores as a writer, and despite the Elliott experience, her kindness makes her very eligible. The prognosis is optimistic, except her girlfriends will miss her at Starbucks. I am a nice guy who got lucky after decades of singles futility. Time ticks slower for guys, but “kind” was probably my ace in the hole. Kudos for publishing a wide variety of points of view in the more serious, political side of The Journal.
Name Withheld Upon Request
We greatly appreciate the fine article by Ellen Jaffe-Gill (“A New Voice for Jewish Music,” March 21). The Jewish Journal provides the major opportunity for Jewish arts organizations to reach the greater community, so it is an important opportunity for the Jewish Music Commission to be recognized in The Journal. It would be unfortunate, however, not to acknowledge Dr. Robert Strassburg for his unstinting encouragement and guidance and Sam Glaser for his great work in producing four outstanding years of the “American Jewish Song Festival” (1992-1996), which were the culmination of international competitions for new Jewish songs.
Richard A. Braun, Chairman Jewish Music Commission of Los Angeles
April 4-6, UCLA hosted the seventh annual national conference of the National Union of Jewish Lesbian-Gay-Transgender-Bisexual Students (NUJLS). Had I not provided a host home, I would have been unaware of both the gathering and the existence of NUJLS. The attendees, who traveled here from all over the United States and Canada, were committed Jewish young people, knowledgeable, aware and educated; an asset to our communities and our institutions. On Shabbat morning, they had Reform, Conservative and Orthodox services. Homosexuals should be part of the mainstream of contemporary Judaism, not the fringe. There is a reservoir of good leadership in this group, maybe even a Conservative rabbi or two.
Karen Heller Mason , Los Angeles
In a letter to the editor by Iddo Wernick (April 11), a statement regarding Rabbi Mattis Weinberg should have been attributed to Rabbi Ari Hier, who is director of the Wiesenthal Center’s Jewish Studies Institute.
“Fine Wine Pours Down From Golan” (April 11) was incorrectly illustrated with a photo of Mouton Cadet. The photo should have depicted a bottle of Yarden. We regret the error.
Succulent Sukkot Recipes
What a difference a decade makes. In fall 1992, my husband and I visited Israel during what now seems such innocent times. Only once did our tour guide announce a change in itinerary when a particular site was deemed unsafe. We visited friends in Jerusalem and sat leisurely sipping cafe hafuch in front of a cafe on Ben Yehuda Street, which I later recognized on Fox News reduced to bloodied shards. We even rode a city bus into Jaffa one day, soaking up “local color,” with nothing on our minds but shopping.
We could not have picked a better season to be there. Leaving Los Angeles the day after Yom Kippur, we found Jerusalem bustling with preparations for Sukkot. The terrace of every apartment sported a sukkah, and we ate breakfast each day under fruit-laden branches, our lavish Israeli buffet feast mirrored in the sukkah above. Truly we had reached the Promised Land at its most lush and bountiful season.
Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is the harvest festival mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 23:34-39). Immediately following the fast of Yom Kippur, Jews the world over begin constructing sukkot in preparation for the joyous feast that begins four days later.
The sages of the Talmud prescribed the measurements and method of erecting the sukkah within which people would eat and sleep during the week of Sukkot. How our forefathers must have rejoiced to enjoy the fruits of their labors, closer to the heavens, as the growing season culminated in bushels of plenty.
Now is the season to consult the plethora of vegetable cookbooks in bookstores today, and no one is more knowledgeable on the subject than Clifford A. Wright, whose latest book, “Mediterranean Vegetables” (Harvard Common Press, $29.95) cries out to be purchased for Sukkot. Subtitled “A Cook’s ABC of Vegetables and Their Preparation in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa, with More than 200 Authentic Recipes for the Home Cook,” it is as much a valuable reference book for the food scholar and gardener as it is a cookbook.
“Mediterranean Vegetables” contains delicious recipes such as stuffed artichokes, eggplant, grape leaves, mushrooms, onions, chard and yellow peppers.
“I don’t even mention Israeli cuisine, because I don’t believe there is such a thing,” Wright said. “Its origins in the Mediterranean are mostly in the Arab world. Jews who came from Arab countries — Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and of course Spain, too — brought with them their cuisine.
“There really is no difference between Jewish cuisine and the local cuisine in which it finds itself. What makes it different, is it is almost exclusively connected with holidays and the self-realization on the part of the Jewish community that these dishes are special to those holidays.”
From the esoteric acanthus-leaved thistle to the more common zucchini, Wright lists each plant’s characteristics and varieties, its botanical and etymological origin and instructions for growing, buying, storing and preparing them.
Most fascinating is the history of each vegetable through the ages. In Sicily, ingesting eggplant was once thought to lead to insanity, and it was called “mad apple.” The ancient Romans used cabbage to prevent a hangover, while the Egyptian Copts placed cucumber leaves mixed with salt on women’s breasts to promote milk production.
While you’d hardly know it from the diet of most Ashkenazic cultures (beets and cabbage being notable exceptions), Jewish cuisine, at least in the Mediterranean, from biblical times has had a long love affair with vegetables, and what better time to show them off than Sukkot.
Because the “dining room” of the sukkah is farther away from the area of food preparation, traditional dishes for this holiday are easily transportable, one-dish stews and casseroles like tsimmes, borscht, stuffed cabbage or kibbeh. Stuffed vegetables are a popular choice, particularly in Israel, where every Sephardic and Asian culture has a favorite recipe.
“Turkish cooks are masters of the stuffed vegetable,” Wright said, “but you find stuffed vegetables very popular with Arabs, too.”
Ten years after our Israeli Sukkot journey, a more desperate mood prevails. Yet, said Wright, who began his career in the field of international affairs and is a former executive director of the American Middle East Peace Research Institute, “to those who think the Arab-Israeli conflict is hopeless, remember, Arabs and Jews lived together for thousands of years, and this conflict actually began historically only recently. Look at the Spanish Jews who were expelled during the Inquisition. Although some went to Germany, the majority went to Muslim lands. Why in the world would they escape to Muslim lands if there were not welcoming hands to greet them? I see that history as a hope that there is a possibility for peace eventually.”
(Zeytinagli Patlican Dolmasi)
3 large eggplants (about 3 1Â¼2 pounds)
3Â¼4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1Â¼2 cup uncooked medium-grain
rice, soaked in tepid water for
30 minutes and drained or rinsed well
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 3Â¼4 cups water, divided
1Â¼2 cup ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded
and chopped fine or canned
1 tablespoon dried currants
1Â¼2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1Â¼2 teaspoon freshly ground
1 tablespoon finely chopped
fresh mint leaves
1Â¼4 cup chopped fresh dill
1Â¼2 teaspoon sugar
1. Cut off the stem end of the eggplant and save this as a "lid." Hollow out the eggplant by removing the seeds and flesh, being careful not to puncture the skin. Reserve the eggplant pulp to make another dish such as eggplant fritters. Place the hollowed-out eggplants in a bowl or stew pot filled with salted water and let them leach their bitter juices for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry inside and out with paper towels.
2. Heat 1Â¼4 cup of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the onions with 1Â¼2 teaspoon of the salt, stirring, until the onions are translucent, about eight minutes. Add the drained rice and pine nuts and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice is well-coated with oil, about two minutes. Add 3Â¼4 cup of the water, the chopped tomato, currants, pepper, allspice, mint and dill. Stir, reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid, but is still a little hard, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the sugar.
3. Stuff the eggplants with the rice, not too lightly, not too loosely. Replace the "lid" of the eggplant, and arrange the stuffed eggplants in a deep casserole, side by side. Divide the remaining 1 cup water, 1Â¼2 cup olive oil, and 1Â¼2 teaspoon salt among the three stuffed eggplants, cover, and cook until the eggplants are soft but still maintain their shape, about 1 1Â¼4 hours. Let the eggplants cool in the casserole.
Serve sliced at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.
The Shul That Comes to You
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.
Man of Action
During the Israel Festival at Woodley Park on Sun., April 29, 1,500 people left with a unique souvenir: a political tattoo. The temporary tattoo is a replica of the “Ha’am Im HaGolan” (“The Nation Is With the Golan”) bumper sticker popular among many Israelis and some Diaspora Jews.
At its festival booth, the organization Friends of the Golan showed off new real estate developments available for purchase on the Golan Heights, high-tech jobs and several charitable projects from The Golan Fund. In addition, the booth featured current projects sponsored through Los Angeles-based donations: a park at Kibbutz Afik and Park Baruch, to be built in Keshet. Dennis Van Meter of Kibbutz Afik helped anchor the volunteer crew at the festival.
In addition, more than 300 people signed a petition expressing unequivocal support for the people of the Golan and Israel.
Friends of the Golan, Los Angeles, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (310) 586-1792.
Commemorating Israel’s Fallen Heroes
Israel’s Wagner Taboo
Ideology seems to have won out over culture in Israel: The taboo on playing the music of pre-Nazi German composer Richard Wagner in concert has been upheld.
After strenuous protests by Holocaust survivor groups, backed by virtually the entire Israeli political spectrum, the decision was taken last week to look for an alternative to the Wagner concert that had been scheduled for this summer’s Israel Festival, the country’s annual international cultural showcase.
The traditional Israeli ban on Wagner’s operas has loosened of late; last October the Israel Symphony Orchestra in Rishon Lezion gave the first public performance of a Wagner work, albeit a nonideological one. Yet the Israel Festival’s plan for this country’s second public performance of Wagner was incomparably more ambitious and conspicuous: Israel-bred superstar conductor Daniel Barenboim was to bring his Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra to Jerusalem’s Convention Center on July 7 to perform a piece from the opera "Die Walküre," which the concert’s opponents say is a horrifically anti-Semitic German tale. Placido Domingo was to sing the lead.
The concert has not been officially canceled; the festival’s board of directors said it did not want to act as a censor. Yet after having twice previously endorsed the concert, the board ordered the festival’s artistic team to meet with Barenboim and try to find an alternative to the Wagner piece in light of the protests that have arisen.
Beneath the official level, though, in the stratum where music, not ideology, reigns, Israel takes a very different view. Professional classical musicians here — players, conductors and composers — have long chafed under the Wagner ban. With few exceptions, they want his works to be performed openly in Israel, even while fully recognizing that he was an especially demonic Jew-hater and a Nazi favorite. Many play Wagner abroad, including in Germany.
They argue that musical notes and rests cannot be anti-Semitic, and that even Wagner’s lyrics aren’t explicitly so, either. And even if they are, said Israel Festival artistic director Micha Lewensohn, "Did you ever read the lyrics to Bach’s passions?"
And if anti-Semites are to be banned from Israeli concert halls, most classical musicians say, the list might well begin with Wagner, but would also have to take in Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and many other local favorites.
As for the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors, who number some 300,000 in Israel, some leading advocates of Wagner in concert are themselves survivors or children of survivors, and they say they’ve received outspoken encouragement from a number of others.
The conductor of Wagner in Rishon Lezion last October was Mendi Rodan, a Holocaust survivor and former director of Jerusalem’s Rubin Academy of Music, Israel’s leading training ground for classical musicians. Rodan conducts Wagner frequently in Europe. Though the Rishon Lezion performance was briefly disrupted by a Holocaust survivor in the audience who rattled a Purim noisemaker, Rodan said other survivors were among the audience of about 500 that applauded the performance of the "Siegfried Idyll."
The country’s leading orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), is officially against playing Wagner "as long as a single Holocaust survivor who objects is still alive," said Avi Shoshani, the IPO’s director-general. But among the 100 or more musicians in the orchestra, "more than 90 percent of them want to play Wagner," Shoshani said, noting that this was their view as far back as the 1970s, when the IPO first canvassed them on the issue.
Along with Barenboim, the other star conductor who has tried to wedge Wagner onto the Israeli stage is Zubin Mehta, the conductor most closely associated with the IPO. In 1981 Mehta conducted the IPO in an encore from the opera "Tristan und Isolde," but an usher went onstage and bared scars he’d received at a concentration camp, and Mehta halted the performance. Until about a decade ago, there was a ban on performing Richard Strauss, who was adopted by the Nazis in his old age — and soon renounced because he wasn’t sufficiently anti-Semitic — and on the works of Carl Orff, a lesser Jew-hater. Israel has since "rehabilitated" these composers enough to be played in public.
But Wagner? To use an Israeli saying, that’s a whole different opera.
Intifada: No Let-up
Israel in the Valley
So 40,000 people can’t be wrong, right? That’s how many people are expected to attend next week’s 53rd Annual Israel Independence Day Festival. KRLA’s Dennis Prager will emcee the festival’s official ceremony, and special guests will include Israeli Minister of Transportation Ephraim Sneh (official representative of the Israeli government) and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert. Yoram Gutman returns as festival director.
Location, location, location — ostensibly, that’s the big difference between this year’s Valley-based festival, previously held at Pan Pacific Park. Due to area construction, the festival will be held at Woodley Park in Van Nuys this year.
But according to festival organizers, there is another factor distinguishing this year’s event: a focus on the next generation of the Jewish community. For the first time, the festival will offer the Teen Tent Schmooze, where teenagers can congregate and meet with Tel Aviv high schoolers who will be performing on stage. There will also be an area for singles in their 20’s and 30’s, complete with DJ’s spinning records.
And don’t forget to drop by the Journal’s booth. A festival sponsor, the Journal will offer an art contest and prize raffle.
As in previous years, the festival will feature a variety of children’s entertainment and rides, an artists’ pavilion, food kiosks, youth activities and sky divers. A “Heritage Pavilion,” sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel, will feature a display called “Changes” that will chronicle the timeline of Israel’s growth and development through pictures. Among the entertainers taking to the stage this year: Yaffa Yarkoni, Shimi Tavori and Eddie Grimberg & His Orchestra.
While the big idea here is to have fun, Israeli-style, festival chair Chaim Linder told The Journal that for the organizers, there is a deeper subtext beneath the mirth.
“We really want to show the support of Jewish community of L.A. to Israel, especially today when Israel is in such a bind,” said Linder. “We view this as our main mission.”
The 53rd Annual Israel Independence Day Festival will take place Sun., April 29, 10 a.m -6 p.m at Woodley Park, Woodley Avenue, between Burbank and Victory, Van Nuys. Admission is free, parking $7. For more information or to volunteer, call (818) 757-0123 or (800) 644-9505, or go to www.israelfestival.com
The opera world has its Three Tenors. The University of Judaism (UJ) kicked off its day-long Festival of Jewish Learning with three stellar rabbis. The festival, offered by UJ’s Department of Continuing Education and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, partly as a companion piece to the Yesod program (to be featured in next week’s Journal), attracted 500 participants who spent last Sunday attending workshops and pondering their own places within Jewish life.
The day began with a panel, moderated by UJ President Robert Wexler, that featured prominent rabbis from Judaism’s three main movements: Harvey Fields of Wilshire Boulevard Temple (Reform), Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom (Conservative), and Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation (Orthodox). The topic was "Where Will We Be in the Year 2010?," but the broad scope and limited time made for colorful sound bites rather than serious debate. Weil maintained his dignity in trying to explain to a highly partisan crowd why, within Orthodoxy, Jewish law takes precedence over human feelings when it comes to the hot-button issue of inclusion.
Course offerings for the morning sessions ranged from "Sephardic Mysticism" to "Was Joseph a Woman?" Rabbi Perry Netter led a spirited discussion on the nature of evil, and Professor Gerald Bubis riled some participants by focusing on the harsh treatment of Arabs in today’s Israel. At an open-air lunch included in the $10 admission fee (thanks to underwriting by the Jewish Community Foundation), attendees enjoyed the melodies of a Claremont College quintet known as Klezmont. Over sandwiches, many were avidly discussing Jewish questions: Who is a Jew? Did Jesus consider himself Jewish? Could Jewish dietary laws have averted mad cow disease?
Afternoon workshops, once again conducted by rabbis and scholars, featured Dr. Michael Berenbaum on the Holocaust, Rabbi Mark Fasman on midrash, and Rabbi Edward Feinstein suggesting "How to Argue with God and Win." Attendee Patty Fiden called a meditation workshop "a little too airy-fairy New Age for me," but basically satisfaction ran high. Dave Recht approached Gady Levy, who organized the festival as UJ director of continuing education, with a compliment: "Did you arrange all this? You did a good job. It’s unbelievable."
Another happy participant was Scott Kassner, who came because "I’ve been looking to find a way to make Judaism meaningful beyond going to services, which is pretty much by rote." Kassner did notice that most of his fellow participants were "people my parents’ age." Are these, he wonders, "the only people who have time to learn?" He may be right. Festival plans originally called for free childcare, but demand for it was almost nil. Young families, in other words, were spending their Sunday elsewhere.
The fact that the festival was completely sold out is a testament to the L.A. Jewish community’s keen desire for study. Now Levy and his team, in planning future events, are giving serious thought to how the age span can be broadened.
Next week: read the Journal for coverage of the University of Judaism’s in-depth Yesod study program, as well as a profile of Gady Levy, its organizer.
Educator Q &A: Dr. Stu Bernstein
If the mark of a fully matured film industry is that directors have logged enough time behind the camera that one can spot personal styles emerging over several films, then this year’s Israel Film Festival proves that the Israelis have definitely reached that plateau. With Eran Riklis (“Cup Final”) represented by two features and a new film by Aner Preminger (“Blind Man’s Bluff”), not to mention the latest work from Israel’s one truly world-class director, Amos Gitai, one can speak comfortably of Israeli auteurs.
Truth be told, the Israelis had reached that particular plateau many years ago, but who wanted to brag about the generally meretricious work of Menachem Golan or the trivialities of Amos Kollek? No, it was Gitai and Eli Cohen (“The Quarrel”) who first drew some positive attention.
With “Cup Final,” Riklis announced himself as the next Israeli filmmaker to watch, and this status is probably confirmed by the fact that his latest film, “Vulcan Junction,” is the opening night offering at this year’s festival, the 16th annual version of the event. Unfortunately, “Vulcan Junction” is of a piece with the previous Riklis film shown in the festival, “Zohar: Mediterranean Blues”; that biopic (of the Mizrachi singer Zohar Argov) looked and felt like an American TV movie, sloppy, mannered and hurried. “Vulcan Junction” is a multi-character melodrama, following the gradual breakup of a ’70s rock band and the circle of friends surrounding it, shot in the same disjunctive TV-and-rock-video style as “Zohar,” but without that film’s compelling central personality. Thematically, Riklis has some interesting pre-occupations — the way in which people use pop culture (soccer, rock music) to hide from their personal problems, the damaging nature of overweening machismo — but he hasn’t yet found forms to express them.
National film industries develop different genre strengths. In the past decade, the Israelis have emerged as purveyors of intriguingly quirky comedies with the tart edgy quality of the classic American screwball works of the ’30s, and bleak family melodramas with more than a suggestion of maverick filmmakers like John Cassavetes and his successors. The best of the theatrical features on view in the festival fall into these two categories.
The festival’s closing night film, “Yana’s Friends,” directed by Arik Kaplun, is a warm and engaging comedy about a young Russian émigré, the very fetching Evelyne Kaplun, who finds herself abandoned by her ne’er-do-well husband in a dazzling and confusing Tel Aviv on the eve of the Gulf War. Kaplun is himself a transplanted Russian (with a background in medicine, of all things), and this sweetly sentimental film has all the earmarks of first-hand experience. Like so many other Israeli films, it is structured around a large ensemble cast, a veritable community constellation from which its protagonists emerge. A first feature of real promise.
Gideon Kolirin produced one of the most execrable Israeli films of the ’90s, an embarrassing adaptation of Amos Oz’s “Black Box,” so nothing could have prepared me for his second feature as a director, “Zur Hadasim.” This is a quirky, punky ensemble comedy about two couples, all of them born losers, living on the edge of booming Tel Aviv society, desperately trying to grab a share of its largesse. Etti is pregnant. Her idiot boyfriend, Shaul, is a minor functionary in the underworld, a self-satisfied schlemiel with the IQ of a fire hydrant. The pair become entangled with Adi and Ilana, a similar, older couple, who have engineered a kidnapping that, through no particular expertise of theirs, should net them a tidy sum. Eventually, all the film’s players end up on the site of a never-to-be-built luxury housing development whose name gives the film its title, where things are worked out amusingly, if a trifle too neatly. An edgy, funny little film about the lure of foolish dreams of prosperity.