September 22, 2018

Moving & Shaking: ‘Schmaltz, Schmendricks and Showbiz!’ Dishes on Pop Culture; Art Show Supports ADL

From left: Psychologist and screenwriter Michael Berlin, Temple Beth Am Programming Director Lia Mandelbaum, Variety Co-Editor-in-Chief Andrew Wallenstein, “Conan” writer Rob Kutner, Jewish Journal contributing writer Esther D. Kustanowitz, Temple Beth Am Vice President of Programming and Engagement Jacqui Jacobs and TV editor Michelle Fellner organized and participated in “Schmaltz, Schmendricks and Showbiz!” Photo by Lia Mandelbaum

A pop-culture roundtable at Temple Beth Am on Nov. 16, featuring five creative Jewish professionals, examined depictions of Jews in movies and television and what they say about American-Jewish life.

“Tonight, we want to talk about how the Jewish experience has changed over time,” psychologist and screenwriter Michael Berlin, the event moderator, said at the start of the evening, titled “Schmaltz, Schmendricks and Showbiz!”

During the event, comedy writer Rob Kutner (“Conan”) discussed what it was like being a pro-Israel writer at “The Daily Show” and having more pro-Israel views than then-host Jon Stewart. Kutner said he tried to bring more balance to the content of a “Daily Show” segment that portrayed pro-Israel Jews as being unwilling to listen to anything other than full-throated support for Israel.

“I didn’t want to argue too much with my boss, but I was trying to present a reasonable pro-Israel position,” Kutner said.

Michelle Fellner, a television editor whose credits include “Mad Men,” recalled how she bonded with show creator Matt Weiner over their shared Jewish heritage when she worked on the Emmy Award-winning drama.

Over the course of the evening, the panelists presented clips from films and television shows that depicted Jews in flattering and negative ways. Journal contributing writer Esther D. Kustanowitz discussed “JAP Battle,” a clip from the musical-comedy show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” featuring two Jewish American princesses trading rap verses skewering each other and Jewish stereotypes.

Kustanowitz said the evening was an opportunity “for Jews to emerge beyond the stereotype.”

During a Q-and-A toward the end of the night, Temple Beth Am Rabbi Ari Lucas asked the panelists how Judaism informed their approach to their work. Andrew Wallenstein, co-editor-in-chief of Variety, said he struggles with staying true to the Jewish law prohibiting lashon harah (Hebrew for “gossip”) because almost 90 percent of the content on his newspaper’s website is gossip. Still, he said, he hopes the articles shed some light on troubling realities in society.

American Jewish Committee Los Angeles President Scott Edelman (left) and Learned Hand Award recipient John Rogovin. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Los Angeles honored John Rogovin, executive vice president and general counsel at Warner Bros. Entertainment, with the AJC Learned Hand Award on Oct. 25 at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles.

“Who better exemplifies the spirit of liberty than the American Jewish Committee, which I admire so much for their work on behalf of all of us — Jews and non-Jews — safeguarding human rights,” Rogovin said in his acceptance speech.

Michael Powell, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, presented Rogovin with the award.

Attendees at the ceremony honoring Rogovin included John Emerson, former United States ambassador to Germany. Emerson delivered the evening’s keynote speech on the importance of U.S.-Germany ties and the role AJC plays in that relationship.

Norman Eisen, former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, and Matthew Dontzin, founding partner at Dontzin, Nagy & Fleissig, served as the masters of ceremonies.

The dinner co-chairs were Jaye Rogovin, John Rogovin’s wife; former AJC National President Bruce Ramer; AJC Los Angeles President Scott Edelman; and Latham & Watkins partner Joseph Calabrese.

AJC Los Angeles Director Dan Schnur opened the program.

AJC, an advocacy group combating anti-Semitism, supporting Israel and more, established the Learned Hand Award, the highest honor the organization bestows to an individual in the legal profession, in memory of Judge Learned Hand, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

From left: Deanna Migdal, Esther Friedberg, Chellie Goldwater Wilensky, Gail Simpson, Susan Isaacs and Ivy Libeross attend the NA’AMAT USA luncheon. Photo courtesy of NA’AMAT USA

The San Fernando Valley Council of NA’AMAT USA held its annual Distinguished Community Leader Awards luncheon at American Jewish University on Oct. 29.

This year’s honorees were Dr. Fran Kaufman, a prominent figure in the treatment of pediatric diabetes; community activist Barbara Yaroslavsky, for her fight against poverty; and Gail and Myles Simpson, for their service to NA’AMAT and Conservative Judaism.

“I am very appreciative of this honor,” Gail Simpson said. “NA’AMAT has been a part of my life for the past 40 years. I’ve seen all of our accomplishments in Israel and how NA’AMAT has improved the lives of women and their families. Our programs are constantly evolving as the needs of women grow and change.”

NA’AMAT USA, a volunteer organization, partners with NA’AMAT Israel to provide educational and social services for families and individuals in need.

The luncheon included a video screening about NA’AMAT’s technological high schools for disadvantaged and at-risk teens in Israel, introduced by the organization’s national vice president of public relations and publicity, Susan Isaacs.

“It is an inspiration to recognize the achievements of our distinguished honorees,” NA’AMAT USA Executive Director Deanna Migdal said. “These leaders serve as models for us all as we work to fulfill our mission of enhancing the quality of life of women and children in Israel.”

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

“Fauda” star Laetitia Eido poses on the red carpet at the Israel Film Festival. Photo by Alex Zamyatin

As part of the Israel Film Festival, 220 people attended a screening of a new episode from the Israeli TV hit “Mossad 101” at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills on Nov. 15. The screening was followed by a panel discussion about how to expand the impact of Israeli television. Adam Berkowitz, co-head of television at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), moderated the panel, titled “Israeli TV: An American Success Story.”

“Israeli TV is quite young — 27 years,” said Udi Segal, founding CEO of Sumayoko Films, which produced “Mossad 101.” “It can offer young and enthusiastic creators.”

Segal said Israeli creators tend to have lower budgets than their American counterparts, which is helpful for the creative process. “When you have a small box, you must think outside it,” he said.

“Israelis are innovators and entrepreneurs, and want to invent and push the envelope,” said Sharon Tal, head of drama and comedies at Amazon. “They never want to think safe. They always have something to say and they say it.” She added that Israeli writers are used to a “very honest and brutal approach,” that they’re not afraid of getting notes about their scripts, while American writers have to be “treated with kid gloves.”

“What makes a good TV show is to take reality and exaggerate it a little,” said writer David Shore (“House,” “The Good Doctor”). “That’s what Israel is — reality that’s a little more heightened and a little more focused.”

The panel also included Danna Stern, managing director of Yes Studios, and award-winning actor Tsahi Halevi. Halevi has been acting for about five years and now is enjoying recognition for his work in “Mossad 101” and “Fauda,” both of which were featured at the festival.

“The last year-and-a-half has changed the formats business,” said Michael Gordon, an agent at CAA. Gordon said Israel is particularly well positioned to export stories. It generates “organic stories, because the population isn’t homogenous,” he said.

Both “Fauda” and “Mossad 101” present diverse characters coming into conflict with one another over cultural or ideological differences.

The following night, Nov. 16, the festival hosted a red-carpet world premiere for the second season of “Fauda,” featuring two sold-out screenings and a Q-and-A panel discussion with the talent and creators of the show.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

From left: Sephardic Education Center (SEC) Director Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, “NCIS: Los Angeles” actress Daniela Ruah, Sephardic Film Festival honoree Joe Ouaknine and SEC President Neil Sheff. Photo courtesy of Sephardic Educational Center

The Sephardic Educational Center (SEC) kicked off its 14th annual Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival on Nov. 5 with a dinner under the stars at the Paramount Studios lot.

Every year, the Sephardic Film Festival showcases original stories by filmmakers around the world, while highlighting the heritage and culture of Sephardim.

This year’s opening film was actor and director Ze’ev Revach’s “Back to Casablanca.” The film follows Revach’s journey back to his homeland in search of a Moroccan actor to star alongside him in his next film, which he dreams he’ll be able to distribute around the Arab world.

SEC President Neil Sheff delivered remarks at the start of the evening.

Proceeds from the weeklong festival, which closed on Nov. 12, support SEC educational programs, including SEC Hamsa Israel, a trip to Israel for teenagers led by SEC Director Rabbi Daniel Bouskila.

The SEC presented Joe Ouaknine, co-founder of Titan Industries, a women’s fashion footwear company, with the Maimonides Leadership Award. Ouaknine was born in Morocco, immigrated to Canada, moved to Los Angeles in 1977 and is an active supporter of the Los Angeles Sephardic community, the SEC website says.

Actress Daniela Ruah (“NCIS: Los Angeles”) emceed the evening.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

LACMA Director Michael Govan poses at “ArtWorks ADL” with (from left) his wife, fashion and luxury brand consultant Katherine Ross; Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind; ADL executive committee member Nicole Mutchnik; and Sotheby’s Executive Vice President and Chairwoman Andrea Fiuczynski. Photo courtesy of Anti-Defamation League

“ArtWorks ADL: Justice, Advocacy And Art” drew more than 400 art aficionados, philanthropists and friends of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to the Beverly Hills home of husband-and-wife entrepreneurs and philanthropists Lisa and Joshua Greer.

The Oct. 26 event, held in the Greers’ backyard on a balmy evening, showcased more than 40 paintings, sculptures and mixed-media works donated by Los Angeles-based artists and galleries inspired by the ADL mission and representing the Jewish, Asian-American, Latino, African-American and LGBT communities.

Andrea Fiuczynski, executive vice president and chairwoman at Sotheby’s America, conducted a live auction. The event raised $420,000 to support ADL programs combating hate and bigotry.

Attendees included the evening’s co-chairs, Los Angeles County Museum of Art Director Michael Govan and international art consultant Lauren Taschen.

Festival Honoree Jeffrey Tambor Reveals How ‘Transparent’ Brought Him Back to His Jewish Roots

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 12: Actor Jeffrey Tambor is photographed at the summer Television Critics Association for Portrait Session on July 12, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Maarten de Boer/Contour by Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jeffrey Tambor

Jeffrey Tambor has won two Emmys, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award for playing transgender matriarch Maura Pfefferman in the Amazon Prime series “Transparent.” On Nov. 5, he will receive another honor: the Israel Film Festival’s Achievement in Television Award at the festival’s opening-night gala at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.

In a telephone interview with the Journal, Tambor, 73, discussed the tribute, the ways playing Maura has changed him, and how a fictional trip to Israel in “Transparent” reconnected him with his real-life Jewish roots.

Jewish Journal: What does this award mean to you?

Jeffrey Tambor: When I first got the news, I was shocked. I was really stunned by it. I went, “Aw, shucks, do I deserve this?” But I will take it! It’s such a huge honor. I thought of my mom and dad — they’d be so pleased. I saw the [clip] reel they put together and it’s astounding. But what stood out was the number of weight changes I’ve had. And you can see the hairline recede.

JJ: Have you attended the festival before?

JT: No. And I’ve never been to Israel.

JJ: Didn’t you go there to shoot “Transparent” this season?

JT: We weren’t able to go because of scheduling and shooting reasons. Only a second unit went to shoot some external scenes. The [Western] Wall was built on the backlot at Paramount. No one would have known. As a Jew, I wanted to go [to Israel] so very much — it’s a life goal. But I felt as if we did go. And I felt changed by it. That moment at the Wall was one of the most astonishing days of my acting life. I completely burst into tears because they made it look so authentic, with the background artists praying against the Wall. It was very transformative, like an awakening. This whole year [of “Transparent”] got me more in touch with my Jewish roots, shocked me awake. It’s ironic that Maura led the way, but I’m much more connected than I’ve ever been.

JJ: Do you go to synagogue? Pray more?

JT: No, I have my own way of expressing my Judaism. I’m just more in touch, more interested, more spiritual. My connection is much more strong.

JJ: What memories stand out from your Jewish childhood?

JT: I went to cheder [Hebrew school] in San Francisco at Temple Beth Shalom in the early 1950s. We put a quarter in for planting trees [in Israel] every week. My bar mitzvah ceremony was beautiful but a little stressful. It was a long haftarah. I could read Hebrew well, but I opened the Torah for the first time and there were no diphthongs or vowels, like we studied in cheder. And nobody told me that the congregation would say “amen” at the end of each phrase. That threw me off track. So I went off book at my first performance.

JJ: What does it mean to you to star in the most Jewish show on TV?

JT: People come up to me and say it’s spot-on. I love it. Sometimes we’re allowed to ad lib a little bit and these Yiddishisms that I didn’t know that I knew come out. In one scene, I was signaling to Judith Light and I said, “Farmach da pisk.” It means be quiet, shut your mouth. I’m channeling my parents, who spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want me to know what was going on.

JJ: Where would you like to see “Transparent” go from here?

JT: I don’t know — I ask them not to tell me because I want to be surprised. What I can say is what Maura finds out this season about her family will change her and connect her more to her Jewish roots. The whole family is transformed. It’s a journey, a road. We all start out in ignorance, thinking we know where we’re going, but we don’t. We all think Judaism is this or that, but it’s older and wiser than I or my character ever knew.

JJ: “Arrested Development” is coming back to Netflix. Any details?

JT: No, but I can say that it’s [creator Mitch Hurwitz’s] best season yet. It’s hilarious. He’s pulled out all the stops. I think playing Maura has given my acting strokes a little more color, and I think Oscar and George [twins played by Tambor on “Arrested Development”] are better as a result. We’ll finish in a few weeks, and around Jan. 29, we start the fifth season of “Transparent.” So this is a very interesting time for me, a very lucky time.

JJ: You have some movies coming up. Tell me about “Magic Camp.”

JT: I play the owner and head magician. I’ve never done magic, and it was not done with special effects. I had trouble. I remember the rabbit in the hat looking at me like, “Just pull me out, schmuck!” There was a certain trick with a cane that drove me crazy. But they trained me and I got pretty good at it. A magician came to the house to work with me and he performed for my family. It was one of the most wonderful afternoons we’ve ever had.

JJ: You’re also the voice of God in the animated film “Adventures of Drunky.”

JT: It’s the story of Job. My God is a little ironic. He’s Old Testament with a malevolent, satiric bent. I did a play called “J.B.” in college, by Archibald MacLeish, and I played Job. I went from Job to God.

JJ: Did you ever think you’d have so much success later in life?

JT: When I was in repertory theater in Detroit, Mich., another actor read my palm and said, “It’s going to happen for you, but very, very late.” Boy, was he right. Now I get the pleasure of playing Maura. What an honor. I thought it was going to be Lear, but it’s Maura Pfefferman. I’m very lucky. This is what I wanted to do all my life. I think we all come into this life for a purpose, and sometimes it gets revealed and sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m glad I answered the call. I have a wife and four kids — 12, 10 and twins, 8 — and just watching them evolve is one of the deepest pleasures of my life. They’re my teachers and my inspirers. I couldn’t be happier.

Moving and Shaking: IFF holds annual luncheon, synagogues collect items for refugees, Saban on Walk of Fame

From left: Israeli actress Sapir Azulay, Israeli-American film producer Avi Lerner, talent agent Adam Berkowitz, Israeli actress and producer Noa Tishby, IsraFest founder and executive director Meir Fenigstein, “House” creator David Shore and Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul (in front) attend the IsraFest luncheon. Photo by Pal Photography.

Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the Isra-Fest Foundation, which brings Israeli films to Los Angeles each year as part of the Israel Film Festival (IFF), knows how to thank his supporters. Several months before each festival, he invites them to a luncheon at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills.

Fenigstein made aliyah with his family three years ago after residing in Los Angeles for many years. He continues to run the IFF from his new home in Israel and through frequent visits to L.A.

This year, the luncheon honored David Shore, creator of the television show “House” and a board member at Save a Child’s Heart, with the IFF Visionary Award; Adam Berkowitz, co-head of the television department at Creative Artists Agency, who has been instrumental in selling numerous TV shows, including “Seinfeld” and two Israeli series, “The Greenhouse” and “Fauda,” with the IFF Career Achievement Award; and Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Max Webb with the IFF Lifetime Achievement Award.

Webb delivered the most moving speech of the event, recounting his 12 years in labor camps and six concentration camps, and the promise he made to himself, his mother and to God. “I made a vow that if I get out of this hell, I’ll help others in need, the Jewish people and Israel,” Webb said.

After building a real estate empire in California, he kept true to his promise and donated millions of dollars to charity organizations, hospitals and the State of Israel.

During the event, Webb celebrated his 100th birthday (his actual birthday is March 2) and blew out candles on a cake presented to him by Fenigstein, while guests sang “Happy Birthday.”

IFF will take place Nov. 7-22 at various Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego.  Photo by Tyson Roberts.

Temple Beth Am members Gary Bachrach (left) and Mathis Chazanov pose behind of a U-Haul truck loaded with donated household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego. Photo by Tyson Roberts.

What began as a partnership between Temple Beth Am and B’nai David-Judea to collect household items for refugee resettlement in San Diego grew into a community-wide effort involving six local Jewish organizations, with a daylong collection effort on March 16 dubbed “Project Hope.”

A rented truck driven by Beth Am member Tyson Roberts began to make its rounds at 7 a.m., stopping at private homes as well as multiple synagogues. Community members donated furniture, toiletries and other everyday necessities. The following day, Roberts delivered the donations to Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFSSD), which helps resettle refugees from around the world. By March 17, some of the items collected already had furnished apartments for two Afghan families, JFSSD said.

Temple Beth Am’s Refugee Taskforce led the collection drive, partnering with Camp Gilboa. Roberts’ daughter, Shoshana Roberts, spearheaded Camp Gilboa’s involvement as her bat mitzvah project, working with the camp’s executive director, Dalit Shlapobersky.

The other Jewish institutions involved were IKAR, Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice and Kehilat Israel in the Pacific Palisades.

The effort collected dining sets, sofas, armchairs, toaster and microwaves ovens, a crib and more. It was the second iteration of Project Hope, following a previous collection last August.

Tyson Roberts said he hopes to hold a third donation drive this summer. “A lot of people, as I was loading the truck, were like, ‘Wait, I still have stuff!’ ” he said.

More information and a list of items requested by the JFSSD can be found online at tbala.org/get-involved/project-hope.

— Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

From left: Mayor Eric Garcetti, David Foster, Haim Saban and Simon Cowell come together to celebrate Saban receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored Haim Saban with a star on the Walk of Fame in front of the Egyptian Theatre at 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Lionsgate, the film studio behind “Saban’s Power Rangers,” now in theaters, nominated Saban, an Israeli-American media producer, businessman and philanthropist, for the honor.

Saban, the creator of the “Power Rangers” television show, expressed his gratitude to Lionsgate during the March 22 ceremony “for your belief in the ‘Power Rangers’ franchise, and for your unconditional support for the launch of the ‘Power Rangers’ movie … [which,] Baruch Ha-Shem, with God’s help, will be a resounding success.”

The fee for installing a star on the Walk of Fame is $40,000 and the sponsor of the nominee is responsible for the cost. The money benefits the nonprofit Hollywood Historic Trust.

Attendees included Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leron Gubler, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, musician David Foster and former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell.

Saban is a member in the Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2017 in the Television category, joining Sarah Silverman, Jeffrey Tambor and George Segal.

Bill and Hillary Clinton congratulated Saban for receiving a star on the Walk of Fame in a letter that was published on the website of Variety. “This well-deserved honor is not only a testament to your decades of groundbreaking contributions in the entertainment industry,” the letter from the former U.S. president and his wife, the former senator and presidential candidate, says, “but to your enduring generosity and efforts to advance good causes across America and around the world.”


Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Sean Phil, an Agoura Hills resident and former Israel Defense Forces officer, leads a training exercise for teenage students at “Israel 200.” Photo courtesy of CTeen Conejo.

Feb. 5 Israel solidarity event titled “Israel 200” — which aimed to draw 200 student attendees — attracted 120 teenage students in grades 8 through 12 to Chabad of North Ranch. The event featured workshops, a buffet lunch and discussions that included “Israel — Why Should I Care?”

Organizers were Rabbi Mendy Friedman and Mushka Friedman, co-directors of CTeen Conejo.

“We may be thousands of miles away [from Israel], but the events going on there are of utmost importance to Jews and people of conscience all over, including teens,” Mushka Friedman said in a statement.

Speakers were from StandWithUs, the Jewish National Fund and other organizations, including Israel Defense Forces (Ret.) Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, founder of Our Soldiers Speak. Additionally, students participated in a boot camp training that “pushed them to discover inner strengths and the ability to go beyond themselves,” a press release said.

CTeen Conejo describes itself as “a community organization under the auspices of Chabad that is dedicated to encouraging teens to make the world a better place.”


From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

From left: Erez Goldman, Oded Krashinsky, Naty Saidoff, Michael Michalov, Guy Bachar, Miri Shepher, Mazal Hadad, Danny Alpert, Adam Milstein, Tamir Cohen, Amnon Mizrahi and Shawn Evenhaim attend the Israeli American Council gala. Photo by Linda Kasian.

More than 1,000 people attended the ninth annual Israeli American Council (IAC) gala dinner at the Beverly Hilton hotel on March 19.

Guests included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, whose support has helped the IAC open 12 regional offices across the United States since a group of Israeli-American leaders founded the organization a decade ago in Los Angeles.

IAC has grown steadily since its establishment, holding community events such as the Celebrate Israel festival and operating a variety of programs, including Eitanim, which connects high school students to Israel as they prepare for college and develop professional skills.

IAC National Chairman Adam Milstein discussed the importance of the organization for the future generations of Israeli Americans.

“As I think about the future and look 10, 20, 50 years down the line, I’m not sure if I will be here, but I know the IAC will be. We are creating a grass-roots movement that will last for generations for Israel, for America and for the Jewish people,” he said.

Additional speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was introduced as the city’s first Jewish mayor; radio host and Journal columnist Dennis Prager; and Holocaust survivor David Wiener, who was the gala honoree in recognition of his philanthropy and passionate involvement with many organizations that support Israel and Jewish life.

Wiener told his heart-wrenching story of survival, saying, “The best day of my life was the day the State of Israel was established.”

Mentalist Lior Suchard emceed the evening. During his performance, he guessed correctly the name of one woman’s first love, one of his many mind-reading tricks.

During the fundraising portion of the evening, attendees pledged more than $2 million in support of the organization, including IAC board member Naty Saidoff’s pledge of almost $600,000.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. n

Moving and Shaking: Israel Film Festival, Tour de Summer Camps and more

Choking back tears, Israel Film Festival (IFF) founder and director Meir Fenigstein thanked the 500 guests who attended a gala event Nov. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel marking the 30th anniversary of the annual festival in the Los Angeles area.

“Thirty years ago, I could not have imagined how far this event would come. This festival has now brought over 1,000 Israeli films and hundreds of filmmakers to reach over 1 million people here in the United States,” he said.

Fenigstein recalled how he started the festival in Boston with only six Israeli films over four days. Today, the festival screens more than 30 Israeli films, including features, documentaries and students’ films and runs close to two weeks, ending this year on Nov. 23. The festival previously took place in other U.S. cities as well but has been only in Los Angeles the past few years. 

At the gala, a day after the presidential election, actress Natalie Portman accepted the Israel Film Festival Achievement award. Israeli-born Portman, who is pregnant with her second child and who supported Hillary Clinton, discussed the election without mentioning the winner, Donald Trump, by name.

“Let’s look into each other’s hearts, express our own and use our curiosity against future simplification and fanaticism. Fanatics have no sense of humor and very seldom are they curious. Tonight, let’s celebrate these curious artists exercising, in the words of Amos Oz, ‘the moral virtue of curiosity,’ ” she said.

Portman also talked about her directorial debut, “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” based on the autobiography of Israeli author Oz. Portman also wrote the script and starred in the film.  

Actress Sharon Stone, the recipient of the IFF Career Achievement award, spoke of her friendship with the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, with whom she co-founded the YaLa young leaders’ peace movement, a global online organization. Peres “was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met and I’m truly going to miss him,” she said.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, received the Community Leadership award.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in L.A., with fellow riders at the Tour de Summer Camps fundraiser. Photo by Howard Pasamanick Photography

Despite a brief bout of inclement weather, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles hosted its fourth annual Tour de Summer Camps cycling fundraiser on Oct. 30.

The community-wide event raised $1.2 million to provide youngsters with scholarships to Jewish summer camps. The goal is to provide children with an opportunity to make lifelong friends and build a strong connection to Judaism through their camp experience.

More than 560 registered riders chose one of the four routes, which began at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin campus of American Jewish University in Simi Valley. The routes were 18 miles, 36 miles, 62 miles and 100 miles in length. Among the riders this year was Sam Grundwerg, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of Federation, said in a statement, “Sunday was a once-in-a-lifetime experience as we set the record in raising money for scholarships to send kids to Jewish summer camp. We couldn’t have predicted the [rainy] weather — but in the end, the rain combined with the excitement of the riders made for an unforgettable day. This was our most successful Tour de Summer Camps to date. The community truly came together for an important cause.”

The $1.2 million raised by the event is enough to provide 1,500 children with camp scholarships.

— Julie Bien, Contributing Writer


From left: Philanthropist Claude Mann at the L.A. Sephardic Film Festival with Sephardic Legacy Award recipient Jeannine Sefton, SEC director Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Cinema Sephardic Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Enrico Macias, SEC president and film fest co-founder Neil Sheff and film fest co-founder Sarita Fields. Photo by Michelle Mivzari

During the recent 13th Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival, three honorees received the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC) awards. 

The Maimonides Leadership Award went to Rae Cohen, community activist and past president of the Los Angeles Sephardic Home for the Aging (LASHA); Jeannine Sefton, founding member of the SEC, received the Sephardic Legacy Award; and French singer Enrico Macias received the Cinema Sephardic Lifetime Achievement Award.

Algerian-born Macias, who fled to France following the Algerian War of Independence in 1961, gave an emotional speech. “You are my family, my people,” said the 77-year-old chansonnier. “Whenever I come to Los Angeles, I feel like I come home because I have friends here who accept me with lots of love.” 

Macias talked about his desire to see an end to the conflict between Jews and Muslims: “I want to have peace between all the people, no more wars, no more conflicts, only friendship and love. I also don’t want to see separation between Sephardic and Ashkenazi [Jews]. Our people had suffered and known tragedies throughout our history and I want to reunite them all to be stronger and united.”

Attorney Neil Sheff, SEC president, who helped create the film festival, and Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, SEC director, gave each honoree a golden menorah. 

“Being a Sephardic Jew in this day and age is no longer an ethnic definition — it’s open to Jews of all backgrounds, whether they are Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Reform or Orthodox,” Bouskila said.

Macias performed some of his signature songs: “Je quitte mon pays” and “Le millionnaire du dimanche” to the delight of the audience, which sang along with him in French. 

The SEC, an international nonprofit education and cultural organization, was founded 36 years ago and has a campus in Jerusalem. The weeklong film festival, which ended Nov. 20, featured 10 films about Jewish and Middle Eastern communities in Greece, Italy, Australia and Israel, and was held at Laemmle’s Music Hall Theater in Beverly Hills. 

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Members of the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund gather with JVPF-LA grantees from ITIM, Jewish Women International and TRIBE Media Corp. Photo by Jonathan Gerber

At a Nov. 10 dinner in Brentwood, the Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund–LA (JVPF-LA) awarded a total of $175,000 in investment grants to the nonprofits ITIM, Jewish Women International and TRIBE Media Corp., parent organization of the Jewish Journal.

JVPF-LA, which was founded in 2003, is an independent giving circle of individuals who pool their financial resources to fund innovative programs consistent with Jewish values. 

More than 30 JVPF-LA members gathered at the home of Steve and Julie Bram to celebrate the three final awardees, which were selected from a pool of 73 applicants. “Our JVPF awards dinner is hands down my favorite night of the year,” said Julie Bram, “We shine a light on remarkable organizations doing great work.”

ITIM helps people in Israel navigate the religious bureaucracy, providing Israelis with information and free advocacy services in order to simplify processes like conversion. JVPF-LA granted ITIM a $60,000 challenge grant to fund a conversion program for Russian Jews. 

Jewish Women International received $50,000 from JVPF-LA to expand one of its flagship programs, the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN), to Los Angeles. YWLN helps  Jewish professional women in their 20s and 30s grow as leaders in their workplaces, communities and personal lives. 

TRIBE Media Corp. received $65,000 to significantly increase and expand video content. “This grant will enable us to bring our editorial vision and award-winning journalism to one of the most transformative and important mediums of our time” Journal Editor-in-Chief/Publisher Rob Eshman said. As a result, the Journal will be able to “dramatically increase the number of people we connect, inform and inspire on a daily basis, thus deepening connections to the Jewish community and understanding of the issues and events that shape our lives,” he added. 

“ITIM, Jewish Women International and the Jewish Journal serve diverse populations with different needs in the Jewish community,” said Gary Braitman, co-chair of JVPF-LA. “By investing in these three particular grantees, we are staying true to our mission to contribute to the strengthening of the entire Jewish community.” 

— Julia Moss, Director of Community Engagement


ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Diverse documentaries rule the Israel Film Festival

Films can show a country’s humor, history, obsessions and pride, and although big-star features get most of the attention, it is the sharply focused documentary that frequently cuts to the heart of the matter.

This rule applies to the ongoing Israel Film Festival, which is presenting Los Angeles and world premieres of six feature-length and three short documentaries.

Four of the feature docs were available for the Journal to view in advance, and they deal with a diversity of topics: the impact of the Six-Day War on those who fought it; an eccentric British clan that viewed itself as God’s gift to Zionism; the enterprise of the wave of German immigrants to Palestine in the 1930s; and a musical idol looking back on his rise and fall.

“Censored Voices”:  At the end of the Six-Day War in 1967, while Jews everywhere were celebrating the miraculous triumph of Israel’s armed forces, writer Amos Oz met with small groups of soldiers to talk about their war experiences. The men were kibbutzniks, who traditionally formed the elite of the Israel Defense Forces.

” target=”_blank”> Israel Film Festival website.

‘Baba Joon,’ Israel’s Farsi-language film and official 2016 Academy Awards entry, to open the Israel

The Israel Film Festival kicks off its 29th season on Oct. 28 with one of the most unusual movies to emerge from the Jewish state, with characters who speak mainly in Farsi and represent a distinct thread in the country’s ethnic fabric.

“Baba Joon” garnered five Ophirs, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars, this year. The key Ophir was for best film, which automatically made the movie Israel’s entry for the Academy Award competition for best foreign-language film.

The film’s title is an affectionate Farsi salutation of a son to his father and takes on a more respectful dimension in speaking to one’s grandfather, said director-writer Yuval Delshad in a phone conversation from Israel.

For Delshad, 44, who is related to former Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, “Baba Joon” represents not only his debut feature but also an exploration of his own youth growing up in the dusty moshav of Zrahia in the northern Negev. Its inhabitants were almost all devout Persian-Jewish immigrants, who generally eked out a hardscrabble existence in a part of Israel rarely seen by tourists.

The entire 91-minute film is set on the turkey farm of Yitzhak, built by the sweat of his father after the latter emigrated from Iran to Israel. The old man ruled his family, especially his male descendants, with a heavy hand, and now that Yitzhak runs the farm, the latter applies the same discipline to his 13-year-old son Moti, so the boy can take over the farm when the time comes.

However, Moti’s passion lies in putting together junkyard cars, and he is the only one who can keep the family TV set functioning. He abhors the idea of spending his life in the company of gobbling turkeys or slicing off the beaks of turkey chicks.

So the scene is set for a classic generational clash in a culture in which the father is the pre-eminent authority, sharpened within an immigrant family whose elders speak Farsi and the children answer in Hebrew.

At this juncture, as in many Old World tales, the uncle from America arrives with tales of untold riches awaiting hardworking immigrants, particularly in golden California. Uncle Darius makes and sells jewelry, and as he trains Moti to follow in his footsteps, he promises the boy, “You can sell them in Beverly Hills and you’ll become a millionaire.”

But Uncle Darius, who has remained a bachelor, acknowledges that beneath all the glitter he is not happy. “I am all alone,” he says, triggering a tug-of-war in which the brothers try to convince each other to settle in their respective countries.

It would be unfair to reveal the emotional ending of the film, which is marked by superb cinematography of largely barren landscapes and fine acting by an oddly assembled cast.

For the key roles of father Yitzhak and son Moti, director Delshad first cast experienced actor Navid Negahban, best known in the United States as the terror mastermind Abu Nazir in Showtime’s “Homeland.” 

By contrast, 13-year-old Asher Avrahami, who had never acted before, was discovered during an audition in a village not far from the moshav where Delshad grew up in the 1980s. The boy turns in an absolutely convincing performance, and he is ably supported by a cast of actors of Iranian descent, some living in Israel and others in Europe, mostly Jewish.

Delshad said that he cast only actors who grew up in a Persian family environment. Even though he himself was born in Israel and has never been to Iran, Delshad said, “Iranian culture is amazing. It is in my DNA, my roots are there, and my dream is to visit the country some day.”

There are some 300,000 Persian Jews living in Israel and although most have integrated well, it’s a hard life, Delshad said. Those looking for greater material opportunities often move to New York or Los Angeles, to “the land of opportunities,” he said.

As for Delshad, he now lives in a Tel Aviv suburb with his wife, a son and a daughter, and he is happy to report there is no “cultural conflict between the generations.”

“Baba Joon” was made on a budget of about $1 million, with a small portion contributed by Angelenos Younes and Soraya Nazarian through their family foundation. Early buzz in the Hollywood trade papers gives “Baba Joon” a solid chance to land among the five finalists contending for the foreign-language film Oscar.

The Israel Film Festival runs Oct. 28-Nov. 19, with the opening night’s premiere of “Baba Joon” at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. During the evening, the Israel Film Festival will honor writer and producer Aaron Sorkin with the IFF Achievement in Film and Television Award, announced Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the IsraFest Foundation. On the same platform, Sharon S. Nazarian will receive the IFF Humanitarian Award.

A third honoree is actress Helen Mirren, who stars in “Woman in Gold,” which will be among the festival’s 29 narrative and documentary films, including numerous Los Angeles, American and world premieres. She will receive the IFF Career Achievement Award.


For ticket and general information, visit israelfilmfestival.com, call (310) 247-1800 or email info@israelfilmfestival.org.

Calendar October 25-31

SAT | OCT 25 
 
B.J. NOVAK 
 
While a book with the title “A Book With No Pictures” might initially sound like a turn off to children, this former “The Office” writer and actor guarantees a good time for both kids and parents. Demanding that every single word on the page get read aloud, Novak forces his readers to say things like “BLORK” and “Glibbity Globbity.” His collection of short stories,“One More Thing,” is a success with adults, and Novak is now bringing some silly onomatopoeia joy to his younger fans. Sat. 1 p.m. Free. Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-5320Nov. 6. Various locations. (310) 247-1800SUN | OCT 26 

DARYL HALL AND JOHN OATES 
 

MON | OCT 27 

THE GREAT JEWISH LOVE DEBATE 
 
The holiday season is fast approaching, and with it comes big family feasts, mall traffic and, for many of you, a rude reminder of your singlehood. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Be one of 200 eligible Jewish singles — 100 men, 100 women — to help try to answer what many are thinking this time of year: “Why is everyone still single?” Hosted and moderated by bestselling author Lori Gottlieb and featuring a panel of top dating experts, this town hall-style discussion will get all those questions — and answers — out in the open as we try to navigate the labyrinth of the human heart. Stick around for a fun post-show mixer. $40. Mon. 7:30 p.m. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (949) 689-1555WED | OCT 29 

“SMARTALKS” 
 
“WARSAW UPRISING” 
 
 

The Israel Film Festival reveals the heart of Israel to L.A.

The Israel Film Festival (IFF) will bring the real heartbeat of the Jewish state — often smothered under bellicose headlines — to Los Angeles through 28 feature and documentary films. The festival screens Oct. 23 through Nov. 6 at five different venues.

Kicking off the series is the opening-night presentation at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills of the haunting film “Next to Her,” whose co-star, Dana Ivgy, will be honored alongside producers Arnon Milchan (“Gone Girl”) and Mace Neufeld (“The Equalizer”).

Ivgy and the film’s producer, Estee Yacov-Mecklberg, will be on hand for a Q-and-A session, as part of the largest contingent of Israeli filmmakers and actors to participate in any IFF in its 28-year history.

Another special event will be the U.S. premiere of “The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films,” a documentary on Israeli producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.

The two cousins, particularly the flamboyant Golan, cut quite a wide swath through Hollywood in the 1980s before returning to Israel. The evening event at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills will feature a panel discussion on the life and times of Golan, who died in August of this year.

Many of the scheduled films will have their world, U.S., West Coast or Los Angeles premieres at the festival.

“Israeli cinema in on a roll,” noted Meir Fenigstein, the IFF’s founder and executive director. “The creativity, passion and depth that Israeli filmmakers are bringing to their projects have been truly amazing.”

The festival’s curtain raiser, “Next to Her,” is the emotionally intense story of Chelli, played by Liron Ben-Shlush, who also wrote the screenplay.

Chelli’s all-consuming preoccupation is to care for Gabby, her three-years-younger sister, who is mentally handicapped.

As anyone who has been in such a relationship with a family member knows, over time the experience can be immensely fulfilling and frustrating, rewarding and draining.

The two sisters play, watch television and sleep together, and Chelli sees to Gabby’s bodily needs and habits, from showering to keeping her from masturbating. When Chelli goes to work, she leaves Gabby at home, but is constantly listening for the ring of her cell phone, anticipating that Gabby is in some kind of trouble.

Into this claustrophobic world enters Zohar (Yaacov Daniel), a new substitute gym teacher at Chelli’s school. Socially inept, Zohar lives with his mother (Varda Ben Hur), whose all-enveloping “Yiddishe Mama” shtick makes for one of the film’s rare laughs.

Zohar and Chelli, two emotionally and sexually needy people, fall instantly in love, and, with Chelli taking the lead, engage in some lovemaking that is intense even by Hollywood standards.

Soon Zohar moves in with Chelli and Gabby, and the members of the ménage à trois adjust their lifestyles and emotions as best they can.

Zohar is kind-hearted, more grounded and certainly a neater housekeeper than his two female roommates. In the meantime, Gabby finds unexpected friendship in a daytime halfway house, to the barely hidden resentment of her veteran caretaker, Chelli.

As the plot appears to meander toward a happy ending, the principals face a new, life-changing crisis.

Director Asaf Korman, also Ben-Shlush’s husband in Tel Aviv’s tightly knit movie colony, draws remarkable performances from all of the members of his small cast, but Ivgy’s portrayal of the young handicapped sister will haunt viewers for a long time. Indeed, many critics have found it hard to believe that Ivgy was acting the role.

This year, the Israel Academy of Film bestowed an Ophir (Oscar’s Jewish cousin) on Ivgy as best supporting actress for her performance as Gabby.

On top of that, the 32-year old thespian won the best actress Ophir at the same award ceremony for playing a trouble-making Israeli soldier in “Zero Motivation,” which will be shown at the festival on Oct. 26 at the Laemmle Music Hall.

In a phone call from New York, Ivgy detailed the intensity and fear with which she approached the role of Gabby. One factor was that in writing the script for the film, Ben-Shlush drew on the relationship with her own, mentally handicapped sister.

“Liron (Ben-Shlush) is a very close friend, and I knew her sister, so when I took the role of Gabby I was so afraid that I would get it wrong, that I wouldn’t do justice to the part,” Ivgy said.

“I started reading about mental retardation, about the brain and medication,” she said. “Then I went to the institution where Liron’s sister was living. That was pretty intimidating at first, and the fact is that you rarely show this level of disability in a movie.”

Besides coping with the mental and emotional challenges of the role, Ivgy was in the second and third months of her pregnancy during the shooting of the film.

“I didn’t tell anyone about it,” she said, “but I tried to avoid acting in the mornings, when I often felt pretty sick.”

Ivgy had no difficulty transitioning into her role in “Next to Her” immediately after wrapping up “Zero Motivation,” in which, she said, “I play a crazy, bitchy girl soldier. I love to do different things — that’s why I am an actress.”

Another reason for her career choice is probably genetic, since she is the daughter of one of Israel’s best-loved actors, Moshe Ivgy, and his actress wife, Irit Sheleg.

As a matter of fact, “I was on stage before I was even born,” Dana Ivgy declared. “My mother was acting in a play while she was pregnant with me.”

Before heading to Los Angeles for the opening of the IFF, Ivgy is performing with an ensemble of eight fellow Israelis in the off-Broadway production of “Odd Birdz,” consisting of some 20 short comedy sketches.

The group, named Tziporela, was formed 12 years ago by its nine young founders, who were classmates in an Israeli drama school; they have performed in English all over the world, to enthusiastic applause.

Nowadays, wherever Ivgy goes, so goes her now nine-month-old son Michael. “I couldn’t live a day without him,” the doting mother said.

Among other attractions on the IFF schedule is “Life as a Rumor,” a documentary celebrating the life of the late Assi Dayan, one of Israel’s foremost film directors and actors, and son of Gen. Moshe Dayan.

“The Story of Poogy” delves into the life of IFF founder Meir Fenigstein, known in earlier days as the drummer “Poogy” in the Israeli rock band Kaveret. In the short documentary, he is contacted by an 18-year-old daughter he didn’t know he had.

“Above and Beyond” documents the deeds of a group of ex-World War II pilots, mainly from English-speaking countries, who fought as volunteers for the newly born State of Israel in 1948. Roberta Grossman directed the film and Nancy Spielberg produced.

For more information on the IFF, visit 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Israel Film Festival and Hollywood: A match made in Heaven

By now it has become a celebrated fact that the Israeli creative industry is in the throes of a modern renaissance. This makes the annual Israel Film Festival — set to roll out the red carpet for its 27th year next March — a gift to Los Angeles and its two-week film program an anticipated moment on the city’s cultural calendar.

But there is another reason why this year’s festival has become an even more valuable import: Hollywood is paying close attention.

That rousing energy animated the festival’s sponsor luncheon on Nov. 1, an intimate gathering at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hotel for supporters from the worlds of film, fashion and philanthropy. “This combines the two things I love most — Israel and the movies,” said comedian and actor Elon Gold, who served as emcee. 

Supporters were frank about the opportunity to further endorse the business relationship between Hollywood and Israel.

Read the rest on Danielle Berrin's blog, Hollywood Jew.

Family-focused stories at forefront of Israel Film Fest

It’s springtime in Los Angeles, which means raising the curtain on the 26th Israel Film Festival, this year displaying a colorful palette of more than 30 feature movies, documentaries, TV shows and student shorts.

The March 15 opening-night venue is the main theater on the Paramount studios lot, where celebrities, honorees and film buffs will view the award-winning feature “Restoration.”
Subsequent films will be shown through March 29 at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills and Fallbrook 7 in the San Fernando Valley.

“Restoration” is a tightly focused film, both in its examination of family relationships and its setting in a rapidly disappearing south Tel Aviv of old-time craftsmen in shabby shops.

Yaakov Fidelman (Sasson Gabay), his face permanently etched by a deep frown and three-day beard stubble, has been restoring antique furniture in his little store for decades, while his partner, Max, runs the business end of the operation.

When Max dies suddenly, apparently from over-exertion with a neighborhood prostitute, Fidelman discovers that the shop is in deep debt.

He starts waging a desperate and futile fight to obtain a bank loan, and then against his lawyer son Noah (Nevo Kimchi), who wants to tear down the shop and erect an apartment building on the property.

At this point, a mysterious young man, Anton (Henry David), shows up and is hired as a helper by Fidelman.

From left: Lior Ashkenazi as Uriel Shkolnik and Shlomo Bar-Aba as Eliezer Shkolnik in “Footnote.” Photo by Ren Mendelson, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Things look up when Anton discovers in the cluttered shop an 1884 Steinway grand piano, worth a fortune if it can be restored properly.

On the other hand, the scene darkens as Anton falls in love with Noah’s pregnant wife, Hava (Sarah Adler), and she with him.

The film owes its emotional veracity mainly to veteran actor Gabay’s affecting portrayal of Fidelman, and to the unhurried, well-paced direction of Yossi Madmoni, a versatile director, writer, actor, producer and editor, who has worked mainly in the TV medium.
There are some interesting similarities between Madmoni and his “Restoration” and Joseph Cedar, director of “Footnote,” Israel’s 2011 Oscar entry.

Both men are in their early 40s, grew up in deeply religious homes, and in their respective films this year have forgone broad themes of war, ethnic divisions and deep social divisions to focus instead on intimate family confrontations.

Speaking from his home in Tel Aviv, Madmoni was asked about a possible shift by Israeli filmmakers toward smaller, personalized movies, perhaps reflecting a growing preoccupation by Israelis with personal, rather than national, problems.

“It’s too early to define a trend,” he replied. “Even our war and social films tend to be personalized … and I do see a widening gap between the Israeli public and its leaders.”
In Hebrew, the film’s title is “Boker Tov, Adon Fidelman” (Good Morning, Mr. Fidelman), but that sounded too much like a comedy, Madmoni was told by the Sundance Film Festival, which conferred its screenwriting award on Erez Kaf-El for “Restoration.”

“Dolphin Boy.”

Earlier, the film was nominated for 11 Ophir awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars.
Also on the festival’s screening schedule are “My Lovely Sister,” a triple love story within a poor Moroccan-Jewish family; “My Australia,” a look at the struggles of a Jewish family in Poland during the 1960s; “Man Without a Cell Phone,” starring an Israeli-Arab slacker; and “2 Night,” about a guy and a girl “looking for the impossible” — a parking space in Tel Aviv.

Documentary titles include the well-received “Dolphin Boy” and “When Israel Went Out,” chronicling the arduous journey of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. Additional presentations are “Viva España,” on the life of Israeli singer Hannah Aharoni, and “Schund,” a mock documentary on the Yiddish theater.

Honorees at the March 15 opening night will include actor Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”), David Nevins, President of Entertainment, Showtime Networks Inc and producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa for the Showtime television drama “Homeland,” based on an Israeli hit show.

“Footnote” will open at Laemmle theaters in West Los Angeles, Pasadena, Encino and West Hills between March 16-30, leading Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of Israfest Foundation Inc. and the Israel Film Festival, to observe that “outside of Israel itself, never before have there been so many Israeli films playing at one time in so many theaters.”


Tickets can be purchased online at www.IsraelFilmFestival.com or at Laemmle theater box offices. For information, call (877) 966-5566.

Other Israel Film Festival: ‘Torn’ and ’77 Steps’

The premise of “Torn,” a documentary premiering in the U.S. this week at The Other Israel Film Festival in New York, sounds a bit like the classic rabbi and priest walk into a bar joke. Except that unlike the joke, the Jew and the Christian in the film are one and the same—Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkninel.

Jakub, as he is called throughout the film, was born a Jew during the Holocaust in Poland. His birth mother, who perished along with Jakub’s father and brother, left him in the care of a Polish Catholic couple who raised him ignorant of his Jewish background. At 23, Jakub was ordained as a Catholic priest.

If the story ended there, it would merely be an interesting footnote in the tragic history of the Holocaust. But when Jakub was 35, his adoptive mother, believing that she did not have much time left to live, told her son about his Jewish origins. That led to years of exploration and soul searching, culminating with Jakub’s decision, at 67, to move to Israel.

“Torn,” by Ronit Kertsner, tells the story of Jakub’s attempt to gain recognition as a Jew under Israel’s Law of Return. Despite being a victim of the Holocaust, the state won’t let him enter as a Jew since he refuses to renounce his Christianity.

Like most of the films at the Other Israel Film Festival, now in its fifth year, “Torn” gives voice to the marginalized and excluded, to the communities who can’t assimilate into the Jewish mainstream due to intolerance or legal obstacles. The festival was founded in 2007 by Carol Zabar to showcase the stories of minorities in Israel, especially its Arab citizens, though other groups have been included as well, including migrant workers, Ethiopian immigrants and Christians such as Jakub.

Jakub’s path to residency, if not citizenship, takes him to a religious kibbutz where he wishes to study Judaism and Hebrew. When he meets with the admission committee of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, he asks to be given leave to go to Tiberias on Sundays to pray at a Franciscan monastery. They politely tell him that this is an impossibility.

“Who are you, Yaacov?” a Sde Eliyahu representative asks in Hebrew. “Are you Jewish? Christian?”

Both, he might have answered had his Hebrew been up to snuff. Not that this would have been an acceptable answer to the government, which allowed him to remain in the country on a visa granted to monks but will not give him the Jewish recognition he craves.

The cruel irony in all of this, Kertsner observes, is that the state does acknowledge his Jewishness in some capacity. His parents were posthumously honored as Righteous Gentiles for rescuing a Jewish child. For the purposes of honoring them, the government considers him Jewish, but when it comes to immigration, he is not.

“His sister could move to Israel as the child of Righteous Gentiles,” Kertsner told JTA by phone, referring to his Polish sibling who is not mentioned in the film. “If he is a Jew, he is not their son and therefore he can’t [move to Israel as a child of Righteous Gentiles]. But if he is a Jew, then why can’t he become a citizen?”

Jakub perceives the indignity in his situation and chokes up at times when discussing his treatment by the government, insisting “I am a Jew.” Yet despite his tenuous immigration status, “I want to be in Israel,” he affirms.

A similar impulse underlies the predicament of Ibtisam Mara’ana, 36, at the start of her new documentary, “77 Steps,” which chronicles her relationship with a Jewish man, Yonatan Ben-Dor.

“I want to belong to this place,” she says in the film.

“This place” is Tel Aviv, a city both culturally and geographically distant from Fureidis, the fishing village in northern Israel in which which Mara’ana, an Arab Israeli, was raised.

Mara’ana explored the history of Fureidis (Arabic for “paradise”) in her first film, “Paradise Lost.” Her mother, who still lives in their village, appears in “77 Steps” only as a voice on the other end of a phone call, urging her to return and resume a traditional lifestyle that includes a husband and children. She has not watched most of Mara’ana’s films because she does not approve of her daughter’s vocation.

In this refusal, Mara’ana’s mother is joined by many in Israeli Arab society. Though feminism is not among the dominant themes in “77 Steps,” it is apparent in the very act of filming her premarital relationship with Ben-Dor, which Mara’ana said is a revolutionary act for an Arab woman. In fact, a screening of the documentary in an Arab town was halted due to the perceived impropriety of the subject matter.

For this reason, Mara’ana felt compelled to leave Fureidis and move to Tel Aviv, where she would have more creative freedom.

“As a woman, as a liberal, as a progressive, as an artist, as a director—I want to belong to this big city,” she told JTA. “When I came to Tel Aviv, I had a lot of questions about my Israeli identity, about my Palestinian identity, about my female identity.”

Though she felt free enough to explore these competing identities in Tel Aviv, she acknowledges that “it’s still a city where if you are a minority—Arab, not Jewish—it’s still not really a place that’s happy to hug you.”

Indeed, the film begins with Mara’ana trying to rent an apartment in Tel Aviv. She is rejected by a broker who had been willing to show her a flat until she revealed her Arabic first name. Eventually she finds an apartment and meets her neighbor, Ben-Dor, a Canadian expat also trying to adapt to his new surroundings.

“We met as strangers,” she said.

Ben-Dor was trying to find his place in his new homeland and she was trying to gain acceptance and respect for both sides of her—her Israeli citizenship and the Palestinian roots—in the country of her birth. Like Jakub, she discovers that insisting on seemingly competing identities alienates her from the mainstream. This was especially obvious toward the end of the film when Ben-Dor and Mara’ana’s breakup seems imminent.

“I understand the limits of our relationship,” Ben-Dor tells her, referring to her inability to celebrate Independence Day with him because for her it is the Nakba, or catastrophe, as Palestinians refer to Israel’s creation. But because he can easily identify with Israel and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Ben-Dor, who had only been in the country for six years, will have an easier finding his place in Israel than many Israeli Arabs.

Unlike Jakub and Mara’ana, he only has to check one identity box. Yet despite the breakup, Mara’ana ends “77 Steps” on a note of quiet uplift.

“As a woman, you have your own space to create, to live, to make love, to hate, to be what you want to be,” she said, invoking Virginia Woolf. “For now it’s my apartment in Tel Aviv and I’m happy for that.”

Women fight for equal Western Wall rights, Democrats for Israel leader moves up

Should women have equal prayer rights at the Kotel?

It’s a question of profound religious, spiritual and political complexities that a new documentary, “Praying in Her Own Voice,” by filmmaker Yael Katzir, dares to ask but doesn’t attempt to answer.

As it stands, Israeli law has prevented the organization, Women of the Wall, and other gatherings of women from holding organized prayer groups — reading Torah and wearing tallit, tefillin and kippah — in the women’s section of the Western Wall’s main plaza.

Women of the Wall has been challenging the religious establishment since 1989, fighting for the right to conduct an organized prayer service at the most significant worship site in Israel.

The penalty for defiance? Violators face seven years of prison.

The documentary follows the women as they gather once a month on Rosh Chodesh to form a minyan and pray at the Kotel. Disapproving onlookers have thrown chairs at them, spat at them and disrupted their prayer with verbal and physical assaults.

Sometimes the women huddle tightly together, forming a bulwark against other hostile religious Jews — and by extension, the chief rabbinate of Israel, which governs the Western Wall. Other times, they give up and retire to their “alternate” prayer site, Robinson’s Arch, far removed from the public gathering at the holiest Jewish relic in Jerusalem.

“I have traveled around the world, and I have prayed with tallit and tefillin on trains in Japan, on airplanes going to Prague and to France, and the only place where I’m actually scared to put a tallit over my head and pray — lest I get hit over the head with a chair or have feces thrown at me — is at the Kotel, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem,” Rabbi Sharon Brous proclaims in the film’s opening line.


Excerpt: Praying in Her Own Voice”

Brous is one of six L.A.-area female rabbis interviewed in the film, which includes Rabbis Laura Geller, Denise Eger, Lisa Edwards, Lynn Brody and Naomi Levy, who support the movement for religious freedom in Israel.

After the screening, part of the 23rd Israel Film Festival, was a panel discussion with Edwards and Brody and the film’s producers, Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus, which raised issues from the film before an audibly impassioned crowd.

Edwards recounted visiting Israel in 1989, when the first women’s prayer gathering took place at the Wall. She said she had to defend her choice to wear a head covering when a self-identified Orthodox woman literally cried out from her seat, “I feel a woman’s place is behind her man. I could never put on a kippah. I could never put on a tallis. That is for my husband and my brothers.”

Edwards’ experience was an unironic echo of the film, and the Orthodox woman a vehemently dissenting voice that cast a dose of reality on an empathetic audience, a minor example of just how uphill this battle will be.

The Israeli government, which has seen its Supreme Court concede turf to the Women of the Wall only to repeal its decision when squeezed by Charedi political parties, appears quite helpless to resolve the swelling religious conflict.

What’s missing in the film — and the movement — is commentary from Torah scholars who might challenge the law, using halacha not to defend but affirm a woman’s place in Jewish religious life.

Democrats for Israel Leader Moves Up

Andrew Lachman has spent the past six months crisscrossing Los Angeles to assure Jewish voters that a Democratic president would be just as good for Israel as any Republican. Lately, he’s been helping Sen. Barack Obama’s team with Jewish outreach.

Lachman is not a campaign man but a technology-licensing attorney and blue-blooded part-time political junkie. The president of Democrats for Israel, Lachman, 38, was elected this month to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by the California Democratic Party Executive Board in San Francisco.

When his four-year term begins in August after the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Lachman will be the only elected Jewish male on the California DNC delegation. L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti represents all municipal elected officials; Rachel Binah of Mendocino County and Rosalind Wyman, one of the first Jews elected to the L.A. City Council in 1953, are the only Jewish female delegates.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Sacha Baron Cohen saluted at Israel Film Festival

When Sacha Baron Cohen received an outstanding achievement award at the Israel Film Festival opening night gala on Tuesday (March 6) at the Beverly Hilton, Cohen explained that his famous alter ego, Borat, couldn’t attend because, “he is receiving an award from the Hezbollah film festival.”

The Hezbollah liked Borat’s portrayal of Jews, he said, especially “Jews as shape-shifting wood lice.”

In his satiric film, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (out this week on DVD), Borat is terrified when he sees cockroaches at a bed and breakfast and thinks they are Jews.

The star-studded 22nd annual Israeli Film Festival honored Cohen, Amy Pascal and Israeli stage legend Gila Almagor, but it was Cohen’s rare public appearance as himself that drew kudos from the crowd of 500 people, as well as from presenters such as, via telecast, Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert (who said Borat was the most popular Purim costume in Israel) and the man who introduced him, Dustin Hoffman.

“If I get to do a movie with Sacha I’d get to know him a lot better,” joked Hoffman, adding. “I don’t do nude scenes, Sacha.”

The two met a couple of years ago when Cohen crashed a Passover seder at Hoffman’s house. Hoffman also told a Holocaust joke about two Jews about to be killed at a concentration camp, when one asks the firing squad if he could have a cigarette. “Shh,” another Jew whispers, “Don’t make trouble.”

“Something tells me,” Hoffman said, “Sacha will make trouble. And I, for one, don’t want him to stop.”

“This is really a fantastic honor,” Cohen said. “It will go in the center of my mantelpiece — behind my Golden Globe,” he joked.

In all seriousness, Cohen said he had worried about how the Jews – particularly the Israelis — would receive the film, which could be perceived as anti-Semitic. He called it a “testament to Israeli and Jewish humor.”

“It’s a great comment on our ability to laugh at ourselves,” he said.Even though Borat couldn’t attend, Cohen said Borat had a message for the audience, written in Khazakistan (which, as most of the audience already knew, was simply Hebrew):

“Lama atem notnim li et zeh? Mah Atem, meshugaim? Ani Ezrok et zeh l’pach. Cama P’amim Ani Tzarich lehagid et zeh? Ani lo ohev ethcem!”

Which in English means:

“Why are you giving this to me? What are you, crazy? I will throw this into the garbage! How many times do I have to tell you all that I don’t like you?”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Spectator

 

Location, location, location is the secret to many people’s success. But for Meir Fenigstein, founder of the Israel Film Festival, timing is the key. That’s why he’s moved the Los Angeles portion of his 21st annual Israel Film Festival from spring to late fall, where approximately 40 features, documentaries, television shows and student shorts will screen Dec. 1 to 11.

The first step, Fenigstein said, was moving the New York branch of the event to late October and early November, following important international festivals in cities such as Toronto, Cannes, Venice, Montreal and Manhattan.

“All these arenas compete with each other for world premieres, and we aren’t able to compete,” the energetic Fenigstein said.

Instead, Fenigstein hopes that directors accepted elsewhere will subsequently submit to his event, especially if he invites plenty of potential distributors to New York and Los Angeles screenings.

“For me, to get a film after Berlin or Cannes isn’t a downer, it’s prestigious,” he said.

With higher-profile films scheduled and publicity generated by the powerful New York press, Fenigstein hopes for greater buzz (and attendance) when the festival arrives here late this year. (Only a handful of the 2004 Los Angeles screenings sold out, compared to 30 in New York, he said.)

Because December is the month when movies screen here for Oscar consideration, Fenigstein hopes his Los Angeles opening night will annually premiere Israel’s submission to the Academy Awards.

“That could become an icon of the festival and increase our prestige,” he said. “A bigger Hollywood profile is one goal for our next 20 years.”

For information about the festival, which will also run in Miami in January and Chicago at an as yet undermined time next year, call (877) 966-5566 or visit www.israelfilmfestival.com.

 

Golan Takes Films to New Heights

“Return from India” is one of the 18 new films, documentaries and TV dramas showing at the 19th Israel Film Festival, from May 28-June 8. Based on A.B. Yehoshua’s best-selling book “Open Heart,” “India,” directed and co-produced by veteran filmmaker Menachem Golan, portrays a somewhat preposterous love story between the young Dr. Ben Rubin (Aki Avni) and the older Dori Lazar (Riki Gal) as they accompany her husband (Asi Dayan) to India to save their sick daughter. Golan was nominated for five Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film including “Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt” (1977) and “Sallah Shabati” (1964); his film “The Assault” (1986) won the Oscar.

Golan lived in Los Angeles for 11 years in the 1980s, running the Cannon Group with his cousin, Yoram Globus, producing and/or directing some 200 features including “Over the Top” (1987) starring Sylvester Stallone and “The Delta Force” (1986), which he co-wrote.

The Jewish Journal caught up with Golan in his North Tel Aviv office, to discuss his life in Los Angeles, the Israeli film industry, and his advice to young Israeli filmmakers.

Jewish Journal: How was your experience living in Los Angeles?

Menachem Golan: I lived in Beverly Hills. I didn’t like it that much — it was one car talking to another car…. In order to succeed there, you have to be very stubborn and fight, and one day you’re up among the stars and one day you’re down. Here [in Israel] the minute I got status, I was in.

L.A. is a city of movies … but it’s not a pure city; you have to live the life, follow the path, do the drugs and parties and all that s–. In Israel [the film industry] is more pioneering, it’s not all about the money. It’s about the will, the talent, the knowledge, the love of making movies. In America you need lots of money.

JJ: What do you think an Israeli film needs in order to find an international — or an American — audience?

MG: It needs to have an international story, a human story that can be understood in the U.S. If you made a film with an intimate human story — most Israeli films are welcomed by Jewish audiences, but they don’t break in commercially.

We are limited by language, by Americans who are too lazy to read subtitles. They don’t like dubbing, they look at us as a European film, but Europe has completely different films.

JJ: What about movies portraying the conflict in Israel? Military films were once very popular.

MG: You see it in the news on a daily basis…. Unfortunately, there’s a young generation of filmmakers here trying to bring films to the world with an attitude — connected to the political situation. It’s a mistake: the big, successful Hollywood film “Pretty Woman,” can be made from Israel. Many of the stories, which are human stories, are character-driven stories, and would be more accepted by American audiences. In the last few years, many films deal with the war and the conflict, such as love stories between Arabs and Jews, which don’t really happen.

JJ: How is the situation affecting the film industry in Israel?

MG: Our industry compared to other small nations is quite advanced, we have more nominations [of] Oscars than Greece, Denmark — I think we have an open-door policy with Hollywood because it’s pro-Jewish.

There is an economic crisis now in Israel. You cannot raise money here privately. You must go to a government-run fund and you are in the hands of a group of frustrated artists who cannot make movies. They usually pick more controversial films — they don’t look at films as popular art.

JJ: Do you think the anti-Zionist sentiments around the world will affect the acceptance of Israeli movies?

MG: Not at all. I think the love for Israel goes way beyond the critical elements of the country.

JJ: What’s up next for you?

MG: I’m working on “Badenheim” based on Aharon Appelfeld’s novel, “Badenheim 1939,” about a group of Jews going to an Austrian resort that summer year, trying to convince themselves that everything is perfectly normal as Hitler is preparing the death camps. It’s a satire and has a lot of humor. We’re filming in Austria and Germany with a German government grant.

The subject matter [of the Holocaust] has hit a chord with the American audience — like “Schindler’s List,” “Life Is Beautiful” and “The Pianist.”

JJ: Do you think Israel filmmakers have a responsibility to portray Israel in a positive light?

MG: In a way, without pretense, at least the films shouldn’t put Israel to shame. I don’t think it serves anybody, especially the Jewish public in America. I don’t want to insult the American Jewish public — they are much more sensitive than Israelis are. I love Israel, I love this country — it’s important to give it a positive image.

Opening night of the festival, honoring Laura Ziskin,
Larry King and documentary director Erez Laufer, will take place on May 28, at
the Directors Guild of America. For more information or to purchase tickets,
contact www.israelfilmfestival.com  or call (877) 966-5566.

The Show Must Go On

On the surface, it could have been any other Hollywood industry event: legendary producer Mike Medavoy and actress-director-producer Penny Marshall received awards before the festival-opening movie screening at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Business as usual in Hollywood.

However, the film being screened, Dover Kosashvili’s “Late Marriage,” was Israeli, as was the film festival it was kicking off.

If the 18th annual Israel Film Festival opening night gala proved anything, it’s that life — and art — must go on, even as the spectre of war, chaos and uncertainty hovers over the Jewish state. The political situation in Israel had grown so chaotic in the days leading up to the festival’s April 10 opening in Los Angeles that Matan Vilnai, Israel’s minister of culture, canceled his visit to the festival’s opening night.

“I was very scared, and I almost wanted to cancel the festival,” admitted Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of the festival, which will head to Chicago, Miami and New York after closing in Los Angeles on April 25. “By morning, I felt that the show must go on, and I chose to continue.”

Fenigstein’s Israel Film Festival has been a crucial endorsement of Israel’s still-fledgling film industry, which basically consists of independent filmmakers working with decreasing government financial support. Support from Israeli audiences for the films is equally problematic. Of about 170 features screened each year, only 5 percent are Israeli (compare that to 67 percent American). Contributing to the financial woes is the explosive Israeli-Palestinian situation.

“We are still at the end of a wave we’ve had in Israeli cinema that is escapist stories,” said Katriel Schory, Israeli Film Fund director.

“This period is different,” said Ramat-Gan-based writer-director Danny Wolman (“Foreign Sister”). “I don’t remember it ever being like this. It’s so traumatic, losing people you’ve worked with to the suicide bombings.”

Recent Israeli films have touched on the second generation of Holocaust survivors and relationships in the Israeli military. Regarding comedies, a staple of the late 1960s Israeli film industry, Schory said, “this whole genre has disappeared.”

Films such as “Late Marriage” and Tzahi Grad’s “Giraffes” are the latest offerings from a decade that has shown personal and more universal stories of family and relationships. “Giraffes,” a seductive thriller about the destiny of three women, eschewed politics for a human drama that contained nary a reference to Middle East politics. Grad’s hope is to see more such films emerge.

“If Israel has a lot of ‘Giraffes,’ it will be a better situation in Israel,” Grad said.

However, Schory predicted that “within two years, there will be more films dealing with subject matter” reflecting the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Part of that is because of the lengthy process of making an Israeli film, which can take a year from choosing a script to approving a production.

“When there is a great trauma, when something is painful, like the Holocaust,” Wolman said, “the expression of it will take time — at least to comment on it in a deep way.”

Israel’s Film Law was passed two years ago to stimulate the country’s film industry. The Israel Film Fund goes through scripts and chooses projects to finance. According to the law, the money comes from 8 percent of the revenue from Israel’s commercial TV channel, Channel 2. About half of the money accrued — 4 percent — goes into financing the production and the marketing of the selected films. For this year, the $5 million allotted for Israeli filmmakers has decreased dramatically, according to Fenigstein.

“Because of war and the second intifada, revenue went down and the industry has suffered for that,” Fenigstein said. Documentarian Ronit Kertsner pointed out that in times of war, not only does government money earmarked for filmmaking get siphoned into the war cause, but cameras and other film equipment become scarce because of the demand for them from foreign press stationed in the Middle East.

Despite such problems, many, such as Fenigstein, believe that the Film Law system is working. Others, such as Eli Cohen, director of “Rutenberg,” are not as thrilled. “What two years ago was so promising is now stuck,” he said.

Another problem over the last two years has been the wait for the arrival of a third commercial channel, which became tied up in the courts. “If you offer [TV stations] material, their slots are full,” said Kertsner, who made an Israel Film Festival entry about Polish crypto-Jews called, “The Secret.” She has had more success airing her film on European channels.

But the difficulty of making films in Israel may make the films better, as Cohen observed: pain translates into art. “The more problems, more catastrophes, more hardships — it becomes food for writers,” he said.

“Actually, I think in times of trouble, you do become more creative, and there’ll be many more films dealing with what’s going on now,” Kertsner said. “We’re up against a situation that we just can’t run away from it. Whenever there’s a bombing, I keep recording news footage because I know I’m going to use it down the line. That was my first instinct. It almost makes me feel guilty. The more I record, the more it seems happens.”

The greatest challenges facing Israeli filmmaking, according to a Greek chorus of talent visiting Los Angeles for the festival, have little to do with political unrest, but with an age-old American filmmaking dilemma: financing.

“It’s the same difficulty of trying to make a film in Hollywood, plus the difference is that there’s not the budget to really advance in this career,” said “Late Marriage” star Ronit Elkabetz, 37. The actress, who now lives in Paris, divides her career between Israeli and French projects.

“Late Marriage” was one of Israel’s highest grossing films in the last two decades, attracting more than 300,000 moviegoers. With “Late Marriage,” this year’s festival represents a first — debuting a film that has American distribution. “Late Marriage,” courtesy of New York-based Magnolia Films, will screen locally at Laemmle Theaters starting May 17.

Elkabetz believes “Late Marriage” worked because “it’s a very good story” immersed in the exotic backdrop of Israel’s Georgian immigrant community.

Fenigstein is proud that his festival, which continues to grow each year, has made some headway in bringing Israel to Hollywood. Despite Israel’s political situation, the festival launch attracted nearly a full house of 1,000 people. Fenigstein credits Israeli-bred Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan (“High Crimes”), the festival’s chair of nine years, for raising the festival’s profile in America.

“Without Arnon, we wouldn’t have that kind of support,” Fenigstein said. “He’s interested in the festival and has brought in many people on our behalf. You know what they say in the nonprofit world — ‘People give to people, not causes.'”

For Cohen, one solution to skirting Israel’s limited financial resources has been partnering. He is currently working on an Israeli-Canadian co-production, but warns of these unions, “You have to be careful not to compromise reality and authenticity.” For “The Secret,” Kertsner derived 60 percent of her funding from Israel’s Film Fund and 40 percent from Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation.

Despite its ongoing bumpy journey, participants and supporters of the Israeli film industry remain optimistic. Elkabetz told The Journal that no matter where her career takes her, she will always remain loyal to Israeli filmmaking and make films there.

“It’s my family, it’s my culture,” Elkabetz said.

Cohen believes that the Israeli film community is more vibrant and sophisticated than ever, having grown over the last few decades from a handful of directors to students coming out of film school.

“It’s a new generation, a better generation,” Cohen said.

“In the last 10 years, they’ve opened film schools in Israel,” Kertsner said. “In my generation, there wasn’t even television.”

Fenigstein, who has had faith in Israeli film industry ever since he hatched his festival idea 19 years ago while attending college in Boston, believes that the best has yet to come. In fact, Fenigstein predicted, “In 2005, Israel will win an Oscar.”

Pilot Project

During a pivotal moment in Elan Frank’s award-winning documentary, “Blue and White in Red Square,” a Russian-Israeli looks about his old Moscow neighborhood with an expression of dismay. Eugene had excitedly made the trip home with fellow musicians in the Young Israeli Philharmonic, many of them émigrés returning for the first time to post-Communist Russia. But as the violinist gazed at his decrepit old apartment building, surrounded by garbage and graffiti, his exuberance turned to bitter disappointment. “I feel like a stranger here,” he said.

The mixed feelings of Eugene and the other émigré musicians is the heart of “Blue and White,” which follows orchestra members as they prepare for a mass youth concert in Red Square in 1998. Violist Allah, who emigrated on her own at the age of 19, remembers her grandmother’s fear of anti-Semitism. Ayelet, a bassoonist, recalls that “throughout my childhood Russia always seemed very mysterious… abstract and forbidding.” Cellist Marima, meanwhile, eagerly anticipates performing in the same grand hall where she once competed in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition.

Frank, an Israeli who lives in Los Angeles, had just a week to put together the documentary after he was approached by Pelon Films in summer 1998. At the time, he was completing his twice-yearly reserve duty in the Israeli Air Force; “Blue and White” is something of a departure for the Holon-bred pilot, who previously produced and directed “Elite Choppers: Birds of Prey” for the Discovery Channel.

His own near-death experience was the subject of a segment he produced for Fox’s “Extreme Courage” series not long ago. It began around 1 a.m. on a full-moon night in Lebanon back in 1981, as Frank was piloting his helicopter deep inside enemy territory to pick up paratroopers who had completed a raid of terrorist bases. Suddenly, fire opened from six different sources, but Frank refused to abandon the 25 soldiers and managed to land amid the fracas. “My helicopter turned into a vacuum cleaner,” he recalls of the paratroopers’ frantic rush into the chopper. For his heroic effort, he received the coveted Israeli Medal of Honor.

Next on his plate is an “ER-with-pilots” kind of drama for Israeli TV and a Holocaust-themed feature film, among other projects. “I see myself as both a pilot and a filmmaker,” Frank 44, explains. “My interests lie somewhere in between.”

“Blue and White in Red Square” shows at the Israel Film Festival 2000 April 9, 3 p.m., at Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, including a discussion with Frank after the screening. For tickets, call (877) 966-5566.

Spectator

Paying Tribute to Israeli Films

By Tom Tugend,

Contributing Editor

Yoram Ben Ze’ev, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, left,and Meir Fenigstein, festival founder/director.

The 14th annual Israel Film Festival formally raised the curtainlast week on its two-week program of 50 feature movies,documentaries, TV films and golden oldies with an opening-night galaat the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With American-Israeli actor Mike Burstyn as master of ceremonies,a roster of dignitaries ascended to the podium to laud the artisticstrides made by the Israeli film industry over the last 50 years andto pay tribute to the festival’s founder-director, Meir Fenigstein.

Plaques of appreciation were presented to Naftalie Alter, generalmanager of the Fund for the Promotion of Israeli Quality Films, andto indestructible producer Menahem Golan.

Noting the many Israelis who have made their names in Hollywood,Golan called on the expatriates to follow his example and return hometo contribute their talents to the growth of the Israeli filmindustry.

Director Yossi Sommer was on hand to introduce his “The Dybbuk ofthe Holy Apple Field,” a powerful film that transports the classictale of faith and star-crossed love to the present-day ferventlyOrthodox enclave of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem.

Sommer dedicated his film to “my Jewish passion and Israeliheritage.”

For ticket information and a confirmed screening schedule, callLaemmle’s Music Hall at (310) 274-6869 or Israfest at (213)966-4166.