Trio of films offers eclectic choices: sea, spies, punk

“The Guardian”

Raised in a secular Jewish family in Chicago, “The Guardian” director Andrew Davis learned early the values and ethics he continues to believe in.

“My parents taught me war is not a good thing, so do everything you can to not go to war,” he says during a telephone interview. “And it’d be great if the armies of the world could help people and not hurt people.”

“The Guardian,” which opens on Sept. 29, is about the U.S. Coast Guard’s rescue swimmers, of whom there are only about 300 because of the rigorous training and the dangers of the job. Written by Ron L. Brinkerhoff, the film stars Kevin Costner as a heroic but aging swimmer based at Alaska’s Kodiak Island. Assigned to training school, he struggles to teach a brash, possibly reckless young recruit played by Ashton Kutcher.

“At this stage of my life or career, I didn’t want to make a film about how wonderful it is to kill somebody,” says Davis, primarily known for action films, including “Collateral Damage” (2002). “There are no bad people in this movie. Nature and the forces of weather motivate the heroism.

“I’ve done movies about cops and about soldiers, where violence is part of the tension and the entertainment. My most successful movie is ‘The Fugitive,’ which starts off with a woman being killed because her husband was not cooperating in drug protocol. That’s a very dark environment. So I was glad to make a movie where violence is not a part of it.”

Davis’ first work on a feature film was as assistant cameraman on Haskell Wexler’s groundbreaking “Medium Cool,” a political drama shot during Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention. His directorial debut was 1978’s “Stoney Island,” based on his brother’s experiences growing up white in Chicago’s racially changing South Side. Davis also directed “A Perfect Murder,” “Under Siege” and “Holes.”

Preparations were under way to shoot “The Guardian” in New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina hit last year. The crew evacuated to Shreveport, La., amid the chaos.

“We were six weeks away from shooting,” Davis says. “When we arrived at Shreveport, there were 1,000 evacuees at the university gymnasium. So we were in the midst of an evacuation and trying to keep our movie alive. We hired about 200 people all told who had been affected by the storm — cast and crew.”

The Coast Guard, itself, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, was called into action to help those stranded after Katrina. By all accounts, it performed outstandingly — the Coast Guard’s Leadership News cited 24,135 lives saved by its personnel.Katrina inspired Davis: “I thought it was more important than ever to make this film and really point out what these guys do.”

“We felt the best thing we could do was maybe try to bring more light on these guys, so hopefully the government will fund them better, and there’ll be more of them, and they’ll get better facilities to train in,” Davis says. “It’s an element of the military I do support.”

— Steven Rosen, Contributing Writer

“American Hardcore: A Tribal History”

What would you do if the frustration in your life manifested itself in worries about civil liberties and a lack of freedom of speech, and you felt a combination of repression and depression about the policies and practices of the current political administration? You might be upset enough to write your local government representative or you just might be angry enough to write a punk song.

Steven Blush, author, promoter and now scriptwriter compiled the quotations of around 60 of the most notable American-born hardcore bands in “American Hardcore: A Tribal History.” In the book, Blush documents the history of the more hard-edged, second-generation of punk rock.Following up on the book’s success, Blush has written and produced a documentary using the same format. The fragmented and frustrated feelings that inspired this music are all too familiar to Blush, from his beginnings as a nice Jewish boy to his sub-culturally-inspired adulthood.

Growing up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Blush is the son of a typical Jewish family. His parents made sure he was always cared for; he became bar mitzvah and on the cusp of adulthood, they sent him to George Washington University to get a law degree.

One night while in college, Blush went out to a club and became fascinated by something that would change his life — a band called Black Flag. The group was one of a handful of emerging sub-cultural bands made up of and being followed by a bunch of frustrated and wistful kids with backgrounds similar to Blush’s.

Blush remembers, “I had liked groups like the Sex Pistols; they were pure rock ‘n’ roll out of England, known for being rebellious. Although I loved the music, I had trouble identifying with the scene completely, because most of the people who followed them were either artists, bisexual or heavily into drugs. It really wasn’t me; I was just a suburban kid who played basketball.”

But after he witnessed the slam dancing — the raw and often violent tendencies of what was to become standard behavior at hardcore shows — Blush found his calling. He quickly made friends with everyone in the scene by being the first DJ on the East Coast to play the bands on college radio and by letting touring bands stay on his couch when in town. Blush’s life finally had a deeper meaning for him.

He recalls, “My mom tried to give me the best education and surroundings, whatever our resources were, but I never connected to it and never agreed to it. I didn’t feel part of the thing. The values in my high school were materialistic, they weren’t into the big picture, like politics and free speech. When American hardcore music happened, it was like a perfect storm, it took me over.”

Blush was certainly not the only frustrated kid willing to submit allegiance to the hardcore music scene. From 1980 to 1985, the American hardcore subculture rallied support for its cause against yuppies, conservatism, drugs and most especially, the Regan administration.Blush adds, “It turns out I have been shaped by two ethical codes, one from my Jewish heritage, which I learned from my family, and one from being a part of this music scene. Writing the book and doing the movie is studying my life’s path.”

Find Your Melody

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah and is named for the “Song of the Sea” sung by Moses and the Israelites after they experienced the redemption at the splitting of the Red Sea.

What was it, the rabbis asked, that evoked shirah, song, at this point and not earlier when they actually left Egypt? What propels the song to burst forth from their lips? When are we motivated to truly sing the song in our hearts?

I remember a powerful insight from Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav that a dear colleague shared years ago. Every person, Rabbi Nachman believed, has his or her own niggun, a wordless melody that is like a key that opens up our Neshamah, our soul. The task of our lives, he continues, is to find that melody that opens us up. Just as each lock has a different key, each person has to find his or her own special melody.

The ancient Israelites found their niggun, their melody, at that moment when they were saved from the Egyptians. The text teaches, “On that day, the Lord delivered Israel from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea. And when Israel saw the wondrous power, which the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord; they had faith in the Lord and His servant Moses. Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord” (Exodus 14:30-15:1).

There is a Chasidic teaching that believes: “Ha’ke’riayah M’orair Ha’zman.” The designated Torah reading on Shabbat wakes up a dormant yearning within us.

When we chant “Shirat Hayam” from the Torah, we can actually use the energy of the day to find our personal niggun and to open our hearts. Our song, however, is often hidden from us, buried by the routines in our busy lives, unknown and never used. Also, our true song is not only about “joy” but is about sadness and loss, yearning and hope, faith and despair. We often do not want to experience all these feelings, and cannot sing.

Avivah Zorenberg, in her Torah commentary, understood that the power of Shabbat Shirah is recognizing that a song is not simply an explosion of jubilant gratitude. The Song, she states, “is a complex set of emotions and points to life and death … justice and mercy.” The moment the Israelites sang was an opening that “transcends a simple split between ‘us’ and ‘them.'” The song emerged from that moment of tension: remembering their overwhelming physical suffering on the one hand, and experiencing the joy of God’s salvation on the other.

The Israelites’ song sprang from a deep place of knowing that no one is exempt from human torment and no one is always safe. It is for those precious moments when we are saved and jubilant, and understand how sacred these moments are, that we are able to sing.

The Sfat Emet, the renowned 19th century Chasidic rabbi, taught that the “Song of the Sea” was implanted in the Jewish soul forever. It was only after the miracle of the Exodus and the splitting of the sea that the Israelites were able to call it forth. They had to first witness the salvation, understand God’s awesome power and experience emunah, abiding faith, and not until then could they sing.

Rabbi Gedaliah Shorr, in his commentary, teaches that songs are like wings of birds because just like a wing lifts a bird off the ground, so, too, a song lifts us off the ground. When we sing, he explains, we are lifted out of our worldly concerns to reveal the hidden parts of God in all things.

Medieval commentator Rashi explained that when Moses saw the miracle of the splitting sea, he had to wait a few minutes until his heart told him he should sing. It was only when he was aroused and inspired, that the song emerged.

When we sing our inspired song, we are revealing heaven on earth. When we sing our true song, we gain perspective and know we can praise God in times of pain and sorrow, as well as in times of joy.

May we all be inspired to open our hearts to life’s possibilities, to the Divine within, and sing our songs.

Toba August, rabbi of Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles, can be reached at


Special Report


“> This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

KANCHIPURAM DISTRICT, INDIA — The bright, clear morning of Dec. 26, 2004, would forever change S. Desingu’s life.

The first monster wave rose from the Sea of Bengal without warning at 8 a.m. — silently, massively.

For the Indian fishermen at sea, the startling energy pulse bumped harmlessly under their boats, passing in an instant. The wave started to rise ominously in the shallows.

Onshore, the 36-year-old Desingu glanced up to see a 30-foot liquid wall surging in as tall as the tops of the soaring coconut palms. The fishing craft along the shore rolled end over end, tossed as easily as playthings in a bathtub.

Mesmerized, Desingu, whose name means fisherman, actually moved in closer.

“Then I was trapped,” he recalled in his native Tamil, through a translator. “The water was over my head.”

His wife, who came looking for him, also was caught in the flood. So was her aunt.

Desingu and other villagers didn’t even know a word to call this calamity. Only later would he hear of “tsunami.”

In India the roiling water took an estimated 18,000 lives — more than nine times the number lost in Hurricane Katrina. About three-quarters of the casualties were women and children. Although many people are more aware of the disaster’s astronomical deathtoll in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the statistics here in India are staggering: some 157,000 homes destroyed; 640,000 displaced.

Along all the southern Asian coastlines, more than 220,000 souls were swept to their deaths, according to a U.N. tally. Some 1.8 million were left homeless or became refugees.

As for Desingu, the tsunami first brought stunning loss and then ongoing struggle. But a glimmer of opportunity also materialized. For this poor but enterprising fisherman was already running a nonprofit that hired schoolteachers and organized health clinics and after-school programs. In the wake of the tsunami, money and aid began pouring in for Desingu’s nonprofit and his village. Suddenly, this 10th-generation fisherman had the chance to become the catalyst for permanent change in southeast India’s deprived and hard-pressed fishing villages.

“Now, all of a sudden, I can do more than I had planned to do,” said Desingu, the founder and director of Society for Education and Action (SEA).

And he would join forces to battle inadequate schools, poor health care, gender discrimination and government bureaucracy with people he knew little about — people called Jews.

In the days after the tsunami hit, the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a relatively small, New York City-based nonprofit, began to work with Desingu and other regional leaders who run nongovernmental organizations or NGOs as they are commonly called. The upward shift in possibilities for AJWS paralleled that of the hard-working fisherman. Before the tsunami, the Jewish aid group had an annual budget of $11.2 million for projects spanning the developing world — a pinprick compared to other groups that do similar work — and small even when compared to other Jewish groups that focus on helping Jews and Israel. But relief appeals for the tsunami brought in $11 million, doubling the nonprofit’s funds.

Other aid groups have had similar experiences as a second flood — of charitable assistance — poured into India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. Private U.S. sources have given $1.775 billion to a loose coalition of 62 nonprofits (which includes AJWS and the American Joint Distribution Committee, another Jewish nonprofit that handled an influx of $18.5 million in tsunami-related donations).

Like Desingu, the American Jewish World Service saw an opening to effect change well beyond emergency relief or short-term recovery. The AJWS wanted to take on the pre-tsunami landscape of poverty and deprivation. Just as surely as the tsunami altered so much for the worse, the AJWS, working with local leaders like Desingu, wanted to make permanent changes for the good. Although it granted immediate aid where most needed, the organization also created a long-term development plan to spread out its windfall resources over five years.

“A lot of donors come and go after an emergency,” said Kate Kroeger, senior program officer for AJWS. “The real work kicks in three to four years after a disaster, when a community is stabilized. If donors pull out before that, they’ll miss out on three-quarters of the benefit.”

The American Jewish World Service already was working in India when the tsunami hit. But the storm thrust both AJWS and Desingu suddenly — and willingly — onto a larger stage, where their efforts can accomplish vastly more.

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site:
” target=”_blank”>
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site:
Regional office: ” target=”_blank”>
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: ” target=”_blank”>
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: ” target=”_blank”>
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355


Web site:

The Treasures on Top of the Mountain

By many accounts, it ranks just below Jerusalem as one of Israel’s most beloved treasures. It holds United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) status as a World Heritage Site. Conde Nast Traveler magazine even named it the “World’s Best Monument.”

Masada, which represents a stronghold of Jewish courage and defiance, is among Israel’s most visited sites. Located in the Judean Desert, adjacent to the Dead Sea, King Herod the Great built Masada 2,100 years ago as both his winter palace and a place where he would retreat in times of crisis.

Thanks to monumental excavations begun in 1964 under the direction of Yigal Yadin, visitors regularly come to this lone mountain. At a sharp peak of 1,200 feet, Herod fashioned this marvelous palace with three floors of elegant halls. Its many other wonders included heated bath houses decorated with still-visible mosaics, a remarkable plumbing system to gather runoff from nearby flash floods and even chambers for storing ice in the desert heat. Masada, it seemed, was unconquerable.

But after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70, fate would eventually prove otherwise. Some 960 Jewish zealots took over the abandoned palace as the last independent Jewish holdout in the Land of Israel against conquering Roman armies. The refugees survived atop Masada for three years until a 36-month Roman siege, involving tens of thousands of Roman soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Jewish slaves, finally succeeded.

What the Romans found when they arrived was a community that had taken its own lives rather than become captive slaves. The Roman siege ramp on the western side of Masada that led to the end of the battle still offers easy walking access to the top of the fortress. From there, you can also see the outlines of several Roman camps below.

The World Heritage Committee recognized Masada under the auspices of UNESCO, describing it as “a symbol of the ancient Jewish kingdom of Israel, an example of the opulence and luxury of the early Roman Empire and a symbol of Jewish cultural identity and, more universally, of the continuing human struggle between oppression and liberty.”

In advance of expected, heavy millennium year tourism, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, in conjunction with the National Park Authority, completed a $40 million conservation and renovation project at the site. A 90-minute drive southeast of Jerusalem or about 20 minutes from Ein Gedi, Masada now includes a state-of-the-art visitors center, as well as high-speed, high-capacity cable cars, which start at the eastern entrance, one mile from the Dead Sea. But hundreds of visitors each day choose to hike up Masada’s Snake Path.

The weather is accommodating year-round, though high summer temperatures suggest an early morning visit. If you’re up for an early morning arrival, it’s a magnificent place to watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea. Plan on spending about three hours to tour the site.

Masada is reachable via regularly scheduled bus service from Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat. Use the western entrance for the nighttime sound-and-light show (fee required). For more information, sound-and-light show schedule and admission fees, visit

Pesach, Matzah, Maror and Massage


Thanks to an increasing number of spas offering Passover packages, a Pesach getaway doesn’t necessarily have to lead to weight gain. There is no shortage of luxury resorts where you can nourish your spirituality, pamper your psyche and get a workout. In fact, several highly rated wellness centers are hosting seders this year for the first time, including the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Here is a sampling of top spas where you can escape kosher l’Pesach style. Although Passover doesn’t begin until Saturday night, April 23, these packages accommodate religious travelers by including Shabbat the night before.

All pricing is per person, double occupancy, plus tax and gratuities and most programs offer a third-in-the-room price as well as children’s pricing. To experience a massage or another treatment during your stay, schedule it well in advance by contacting spas directly at the earliest date possible. Otherwise, by the time you arrive, the choicest appointments will most likely be taken. The same is true for any spa visit — year-round or at Passover.

Back to the Desert

The Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa (” target=”_blank”>

By the Sea

The spa and fitness and wellness center at The Mauna Lani Hotel & Bungalows Resort & Spa (” target=”_blank”>

Packages are also available at the Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa in San Diego (, starting at $3,000; the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa (” target=”_blank”> features 12 tennis courts, two PGA-rated championship golf courses and two swimming pools. Its Passover package includes access to whirlpools, steam rooms and more. The spa’s menu of additional-fee treatments includes a wide array of spa services.

Prices begin at $3,000, plus 25 percent tax and tips. The early-bird special features 12.5 percent tax and tips for bookings through mid-February. The cost includes three gourmet glatt kosher, cholov yisroel meals daily, a 24-hour tea room, shiurim and entertainment for kids and adults. Children’s programs draw kids 12 and under and teens 13 and up. Contact Moshe Wein at Kosher Travels Unlimited (800) 832-6676 or visit ” target=”_blank”> features an expansive pool and lawn area, three clay tennis courts and free shuttle boat service to St. Mark’s Square and the city of Doges. Windsurfing, horseback riding and golf are all nearby. The scholar-in-residence is Rabbi Laibl Wolf and the cantor is Shimon Farkas. Prices start at $3,110 per person, double occupancy plus 24 percent tax and tips, and includes all meals, which are glatt kosher, cholov yisroel Italian cuisine, as well as the 24-hour tea room, entertainment, kids’ day camp and more.

The Other Coast

New for 2005 is the Passover program at San Juan’s Caribe Hilton (” target=”_blank”>, starting at $3,370; the Wyndham Miami Beach Resort (” target=”_blank”>

Lisa Alcalay Klug, a former staff writer for the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times, writes for The Jerusalem Post, The New York Times and other publications.