Italian Entry Locked Out of Oscar Race


Even the annual Oscar competition can’t stay clear of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This year, the brouhaha is about “Private,” a film centering on a Palestinian West Bank family whose home is temporarily taken over by a squad of Israeli soldiers.

“Private,” the work of Italian director Saverio Costanzo, was shot by an Italian crew and was selected as Italy’s official entry in the foreign language film Oscar category.

It was promptly rejected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which accepted entries from 57 other countries, including Israel and the not-yet nation of Palestine.

The rejection, a news release from the Italian producers hints darkly, was due to the favorable treatment of the film’s Palestinian family.

Not so, Academy spokeswoman Teni Melidonian said. The problem lies in the fact that the languages spoken in “Private” are Arabic, Hebrew and English, but there isn’t a word of Italian.

“Our rules state clearly that an entry must be predominantly in the language of the country submitting the film” Melidonian said.

Italy quickly substituted another film, titled “La Bestia Nel Cuore” (“Don’t Tell” in English), but the controversy shouldn’t overshadow this intriguing movie, which includes some persuasive acting by a mixed Arab and Israeli cast.

Mohammad, his wife, Samia, and their five children live in an isolated two-story house, halfway between a Palestinian village and an Israeli settlement.

Suddenly one night (the film was shot in late 2003 with the intifada in full force), a squad of Israeli soldiers burst into the house to secure it as a lookout post facing Palestinian snipers.

At first, the family is ordered to evacuate the house, but Mohammad stands fast and refuses to leave.

The Israelis agree to a compromise, unthinkable in any other war, of allowing the family to stay in the downstairs living room and kitchen, while the soldiers take over the upstairs bedrooms.

Ofer, the leader of the squad, lays down one condition. On pain of severe punishment, none of the family members can go upstairs, and at night the door to the living room is locked from the outside.

Under the jampacked living conditions, the family’s nerves and tempers quickly fray. The wife wants to leave for the children’s safety. The older teenagers, fed steady TV images of heroic Palestinian martyrs, urge direct resistance.

But Mohammad, a teacher and Shakespeare fan, remains adamant that the most effective path is nonviolent resistance, expressed in the family insistence on staying put.

Mariam, the older daughter, plays a daring game by sneaking upstairs and observing the soldiers secretly through a crack in a closet door.

To her surprise, the young, clean-cut soldiers are quite human. One plays the flute, another does artwork; they miss home, and they complain about their officers.

The exception is Ofer, a disciplinarian and bit of a bully, who keeps the men in line and at one point threatens to shoot Mohammad, but even he eventually complains about constantly moving from one Arab house to another.

Despite the extreme stress, the Arab family is almost too good to be true, regardless of ethnicity. Mohammad is a deeply caring father and tender husband, the wife is scared but loyal, and the youngest kids are Hollywood cute.

The father is portrayed by Mohammad Bakri, a veteran Israeli Arab character actor, whose mixture of fortitude and sensitivity gives the film much of its strength. The wife’s role is skillfully acted by Areen Omari.

In shooting the film, director Costanzo favored hand-held cameras and barely visible interior settings, not always to the film’s or viewer’s advantage.

It is obvious that he intends to steer the audience’s sympathy toward the family. Nevertheless, as in earlier films by both Palestinian and Israeli directors (“Divine Intervention,” “Rana’s Wedding” and “The Syrian Bride”), with foreign audiences in mind, the Israelis are portrayed not as ruthless conquerors but as recognizable human characters.

“Private,” with English subtitles, opens Dec. 2 at the Laemmle Fairfax 3 in Los Angeles, One Colorado in Pasadena and University Town Center in Irvine. For more information, visit www.laemmle.com or www.typecastfilms.com for details.

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, September 17

Jews of the LBC rejoice as they finally get a film fest all their own. The first Long Beach Jewish Film Festival will be held today and tomorrow, thanks to the support of the Alpert JCC and the Cal State Long Beach Jewish studies program. The lineup features “Gloomy Sunday,” about a love triangle set in 1930s Budapest; “Solomon and Gaenor,” a British love story set in 1911 Wales; “Time of Favor,” an Israeli tale about the clashes between Orthodox nationalists and the military; and “Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi,” a French comedy about a young boy with unique culinary talents.

$10 (each), $36 (festival pass). University Theater, CSULB campus, Long Beach. (562) 426-7601.

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Sunday, September 18

This afternoon, it’s all about sabra women at the first Israel Women’s Festival. Actress Shirley Brener hosts the luncheon that features a fashion show by American-based Israeli designers, boutiques and live entertainment by Maya Haddi, Duende, and DJ Eyal. Proceeds benefit women’s organizations in Israel.

Noon. $65. Eretz-Siamak Cultural Center, 6170 Wilbur Ave., Tarzana. Tickets must be purchased in advance: (818) 980-9848, (818) 702-9272 or (323) 951-0111.

Monday, September 19

The Museum of the Holocaust challenges viewers to compare images of two genocides side-by-side in their new exhibition, “Encountering the Cambodian Genocide,” on display through Nov. 15. Pictures of Pol Pot’s killing fields and camps taken by Chantal Prunier-Grindon make up most of the display, however, a special collage of photographs depicting images from the Shoah and the Cambodian genocide is also hung, forcing the viewer to consider the similarities.

6435 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 303, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704.

Tuesday, September 20

The Simon Wiesenthal’s film division, Moriah, premiers its latest documentary this evening. Titled “Ever Again,” the film examines the resurgence of violent anti-Semitism and terrorism, and is narrated by former baseball movie go-to-guy Kevin Costner.

7:30 p.m. Director’s Guild Theater, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-9036.

Wednesday, September 21

Nicknamed after the Ouija board, photojournalist Weegee literally made a name for himself in the Depression era, and in the process, became as famous as the mobsters and detectives he aimed his camera at. More than 60 make up the Getty’s latest exhibit, “Scene of the Crime: Photo by Weegee,” which runs through Jan. 22.

1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Thursday, September 22

The epic story of one Jewish family’s struggles through the last days of the Czarist Russian regime through the Holocaust became the subject of director-producer Dan Spigel’s indie film, “House of the Generals.” It premieres tonight at the Skirball, with a Q-and-A with Spigel to follow.

6 p.m. and 8 p.m. $8-$12. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (877) 700-7133.

Friday, September 23

Snaps for the Skirball’s new exhibition, “Semina,” which features and takes its name from the Beat art and poetry of the underground magazine created by Wallace Berman. Contributors to the publication included William S. Burroughs, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, John Alton and Charles Brittin. Its content reflected Berman’s varied interests, including visual and literary art, Jewish mysticism, pop culture and current events.

2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.

Israeli Artist Paints a Path to Healing


There is something raw about the rough brush strokes in the work of native Israeli artist Rhea Carmi, and about her textured materials, such as sand and stone. But then, there also was a rawness to the tragedy that originally informed and inspired her work.

Carmi lost her brother in the Yom Kippur War and needed a way to cope. When she turned to painting, friends and family told her that she had talent.

The result of this new life path will be on display this summer at the Lawrence Asher Gallery in the museum district of Wilshire Boulevard. Most of the exhibited works will be from Carmi’s “Humanity’s Struggle” series, but there also will be selected works from her “Humanity’s Resilience and Everlasting Spirit” series. The exhibition explores themes the 53-year-old artist has wrestled with throughout her life; the paintings themselves represent her work over the past 12 years.

Carmi’s artistic evolution quickly became about more than confronting the grief of her brother’s death: She’s also had to process warring sides of her personality — the scientist vs. the artist. Carmi studied physiology at Tel Aviv Open University before switching her major to art at Ramat-Gan Institute for the Arts, where she studied under artist Moti Mizrahi, an artist recognized for his conceptual art and use of space, and mixed-media artist Arie Aroch.

“In my work you can see a war between certain characteristics of mine,” Carmi said. “One side of me that wants everything to be in order [with a] vertical flow … like in science. The other is my wild side.”

The paintings in her “Humanity’s Resilience” series utilize Carmi’s chemistry background, tapping into her inner scientist. Jerusalem stone and other raw materials such as sand and rocks recreate the look of antiquity in this series. Through carving into the paint, painting on stone and using ancient Hebrew letters, Carmi creates a cave-painting look that symbolizes the resilience of the Jewish people throughout history. This series is as much about touch as sight; the textures Carmi uses let the viewer feel the layers of history.

Some of the paintings in “Humanity’s Struggle” deal with the universal emotions people experience after trauma or tragedy. Her mixed-media pieces with cookie-cutter figures illustrate the loss of identity that can occur after a tragedy.

One example is “Survivor’s Dance,” a red painting in which various uniform figures dance in a circle, like they are jumping on a trampoline. Carmi described it as a dance of life. The various figures illustrate diverse and individual reactions to tragedy.

An example of her wild side taking over is “Suspended: Humanity Struggles VIII,” with its vibrant primary colors and strong masculine lines, depicting the senseless violence and loss of life in the Middle East. The painting shows several figures being hung. The shock of the subject matter and the rough nature of her brush strokes had museum visitors mesmerized at her last exhibit.

In “Humanity Struggles XXIV,” there are Hebrew letters and a red tzitzit that Carmi said is supposed to look as though it has been soaked in blood. It juxtaposes the struggles occurring in Israel with the calmer constant of Judaism.

“Even though the struggles are very hard, most of the time we fix it. You become stronger and better if there is another disaster because of those struggles,” Carmi said.

Her works, with their vast range of styles, materials and symbols reflect her conflicting sensibilities: “Sometimes one side takes over the other. It depends on the mood…. I could separate my work into the one that comes from my guts and the one that comes from my head. I convey my feeling via the material and the colors and the texture.”

She expects and welcomes a broad swath of reactions to her work.

“People can relate their personal experience to my paintings,” she said, “even though I experience something different than them.”

Rhea Carmi discusses “Humanity Struggles” at the Lawrence Asher Gallery, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. The Humanity Struggles Series (1991-2003), will be on display through July 9 at the Lawrence Asher Gallery, 5820 Wilshire Blvd. Parking available behind 5858 Wilshire Blvd. For more information, call (323) 935-9100.

Valuable Art From a Disregarded People


From the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to the Museum of the Negev in Beersheba; from the walls of Reverend Al Sharpton’s home in New York to the mantle of photographer Irene Furtik’s home in Santa Monica, Ethiopian Israeli art has arrived.

Award-winning artist Elaine Galen, whose work has been displayed in prestigious venues across America, describes her favorite Ethiopian Israeli piece — a sandy-colored, miniature clay sculpture that sits atop the fireplace in her living room:

"It’s in the likeness of an Ethiopian rabbi. He has a beard, he’s wearing a kippah on his head, and he has a tallit draped down his back…. His arms are extended in front: His hands come forward, like two hands in prayer, then suddenly become a unit, turning into a plaque that is a symbol of the Torah…. [H]is head is extending up, with his mouth halfway open — as if he knows the words by heart, as if he’s reciting them. It’s beautiful," she said.

Galen immediately bought the sculpture for her private art collection, an eclectic mix following her one guiding principle — good taste in art.

"When I saw this piece," she said, "I saw quality."

The indigenous, noncommercial feel of the art was especially appealing to Galen, and it is a key ingredient in the growing attraction to Ethiopian Israeli pieces sold throughout Israel and abroad.

"Word goes out that this is avant garde art that you can’t find anywhere else," said Michael Jankelowitz, spokesperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Drawn to its signature style, he said, Israeli tourists hungrily purchase Ethiopian artwork at galleries and stores across the country.

For numerous Ethiopian artists throughout Israel, artwork is their primary source of income. Some work for an hourly wage at a studio; others work independently from their homes.

One independent artist, who prefers to remain anonymous, has created a well-known line of biblical paintings with all-black figures — from Noah and Moses to Devorah and Miriam. In this way, his art parallels much African American religious art, challenging European-based images of religious history.

The bold colors of his paintings — yellow, green, red, orange and blue — also can be found in the embroidery of Yazazo Aklum, who has several works housed in the Israel Museum’s collection of Ethiopian art. Ora Shwartz-Be’eri, Israel Museum curator, beams as she holds up one of his pieces.

"It’s exceptional," she said passionately.

With its vibrant portrayal of the Ten Commandments, two Lions of Judah with Stars of David, and a dove and rainbow from Noah’s arc, the tapestry is indeed breathtaking. For this reason, it was photographed for the 1994 postcard printed in honor of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Despite the success of Ethiopian Israeli art, Ethiopian Israeli artists are struggling for power and economic leverage in representing their own work. According to Shlomo Akele, director of Bahalachin Cultural Center for Ethiopian Jews, individual artists are disenfranchised, because there is currently no museum, gallery, or center run by a community member.

Tasamach Tazazo, a retired potter and embroidery artist living in Tel Aviv, agrees.

"We have to take this on ourselves," she said emphatically, "and not let other people manage our artwork." But independence will take time, she adds, being that it is linked to complex social, racial and economic struggles associated with the community’s relatively recent immigration.

"On the one hand, they say we are primitive, even tell us we are not real Jews, and on the other hand they get all excited about our artwork," she explained. "Not everyone. But there are people who have bought my artwork, even turned around and sold it for up to seven times what they paid, and all the while looked down at me as stupid and worthless."

In a conversation with Avital Armoni, the owner of Armoni’s Art, Tazazo’s claims ring true. Among its other art products, Armoni’s company makes magnetic prints of Ethiopian Israeli embroideries — a popular and seemingly lucrative sales item. Though her company profits from the work of Ethiopian Israeli artists, Armoni makes a point of asserting that Ethiopian Jews "are not really Jewish."

In addition to facing battles over their identity, Ethiopian Israeli artists are facing tremendous financial hardships. The Ethiopian community is reportedly the hardest hit by Israel’s economic crisis, and out of desperation for money, many artists tolerate exploitation.

Others turn to Bahalachin for help.

"Our dream is to create a big center in Jerusalem," Akele said in response to the numerous requests he receives. "There are very many talented artists … we just need the framework to support and develop them." That framework, he noted sadly, takes the financial resources not coming to Bahalachin during these hard times.

As an upshot, while the artwork of Ethiopian Jews is enjoying financial success and mainstream acceptance, Ethiopian Israeli artists are struggling for respectful recognition, economic empowerment and self-representation. Ironic though it may seem, art has always been ahead of its time.

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In Search of ‘Shlomi’


Shlomi, the 16-year-old protagonist of the Israeli film, “Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi,” has his hands full.

He cooks the family meals, cleans up, does the laundry, is the peacemaker in his quarrelsome Moroccan family and bathes his grandfather, who greets him every morning with the film’s title.

For his pains, the wide-eyed Shlomi is considered none too bright by his family and in school, where he is flunking out.

Worse, Shlomi believes the outside world’s assessment of him, which seems to be confirmed by his first attempt at romance. When he suggests to his girlfriend that they “upgrade” their relationship — Hebrew slang for having sex — she “freezes” him out.

At home, the situation is even worse. His obsessive mother has kicked out her hypochondriac husband for a one-time slip with her best friend. Shlomi’s older brother is the mother’s favorite, and she regales the boy with clinical details of his real and fancied sexual conquests.

Shlomi’s older sister has twin babies but regularly returns to her mother’s home to detail her fights with her husband, who shamefully surfs the Internet for porn.

It all looks like another story of another dysfunctional family, a recurring theme in Israeli movies, when Shlomi’s life slowly turns around.

A perceptive teacher and school principal gradually peel away Shlomi’s layers of self-doubt and discover an exceptional mind and poetic sensibility.

A neighboring girl recognizes Shlomi’s real inner worth, and in a beautiful scene they shyly offer each other their finest gifts — she, the herbs she grows in her garden, and he, the diet-defying cakes he bakes in the kitchen.

The film’s theme is “the pain created by the gap between one’s outer image and the inner truth,” said Shemi Zarhin, the film’s director, himself of North African descent.

“Monsieur Shlomi” is a charming film, a word rarely applied to Israeli movies. Oshri Cohen portrays Shlomi with absolute veracity and his relationship with his grandfather (Arie Elias) is deeply affecting.

As a special bonus, Ashkenazic viewers will get a much-needed insight into the lifestyle of Israel’s Sephardic Jews. Although director Zarhin’s ancestors came to Palestine nearly 300 years ago, “both I and Oshri grew up with the mindset that we were part of Israel’s underclass,” he said.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi” opens July 16 in Los Angeles.

Bazel Draws Sabra Artists to Encino


Hanging out with a group of Israeli artists at a hot new cafe in Encino may not be the same as sitting on Dizengoff in Tel Aviv, but the conversation is as close as it gets for Los Angeles. Tempo is still great for Middle Eastern food and music, but now Cafe Bazel appears to be the spot for late-night carousing.

Named for a Tel Aviv street full of cafes like this, Bazel’s menu has Theodore Herzl on the front cover because it was in the Swiss town of Basel that he conceived the Zionist movement. The Bazel on Ventura, which has been open for six months, has shakshuka, beet salad, rugelach, tea with mint leaves, waitresses in tight black T-shirts and other women in tight black leather who arrive and sit right in front of the join and make you watch them eat. Long black limos are parked out front, facing off against a Lamborghini and a Mercedes on the other side of the boulevard.

Tonight we’re here with Roni Cohen, an Israeli artist who is telling friends about her new show at the Bank Leumi.

Cohen, who moved to Los Angeles in 1997, was a foreign press photographer during the 1973 war in the Golan and Sinai. An accident near the end of the war wrecked her leg and her camera and she went to study with Ran Schori at Bezalel Arts. She also studied in London and New York and began working in a variety of textures, showing at the Shafrai and Mabat Galleries in Israel.

In 1991, her house on Rehov Bialik in Ramat Gan was rocketed by a Scud missile (she wasn’t home, having escaped to Beersheva). With a damaged life and broken heart, she painted through waves of despair and hope. Working in red and black, signifying drums and explosions of not only war but of new energy, she began expressing what she calls "emotional and industrial landscapes."

Her show features abstract forms on large compressed felt rugs, acrylic and collage, and serigraphs and etchings of Jerusalem and Safed.

"I know the soul is here," she says pointing to her head. "I have a new life now, new friendships, new ideas — new everything."

Cohen teaches early childhood education at Stephen S. Wise Temple, and has a son in high school in Agoura Hills. She has had 11 solo shows in Israel and California and is a resident artist at the 825 Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard.

Back at Bazel, it’s after midnight and Israelis are still pouring in for dinner. The sidewalk tables are packed and the men’s bathroom has a widescreen television showing MTV. Deejays Shai and Ariel play Morcheeba and Zero 7 hipster beats behind the coffee bar. There is no alcohol here yet, but fruit shakes are popular. You can get Israel toast and Schnitzel Panko until 3 a.m.

"Tempo is forever," sculptor Uriel Arad says. But now this is his place.

Every time an artist comes to Los Angeles, like Israeli stand-up Naor Zion, who recently played the Wilshire Ebell Theater, "the place to be after the show is over is Cafe Bazel, for real," Bazel manager Nicki Zvik tells me. "This place will be jammed like it’s no tomorrow."

Cohen is drinking cappuccino with friends Eytan Rogenstein and Arad. Other friends of hers come to Encino from the newer Jewish communities of West Hills and Calabasas. One says the atmosphere at Cafe Bazel reminds him of being on Dizengoff because, "You see everybody."

But his friend disagrees.

"It’s the only place on this entire street," he argues, "so it doesn’t remind me [of] anything."

"Everybody and his opinion," says the first artist.

"Plus it’s too wide, Ventura," continues the second.

Cohen’s friend, the sculptor, also "works in construction, like everybody else."

Looking at the long black sedan parked near his table, he jokes, "I came in that limo." Then adds, "I’m driving it."

Directors, painters, football players, even actor David Hasselhoff comes to Bazel, according to Zvik. He says Hasselhoff claimed the warm chocolate cake the finest dessert he ever had in his life.

However, a shooting in the parking lot a few weeks ago slowed business for a bit.

"Ihiye b’seder" ("It will be okay"), Cohen tells Zvik at the coffee bar.

"It’s already b’seder," the manager assures her.

Roni Cohen’s art appears from Oct. 14 through Nov. 21 at Bank Leumi, 16530 Ventura Blvd., Encino with a reception Oct. 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Cafe Bazel is at 17620 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 728-0846.


Hank Rosenfeld is a folk journalist.

Community Briefs


Two Lectures Series Provide Escape to thePast

Two lecture series, one on biblical archaeology, the other on the beginnings of writing, will allow participants to escape the unruly present and explore the ancient world of 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.

The University of Judaism series on “Pushing Biblical Archaeology to the Limits: Excavating Heaven, Reconstructing Hell, and Exploring Places in Between” starts Oct. 7 and continues for seven successive Monday evening sessions.

The series, now in its 13th year, “will appeal to persons of intellectual curiosity” and of all religious denominations, according to professor Ziony Zevit of the university.

Featured will be experts from leading universities in the United States, England and Israel’s Bar Ilan University. Frederick L. Simmons will serve as co-moderator with Zevit.

Also, the California Museum of Ancient Art is presenting “The Beginnings of Writing in the Ancient Near East: Cuneiform, Hieroglyphs and the Semitic Alphabet.”

The second lecture in the series will be held Oct. 8 and they will continue on Tuesday evenings, Oct. 15 and 29, at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

The museum specializes in the ancient art of Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Levant, encompassing modern Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to its director, Jerome Berman.

For information and registration for “Pushing Biblical Archaeology,” call (310) 440-1246. For information about “The Beginnings of Writing in the Ancient and Near East,” call (818) 762-5500.

Tom Friedman Airs Mideast Views

“Osama bin Laden is a world-class terrorist, who combines the twisted mind of a Charles Manson with the managerial skills of a John Welch.”

“We’ve treated the [Arab] Middle East like a big, dumb gas station.”

“There are more prostitutes with cell phones in Tehran than any other place.”

The author of these lines is Tom Friedman, The New York Times’ foreign affairs columnist, who coined bon mots like the U.S. Mint, as he delivered the first Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA last week.

Addressing an audience of 500 jammed into a room meant for 300, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner analyzed most of the world’s pressing problems, from globalization to possible war with Iraq, without glancing at a single note or marring the flow of words with a single “uuh” or “aah.”

Given his facility of mind and speech, it was doubly discouraging when he responded to a question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a shoulder-shrugging, “I don’t know what to say anymore.” Prodded further on what the United States can do to alleviate the situation, Friedman replied, “We must tell the truth to both sides. We must tell the Palestinians that their current strategy is insane. We must tell [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon that the settlement projects [in the West Bank and Gaza] are insane.”

“What is your biggest fear?” another audience member asked. Friedman responded that it was a weakened America that would forsake its global leadership role.

“We do a lot of stupid things,” he said, “but few good things happen in the world without American involvement. God save us from a world in which we have to rely on the moral authority of France.”

After the lecture, a long line formed to buy Friedman’s latest book, “Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11,” and have it autographed by the author.

Tour Underlines Peace MovementSupport

Despite widespread reports to the contrary, the peace movement is alive among both Israelis and Palestinians, and enjoys the support of a small but steadfast portion of U.S. Jewry.

One indicator was the tour of eight major cities by peace activist teams during the last half of September. The activists were three Israelis and one Palestinian, consisting of Knesset member Colette Avital of the Labor Party; Knesset member Avshalom “Abu” Vilan of Meretz; Gavri Bargil, head of the Kibbutz Movement, and Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the senior PLO representative in Jerusalem and president of al-Quds University.

Another sign was the report by Mark Rosenblum, founder and policy director of Americans for Peace Now, who told The Journal that his organization has the support of some 25,000 contributors, of whom 3,000 form an “action network.” There are some 2,000 supporters in the Los Angeles area, he said.

“We took a significant hit after the first year of the intifada, but we have recouped during the past year,” Rosenblum said.

Over the past weekend, the traveling team of Vilan and Nusseibeh was in Los Angeles, speaking at University Synagogue in Irvine, Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and at a $250-per-head fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The latter event drew some 130 people, mostly veteran liberals, who heard the speakers outline their peace platform. It included the mutual recognition of Israel and a Palestinian state, with the border running roughly along the pre-1967 line; expropriation of most West Bank and Gaza settlements; Eastern Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, and the return of Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian state, but not Israel.

“The dream of both a big Israel or a big Palestine is dead,” Vilan said .

Nusseibeh described the current situation as a quagmire, “in which both sides are killing each other without any particular plan, and without a good reason for doing so.”

Nusseibeh was to travel to New York, where his scheduled appearance at a synagogue was denounced by the Zionist Organization of America, which labeled him an inciter of terrorists and supporter of violence against Israel.

Americans for Peace Now fired back, describing the Zionist group as a “far right-wing organization” and defending Nusseibeh as a moderate, “working tirelessly for an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence.”

Briefs complied by Tom Tugend.

Beyond Bay


Oded Fehr’s shining moment came when an Arab recently unrolled his car window and shouted, "You make us Middle Easterners proud!"

He was referring to the Israeli actor’s performance as dashing desert warrior Ardeth Bay, Brendan Fraser’s Mummy-busting partner in "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns." "Given the political situation, that was the nicest compliment I could get," says the star of the new NBC drama "UC: Undercover," who was voted "Sexiest Import" by People in 1999. "Arabs have been unfairly typecast as terrorists, and I was proud to play one who was heroic."

After twice portraying the saber-slashing Bay, it was Fehr who was typecast. Requests poured in for him to play mysterious foreigners; he declined them all. "If I wasn’t careful, I was going to be forever doing ethnic types," he says.

When "UC: Undercover" creator Shane Salerno asked him to play an FBI unit leader named Frank Donovan, Fehr jumped at the chance. For the 30-year-old Tel Aviv native, it was a break as important as "The Mummy," which he landed just six months after graduating from England’s Old Vic Theater School in 1997.

"I had no idea about what I was doing on ‘The Mummy,’" confides Fehr, who had to take crash courses in horsebackriding and swordfighting. "I was convinced that the director hated me." Instead, director Stephen Sommers was so impressed that he expanded Fehr’s role and rewrote the ending so Bay wasn’t killed.

For "UC: Undercover," the training went way beyond swordfighting. Fehr studied with real S.W.A.T. team members (his experience in the Israeli Navy during the Gulf War and working in El Al security helped).

He also interviewed FBI undercover agents and was struck by how similar their job was to his own. "They would talk about their ‘role’ and learning their lines and when they’re ‘in character,’" he says. "That was a revelation."

Bodyguard


Who would have thought that living next to the prime minister’s house would be such a good move for a single Jewish woman? Maybe it’s Ehud Barak’s less-than-comely appearance that drove him to hire such gorgeous guards to protect his domain – and I do mean gorgeous. I noticed them right away when I went to check out the apartment. I had been talking to the taxi driver about my love life and he wanted to set me up with one of his friends. As he asked me what my type was, I looked up and eyed a guard. “Him,” I responded, pointing to the tall, sculpted tower of muscle standing at the gate.

After I paid the fare, I noticed the guard’s colleagues walking in front of Barak’s house and keeping watch in towers located on the opposite corners of the stone building. They may just as well have walked out of GQ magazine. They were clad in neatly pressed suits with guns around their shoulders, poised, tall and rugged. Even if they didn’t represent the picture-perfect model of a handsome Israeli man, I still couldn’t have ignored them. They closely watch anyone who lingers in front of Barak’s house and inspect the motors of any cars that park or drop off passengers there.

The presence of the guards, coupled with the price and location of the place, prompted me to move in – for security reasons, of course. A single woman living on the ground floor needs protection.On the day I moved in, I parked right in front of the building to make sure they saw my car. I had purposefully forgotten a few things at the market, so I got a little dressed up and left to finish my shopping.When I returned, they examined my car I was happy to check them out as well. It would take a while, they said, until the guards would be familiar with my the car and have it registered on a list of approved vehicles. Was that really true, or were they, as I had hoped, also looking for an excuse to check me out?

One can never tell with them. In the tradition of Israeli security men, they wear a very stoic look, never betraying their toughness and professionalism. I felt a sense of victory when I got one of the guards to help me move some baggage. We exchanged names in neighborly way, but he went on his way after he completed his task.

My excitement at having such protection, though, also has its moments of frustration. For one thing, my privacy is more limited. They see when I leave and when I come home – and with whom. I always hesitate to take out the garbage when I’m wearing my shlumpy pajamas. They circle my building a few times a day, and I often imagine that they are looking through my window, wondering what I’m doing, listening to my conversations.

Living here has inspired some questions about relations with neighbors. If you are attracted to someone you see every day, should you risk exposing your affections if his rejection will leave you feeling awkward every time you see him afterward? What if I were to approach a guard and he didn’t return my interest? Would I be the object of shame, ridicule and gossip? And even he didn’t respond for mere professional reasons, I’d still have to see him every day and be reminded of the rejection.

Still, I have my fun. Whenever a taxi drops me off, I always tell the driver I’m Barak’s intern. Some of them get it. As I walk up my path, I give the guard in the tower a wave and a mischievous smile and fantasize about how nice it would be if they brought me in for questioning. I also think about what it would be like to be the prime minister living in that secure mansion next door.

Jewish Films Tapped for Oscars


A film on the 1972 Olympic Games massacre of Israeli athletes has received an Oscar nomination for best documentary, while a Welsh film about the romance between a Jewish boy and a Welsh girl is in the running for best foreign film.

The documentary “One Day in September” recreates the bloody 24 hours at the Munich Olympics, when Arab terrorists took 11 members of the Israeli team hostage. Two of the Israelis were killed outright and the remaining nine died in a bungled rescue attempt at the Munich airport.

Included in the 90-minute film is extensive testimony by the only survivor among the eight terrorists.

The driving force behind the film is Swiss-based producer Arthur Cohn, who has won an unprecedented five Oscars, including one for “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.”

The Welsh film “Solomon and Gaenor” is a takeoff on “Romeo and Juliet,” in which Solomon conceals his Jewish identity until forced to reveal the truth. The film’s dialogue is in Welsh, English and Yiddish.

The Oscars will be presented on March 26.


The Israeli Olympic Team at their arrival in Munich in August 1972.


Jewish Themes at Sundance


The Sundance Film Festival, that two-week industry schmooze-fest in Park City, Utah, was once more a launching pad for Jewish independent cinema.

British playwright David Hare arrived for the world premiere of “Via Dolorosa,” the filmed version of his acclaimed monologue about life in Israel. Another Brit, writer-director Ben Hopkins, offered his “Yiddish Biblical western,” “Simon Magus,” actually a fable set in a 19th century Central European Jewish community. Maggie Greenwald (“The Ballad of Little Jo”) was back at Sundance with her film, “SongCatchers.”

Buzz was high for Gurinder Chadha’s “What’s Cooking?,” the fest’s opening-night pic, which reflects the filmmaker’s fascination with the melting pot of Los Angeles.

Starring Julianna Margulies, Lainie Kazan, Joan Chen and Mercedes Ruehl, the broad comedy provides snapshots of four diverse families — Jewish, black, Latino, Vietnamese — all preparing for Thanksgiving on one street in Los Angeles. An African-American clan anticipates WASPY guests; A Vietnamese émigré worries about her children; a young Latino man invites his philandering father to Thanksgiving dinner; a Jewish lesbian brings her lover (Margulies) home for the holiday.

Other films of note included “But I’m a Cheerleader,” starring Joel Michaely, a former student at Heschel Day School; and “Yana’s Friends,” a quirky tale of life among Israel’s Russian émigrés. Variety called Russian-Israeli director Arik Kaplun, who dabbled in Orthodoxy before turning to filmmaking, one of the top 10 directors to watch at Sundance: In his Russian- and Hebrew-language film, a young Russian woman, abandoned by her husband, moves in with a commitment-phobic Tel Aviv videographer and falls in love in the sealed rooms of the Persian Gulf War.

Amid the documentary fare was “Paragraph 175,” about homosexuals and the Holocaust, the latest documentary by Oscar winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Two-time Oscar winner Barbara Kopple, who last followed Woody Allen and Soon-Yi around Europe for “Wild Man Blues,” offered “My Generation,” her work-in-progress documentary about all three Woodstock music festivals. Kopple apparently put up her own money, for a time, to explore what was different and what wasn’t about the youths who attended the music fests in 1969, 1994 and 1999.

Throughout the festival, which ran Jan. 20 to 30, it was clear that Sundance continues to provide a forum for filmmakers who want to explore their Judaism on film. “There’s a ghettoization in the film industry about being a Jew,” as one director once told the Journal. “But we prefer not to be part of that ghetto.”