Calendar Picks and Clicks: April 13-April 22, 2011


Comedian Mark Schiff and author and family therapist Mark Brenner host an evening of laughter and learning. Schiff, who toured with Jerry Seinfeld, opens with his razor-sharp wit. Brenner, known as The Family Whisperer, discusses his four-step blueprint for good parenting. A Q-and-A follows the show, providing select members of the audience with an opportunity to come on stage and talk with Brenner about their issues. Wed. 8 p.m. $20. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 687-8559.


Cookbook author Poopa Dweck, who documents the recipes and traditions of Sephardic communities that once flourished in Syria’s largest city, leads a discussion as part of UCLA Center for Jewish Studies’ “Jews and Food” series. Thu. 4 p.m. Free. UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles. (310) 825-5387.

Keshet Chaim artistic director Kobi Rozenfeld, who has worked with Beyoncé and Britney Spears, gathers his friends and colleagues in the dance industry for a benefit concert. Performances include students from Studio Life in Israel and the New Community Jewish High School Varsity Dance Team. All proceeds benefit children with cancer at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Israel. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $20 (general), $75 (VIP, includes reception). American Jewish University’s Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (818) 986-7332.


The Barak Marshall Dance Theatre blends humorous character narratives with an eclectic score as a group of trapped servants grapple with issues of power, free will and survival in this original work for 10 dancers. L.A.-born Marshall, a former resident choreographer of Batsheva Dance Company, brings this highly physical, visual and emotional show from Tel Aviv. Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 9 p.m. $28-$48 (general), $15 (UCLA students). Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.


As a child virtuoso, Heifetz created such a sensation that St. Petersburg police had to protect him from fans following a 1911 outdoor concert. This feature-length documentary examines the legacy of the Vilnius-born violinist, who toured the world and set the standard in violin playing for nearly a century. The film includes family home movies shot in Los Angeles and all over the world as well as interviews with former students and musicians, including Itzhak Perlman. A panel discussion with filmmaker Peter Rosen and Heifetz biographers follows. Sat. 5 p.m. $10. The Colburn School, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 621-2200.

In 1941, Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist working on the atomic bomb for Nazi Germany, went to German-occupied Copenhagen to secretly meet with his former colleague Niels Bohr, a Danish Jewish physicist. English playwright Michael Frayn attempts to re-create the discussion, which ended in disaster, in his Tony Award-winning drama. Sat. Through April 23. 8 p.m. Sundays 2 p.m. $20. Attic Theatre & Film Center, 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 960-4420.

Academy Award-nominated director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) adapts journalist Rula Jebreal’s autobiographical novel. The film follows several generations of Palestinian women, including Miral (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire”), who becomes radicalized during the First Intifada. Sat. Various times. $11. Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, 1332 Second St., Santa Monica. (310) 478-3836.

The JDub indie folk duo of Alicia Jo Rabins and Aaron Hartman perform songs from their forthcoming album, “Half You Half Me,” which explores the complex terrain between right and wrong as the band continues this ongoing song cycle. Sat. 9 p.m. $10. The Joint, 8771 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 275-2619. Also Sun. 9 p.m. $5. The Smell, 247 S. Main St., Los Angeles.


This free, fun-filled family day features a scavenger hunt, art projects — including a Passover freedom mural and designing afikomen covers — Passover bingo and more. Sun. 12:30-5 p.m. Free. Zimmer Children’s Museum, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles. (323) 761-8984.

Representatives from Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker” will be on hand seeking new contestants as JCafeLA hosts an evening for young professionals featuring live jazz, dancing, a fashion show, games, raffle and hors d’oeuvres. Ages 21-39ish. Sun. 7-10:30 p.m. $15 (advance), $20 (door). The Mark for Events, 9320 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 842-5109.

This one-man show, written and performed by Tom Dugan, follows Wiesenthal on the day of his retirement, as he welcomes a group of students to his Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, and recounts his experiences pursuing such Nazi war criminals as Adolf Eichmann, Dr. Josef Mengele, Karl Silberbauer and Franz Stangl. Sun. Through April 26. 7:30 p.m. $25. Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 364-3606.


The steampunky Portland performance group draws inspiration from the late 1800s and early 1900s, blending klezmer, jazz, neoclassical opera, Balkan belly dance, vaudeville and Bohemian cabaret. Gypsy band Fishtank Ensemble also performs. Tue. 8 p.m. $18 (advance), $20 (door). Fais Do-Do, 5257 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-4636.


Rabbi Oved Kaufman (aka Jake Regal) hosts a special Pesach show featuring some of Upright Citizens Brigade’s best Jewish performers, including Matt Besser, one of UCB’s founding members, Todd Levin, a former writer on “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien,” Dannah Phirman and Danielle Schneider, Tremendosaur, Becky Feldman and others. Fri. 8 p.m. $10. Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. (323) 908-8702.

Can a Palestinian story prompt dialogue for Middle East peace?

Julian Schnabel must have known that screening a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the United Nations General Assembly would be scene-stealing. To set the town talking, the event would unite all the trappings — provocative subject matter, prestigious venue, Hollywood glamour.

In fact, the March 14 screening of “Miral” in New York drew a crowd of movie stars, diplomats, artists and intellectuals — Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Vanessa Redgrave,  Ambassadors Jean Kennedy Smith and Qazi Shaukut Fareed, and Dan Rather, among them – raising the profile of an event that openly merged artistic prominence and political power. But when mixed, art and politics — while not exactly strange bedfellows — can stir into a complicated brew. And, sure enough, Schnabel’s screening spawned a flurry of protest from some of the most powerful and prominent voices in the Jewish establishment, who accused the film of being “one-sided” and “anti-Israel.”

The next day, a Los Angeles Times headline declared:  “Screening of ‘Miral’ at the United Nations draws protests from Jewish groups.”

The wave of controversy that ensued called into question whether a high-profile film written by a Palestinian and sympathetic to “the other side” was simply too much for some Jews to handle. That the filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, is Jewish and presenting a perspective counter to the dominant Jewish paradigm was considered a tribal and national betrayal. That the film’s distributor, Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein is a New York Jew, and a vocal supporter of Israel, was even more unsettling. Haven’t the Jews and their State of Israel had it hard enough?

First to object was David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who, the night before the screening, sent out an open letter to United Nations General Assembly President Joseph Deiss. “The film has a clear political message which portrays Israel in a highly negative light,” Harris wrote. “Permit me to ask why the President of the General Assembly would wish to associate himself — and the prestige of his office — with such a blatantly one-sided event.”

Next, Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier sounded off: “Last night, when the General Assembly Hall was used for the first time to screen a pro-Palestinian film, marked another sad day in the 63-year-old history of the U.N.’s bias against the State of Israel,” he said in a widely released statement. “It’s bad enough that the 55 Moslem countries in the General Assembly have a virtual lock on the political resolutions there. Now the U.N. wants to extend that anti-Israel bias to the cultural and arts world as well.”

That the screening became cause for Jewish opprobrium seems to reflect deeper issues. Was this a protest of the film itself? Neither Harris nor Hier had yet seen it. Was it, rather, a legitimate complaint about bias against Israel at the world’s preeminent political assembly? Or was it, perhaps, a knee-jerk reaction from the old Jewish guard to anything sympathetic to the Palestinian perspective? Whatever the answers, the conversation surrounding “Miral” is raising serious and important questions about the Jewish response to Palestinian narratives — and, perhaps ironically, perhaps not — that’s exactly what the filmmakers want.

Rabbi Irwin Kula, one member of the post-screening panel discussion at the U.N., suggested that “Miral” offers an important opportunity to approach the conflict with new eyes.

“Everybody should go see it,” Kula, president of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, said in a phone interview a few days later, from his New York office. “If you’re a Jew and anything about Israel and Palestinians touches you in any way, you should see this film.”

For Kula and the filmmakers, the hope is that the film will provide rare insight into the Palestinian point of view and inspire dialogue.

“After 63 years of conventional diplomacy, we are now further from a two-state solution than ever before,” Kula said. “We need new forms of peacemaking. Let’s recover personal, intimate human stories, which have been completely clouded out by the political and power narratives.”

Films like “Miral,” he said, offer alternatives to Jewish understanding of the conflict, humanizing individuals on the other side and offering openings for empathy. “Either we live in a moment of pikuach nefesh [“saving a life”], which makes marginalizing and vilifying those with whom one disagrees permissible, or [the reactions are a] projection of repressed, disassociated, split-off guilt about what is happening in Israel that is simply too painful to bear.”

If the early ire of mainstream Jewish groups is any indication, American Jews may not be ready to empathize with Palestinians. For older generations, the historic and seemingly endless suffering of Jews has given rise to the indelible notion that the world is against us. “We all construct narratives to help us get through life, so for a post-Holocaust generation to construct a narrative in which everyone is seen as a Nazi out to destroy us is not crazy,” Kula said. “What trauma does is close down the capacity to trust the other, and we have a traumatized group of senior leadership in American Jewish life.”

For some, that trauma is especially real at a place like the U.N., where an Arab bloc of 55 Muslim countries is outspokenly anti-Israel. The U.N. Human Rights Council, for example, has passed numerous resolutions condemning Israel, while countries with far worse human-rights track records, such as Sudan, get by relatively unscathed. So while the filmmakers saw the U.N. as a powerful forum for dialogue, Harris and Hier saw the potential for an echo chamber of diatribes. And while making movies is an art, and not meant to be objective or balanced, using the U.N. backdrop implies a certain seal of approval for a narrative that is discomfiting for many Jews.

“The moment I hear the words ‘U.N. General Assembly Hall’ — it stinks, because it’s never been open for Jews,” Hier said during a phone interview. “Where’s the film telling Israel’s story? Did they ever show ‘Exodus’ there?”

‘Miral’ filmmaker Schnabel is feeling the love — and the criticism

In an early scene in “Miral,” the new film by artist-filmmaker Julian Schnabel opening March 25, a Palestinian activist named Hind Husseini (Hiam Abbass) comes across a ragtag group of about 50 children in Jerusalem’s Old City, many of them crying, trembling, dirty, barefoot, their hair matted and faces traumatized. The oldest is a girl of around 12, who explains that, the night before, the children had barely escaped a fiery rampage that destroyed their homes.  They are alone, hungry and terrified.

It’s April 1948, before the establishment of the State of Israel, and the stunned Husseini, an educated woman from a prominent Jerusalem family, soon learns that the children are survivors of an attack on Deir Yassin by Jewish paramilitary groups. Her response is to found a school and orphanage for children displaced by the fighting, a place that, over the course of the film, grows to accommodate thousands of girls.

The movie goes on to tell the story of several generations of Palestinian women, notably Miral (Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire”), who, in the late 1970s, arrives at the school after her mother, an alcoholic and victim of childhood sexual abuse, commits suicide. A decade later, the teenage Miral becomes radicalized while teaching in a refugee camp during the First Intifada; in one scene, she is arrested in the middle of the night for associating with activists, then brutally beaten while being interrogated in an Israeli prison.

In another sequence, a female terrorist attempts to place a bomb in an Israeli movie theater, while the rape scene from Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” plays on the screen. The sequence serves as a metaphor not only for the rape of Miral’s mother — which propels the woman’s suicide — but also for the protagonist’s perception of the plight of the Palestinian people, Schnabel, the film’s director, said.

“Miral” is essentially an art film based on an autobiographical novel by Schnabel’s girlfriend, the Palestinian-born, Italian TV journalist Rula Jebreal.  Schnabel, 59, is among the most successful painters in the contemporary art world, and the most prominent artist ever to successfully segue into filmmaking. His “Before Night Falls” (2000) earned actor Javier Bardem an Academy Award nomination, while “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (2007), received four Oscar nods, including one for Schnabel in the directing category.

In 2007, Schnabel’s art was celebrated in an exhibition at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. “There were 40 paintings that I actually installed without building temporary walls, so you could just see modern paintings among the frescoes in these giant rooms,” he said.

He met Jebreal at the show’s opening, and initially assumed she was Indian — she in fact bears a striking resemblance to the Indian beauty Freida Pinto, who plays the lead in “Miral” — but was surprised to learn she was, in fact, Palestinian and an Israeli citizen.

Jebreal, in a separate interview, recalled their first encounter: “I don’t know if I would say he had a knee-jerk reaction, but his expression changed from smiling to almost a tension, like he had never seen a Palestinian before,” she said. “So I asked, ‘Are you scared or something?’ And he replied, ‘Should I be scared?’ —  that is how we started talking.”

But the artist and writer clicked; and when she subsequently sent him her novel, “Miral,” he was moved and heartbroken by her story. 

Sometime during the transformation of the memoir into the film, Schnabel left his second wife, the Spanish Basque actress and model Olatz López Garmendia, who appears as a physical therapist in “Diving Bell”; he and Jebreal now live together, and it seems that his passion for his film and its underlying issues is tied, at least in part, into his passion for Jebreal.

It is the star power of the backers of “Miral” that make its release an event worth noting. The other major player behind this historical drama is Harvey Weinstein, the brash chairman of the Weinstein Co., an inventor of modern independent cinema who last month triumphed at the Oscars with “The King’s Speech,” which swept the awards and won for best picture. Weinstein, who, like Schnabel, is Jewish, has acknowledged that “Miral” is “pro-Palestinian,” but has vociferously defended the picture from some prominent Jewish leaders who see it as anti-Israel.

In the weeks leading up to “Miral’s” release, some mainstream Jewish groups, such as the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned the drama as agitprop and, in particular, denounced its U.S. premiere at the United Nations earlier this month. “The film has a clear political message which portrays Israel in a highly negative light,” AJC executive director David Harris wrote in a letter to the U.N. “Permit me to ask why the President of the General Assembly would wish to associate himself … with such a blatantly one-sided event.”

In a telephone interview from New York last week, Schnabel said he understands why some Jews have condemned his movie — some without even having seen the film: “It comes out of fear,” he said. “The fear that the Holocaust occurred, that ‘we have been [decimated], and we don’t want it to happen again’; that ‘these people, the Palestinians, are against us having a State of Israel, and we must fight for that, no matter what happens.’ But I don’t believe that’s true. I believe a Jewish homeland in Israel is superimportant, and a great thing, but we must have empathy; we have to be sensitive. I don’t think it’s a very encouraging way to look at people, as ‘us and them.’ It isn’t us and them. We are all human beings. And what is good for the Palestinians is also good for the Israelis.”

Among complaints leveled against “Miral” is that it presents Israeli soldiers as one-dimensional villains – but Schnabel doesn’t perceive the filmmaker’s job as a political balancing act. “Just as if I were painting a portrait, I’m dealing with what is in the frame that is related to Rula, and to Miral’s point of view,” he said. “It’s not from my omniscient point of view of a 59-year-old Jewish guy who’s got all these different facts where I have to explain who attacked whom in the Six-Day War. It’s Miral’s family history as it was told to her, and as it was lived by her. And that’s the power of the story. I can’t do this inexhaustible summation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are just too many stories.” 

Not all the filmmaker’s critics are Jewish. “Others have attacked me because the film isn’t pro-Palestinian enough,” Schnabel said. “I really can’t believe I’m even talking about this because ‘Miral’ is a movie about a girl and her family,” he added. “If the movie had been set in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t even be on the telephone today.”

Not that Schnabel is without his own opinion. “When I shot the movie and lived and worked in Israel and in Palestine, I was pretty ashamed of certain situations that I witnessed,” he said. “I felt it was like apartheid over there, and that’s very disappointing. There’s democracy for Jewish people in Israel, but I don’t think there’s democracy for Palestinian people. … When I see a kid with peyos and a yarmulke throwing a rock into a Palestinian home and screaming at them, that doesn’t seem to be the Jewish way to me.”

Israel protests screening of film at United Nations

Israel is protesting the screening of a controversial film on the Israel-Palestinian conflict in the main hall of the United Nations General Assembly.

The screening Monday evening will be the U.S. premiere of the film “Miral” by award-winning American-Jewish director Julian Schnabel.

“Miral” is based on the 2004 autobiographical novel by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal that traces the Arab-Israeli conflict after 1948 from the perspective of a Palestinian orphan. Jebreal and Schnabel are a couple.

“We find it very troubling that the U.N. has chosen to feature this film in the GA Hall,” Israel’s U.N. delegation said in a letter of complaint sent March 11 to Joseph Deiss, the president of the U.N. General Assembly. “We are not aware of any other films with such contentious political content that have received this kind of endorsement from the President of the GA.”

The showing of the movie, the letter said, “will mark a rare occasion in which the U.N.‘s GA Hall is used for a movie premiere. This is clearly a politicized decision of the U.N., one that shows poor judgment and a lack of evenhandedness.”

A panel discussion with Jebreal and Schnabel attended by representatives of several U.N. delegations is scheduled for after the movie.

American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said in a letter to Deiss that showing such a film in the U.N. General Assembly hall “will only serve to reinforce the already widespread view that Israel simply cannot expect fair treatment in the U.N.”

Harris expressed concern that “the President of the General Assembly would wish to associate himself—and the prestige of his office—with such a blatantly one-sided event.” He urged Deiss to reconsider the decision.

Read more about the controversy at