Jewish films coming soon to a screening near you

The New York Jewish Film Festival closed this week after showcasing 37 films from around the world. Here are a few films to look out for as they travel to other American cities in the coming months.

Directed by Elie Wajeman (France)

Set in the grungy streets of Paris, “Aliyah” offers a glimpse into the raw and dark life of Alex, a 27-year-old Jewish drug dealer from a broken home who must constantly pay off the debts of his abusive older brother, Isaac.

Presented with the opportunity to move to Israel with his cousin and open a restaurant in Tel Aviv, a withdrawn and endearingly wounded Alex faces the challenge of breaking free from his destructive brother and sorting out his complicated love life.

Dreaming of a better life in a land he’s never known, Alex looks to the streets for some fast cash but finds that love and betrayal are just the beginning of what obtruct his path to the Holy Land.

Alex’s attempts to escape the disorder of his Paris life are portrayed convincingly by French director Elie Wajeman. The film’s enticing storyline, spoken in French with English subtitles, was a favorite at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the Philadelphia International Film Festival.

“Aliyah” is scheduled to screen at film festivals in Atlanta, Miami, Toronto, Cleveland and Chicago.

“The Fifth Heaven”
Directed by Dina Zvi-Riklis (Israel)

In a film Illustrating prestate Israel’s growing pains during World War II, Dina Zvi-Riklis beautifully portrays the tragic world of 13-year-old Maya, an orphan abandoned by her parents and left to fend for herself in a Tel Aviv orphanage.

As Maya faces frequent bullying in her attempts to adapt and fit in, she befriends the orphanage head, Dr. Markowski, an old friend who knows her parents and tries to get them to take Maya home.

The production team did extensive research to accurately portray Israel of the 1940s, and the film boasts beautiful cinematography that enhances its subplots such as the pressures of life under the British Mandate and the smuggling of weapons in the fight for independence. The film is based on a book by Rachel Eytan that Zvi-Riklis read as a teenager and decided the storyline was important to preserve.

“The adults and the kids are kind of orphans waiting for the end of the Second World War, which will deliver salvation, waiting that someone would save them from their loneliness but ironically comes a new war,” Zvi-Riklis wrote in an email. “What interested me is to tell the story from the perspective of women. Usually we see this period through the male heroic perspective. I wanted to confront the emotional side and femininity.”

“The Fifth Heaven” is scheduled to screen at festivals in Baltimore, Boca Raton, Fla., and Middletown, Conn.

“The Cutoff Man”
Directed by Idan Hubel (Israel)

Few films put a human face on society’s worst jobs quite like Idan Hubel’s “The Cutoff Man.” The film revolves around Gaby, a father of two living in northern Israel who faces unemployment. He is forced to make a living off the hardship of others, cutting off the water supply of those who don’t pay their bills.

Driven to put food on the table and fulfill his son's dream of becoming a professional soccer player, Gaby is subjected to sleepless nights, physical and verbal assault, humiliation and gut-wrenching sorrow. He struggles to maintain his dignity while following corporate instructions to punish the impoverished.

The film is dry and slow, unapologetically forcing the audience to stomach Gaby’s harrowing assignments, which earn him nothing but a few shekels for each water pipe he closes.

Hubel, whose father worked as a cutoff man for 14 years, has no problem leaving minute-long moments of silence to emphasize the agony of the situation. And Gaby, played by the celebrated Israeli actor Moshe Igvy, barely speaks in the film as he drags himself miles and miles to close a few more water pipes to pay his bills.

“The Ballad of Weeping Springtime”
Directed by Beni Torati (Israel)

Produced like an old American Western but spoken in Hebrew, “The Ballad of Weeping Springtime” is an adorable tale of a musician who fulfills the wish of his dying best friend to perform a song they wrote together many years earlier.

The protagonist, Yosef, once played lute with a legendary Mizrahi band, The Turquoise Ensemble, but retreated to northern Israel and opened a bar after being sent to prison for a fatal car accident. When Amram, the son of his former bandmate, comes with news that his father’s dying wish is to hear his arrangement of “The Weeping Springtime Symphony” performed, Yosef embarks on a peculiar journey to organize the perfect band.

Director Beni Torati adds absurd adventures as the plot thickens, with each eccentrically dressed musician added to the band enhancing the movie's comical mise-en-scene.

“The Ballad of Weeping Springtime” is scheduled to screen domestically at festivals in Atlanta, Michigan, Miami, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Austin, Texas, as well as internationally in Montreal, Toronto and Paris.

“All In”
Directed by Daniel Burman (Argentina)

An amusing romantic comedy from Argentinian director Daniel Burman, “All In” is the story of Uriel, a hotshot professional gambler who has lots of luck with cards and ladies but keeps a poker face with everyone else in his life, including his two children.

Newly divorced and eager to explore his reclaimed bachelorhood, Uriel decides on a whim to have a vasectomy. He then accidentally rekindles a relationship with an old flame. Facing middle age, Uriel, played by the Oscar-winning actor Jorge Drexler, must face down his web of lies and cut himself free of gambling.

The film has some quirks — Uriel confiding in his urologist like he’s a shrink; the reenactment of a vasectomy with a cookie; and the concert performance with a Chasidic rock band called the Rabbi-ing Stones. Still, Burman manages to extract from this mess the uplifting notion that true love is available to anyone, no matter how puerile.

“All In” is scheduled to screen at festivals in Pleasantville, N.Y., Hartford, Conn., Toronto and Houston.

Palestinians Show Iraq Support With Bombing

Palestinian support for Iraq took on a new dimension this
week with a suicide bombing in Israel that Islamic Jihad said was aimed at
showing solidarity with Baghdad.

Dozens of people were wounded, six seriously, when a suicide
bomber blew himself up March 30 next to a crowded restaurant in the coastal
city of Netanya. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility and identified the bomber
as a resident of Tulkarm.

The group’s secretary, Ramadan Shalakh, said the attack
commemorated Land Day, which itself marks the deaths of six Israeli Arabs
during protests in 1976 against state confiscation of Arab lands in the
Galilee. Shalakh also said the bombing was a show of solidarity with the Iraqi

Israeli security officials have warned that the U.S-led
military campaign in Iraq could prompt a wave of Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Solidarity with Iraq was a prominent theme in March 30 Land Day demonstrations.

Large numbers of police were stationed around Arab
population centers in northern Israel but were instructed to keep a low
profile. The Israeli Arab leadership had called for peaceful demonstrations,
and there were no violent incidents.

The March 30 bombing was the first in Israel since a March 5
suicide bus bombing in Haifa that killed 17 people. The attack came as Israel
continued to closely monitor the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq to
determine whether to alter the level of civil alert in the country.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Cabinet March
30 that the army would begin to reduce the number of reserve soldiers who had
been mobilized. Mofaz said this included reducing the number of reservists
stationed at gas mask distribution centers, because most Israelis had already
refreshed or replaced their kits.

At the same time, Mofaz said an Iraqi attack on Israel was
still possible, and Israelis should continue to carry their gas masks with them
and maintain sealed rooms.

For Israelis wondering about when the civil alert for Iraq
may be lowered, the attack in Netanya was a reminder of the ongoing security
threats close to home. The attack occurred around 1 p.m., when a suicide bomber
blew himself up on a pedestrian mall near the entrance to a restaurant that was
crowded with diners.

According to reports, the terrorist was prevented from
entering the London Cafe by a group of soldiers who were assigned to a security
detail in the area. One of the soldiers who approached the bomber was very
seriously wounded in the explosion, the daily Yediot Achronot reported.

One witness, Amos Harel, said he caught a passing glance of
the terrorist before the explosion, but there was nothing that raised his

“I saw the terrorist, but not with focus. He didn’t look
suspicious,” Harel told Israel Radio. “Apparently when he saw the soldiers
passing by, he decided to blow himself up.”

Another Netanya resident, Ilana, told Israel Radio that she
heard the explosion and went running to the scene, knowing that her sister was
eating there.

“There were people lying on the ground, lots of flesh
everywhere,” she said. “This is the fifth attack I’ve seen. Every terrorist
attack is more painful and more frightening, and we wait for the next one.”

Among the 50 wounded were 10 Israeli soldiers. One person
sustained very serious wounds; five others were listed in serious condition.
Police said the casualties were not as large as they could have been, because
the bomb used in the attack was relatively small and because the terrorist was
not able to get into the restaurant.

Israeli police, border police and troops were out in heavy
force the day of the bombing, as part of the deployment for Land Day, as well
as the civil defense alert because of Iraq. Police Commissioner Shlomo
Aharonishky said that preventing terrorist attacks is difficult, despite
intense efforts by security forces to thwart attacks.

“There is motivation and desire to carry out attacks,” he
said. The public “should be ready for additional attacks.”  

Super Bowl Wrap

You know that strange window of time Sunday morning before the Super Bowl starts, when you don’t want to start anything that won’t be finished by kickoff, but you’ve still got to find something to do?
Sinai Temple, nearly a dozen other local Conservative men’s clubs and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs have an idea: try joining 10,000 others who will be wrapping tefillin.

Sinai’s Men’s Club, along with men’s clubs and temple brotherhoods across the world, will hold a breakfast at which it will air “The Ties that Bind,” a 20-minute video produced by the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and Mark Rothman of Ness Productions.

Rothman wrote and directed the film, and he artfully interweaves the history, how-to and spiritual significance of tefillin. The video is educational and entertaining without being didactic or simplistic. And since it comes in two versions — egalitarian and all male — it can be meaningful across denominational lines for anyone interested in the mitzvah of winding around the arms and head the leather straps and black boxes containing the Shema during morning prayers.

“The number one goal of the film is to give people a tool to move closer to God,” says Rothman.

Rothman captures the power of tefillin through personal testimonials offered by men and women of all ages. One student likens it to wearing a satellite dish that opens up all channels to God. A women tells us it transforms her into a mezuzah. Someone else calls the leather straps healing bandages, while most recognize the symbolism of binding oneself — betrothing oneself — to God.

“It’s like God is grabbing my arm saying ‘You can do this, I’m with you,'” says Joel Grishaver, a local writer and educator.

Grishaver is one of many familiar faces that show up in the film, since Rothman is based in Los Angeles. The video is narrated by Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood, and Rabbi Joel Rembaum of Temple Beth Am on the Westside gives a detailed demonstration of laying tefillin.

Sid Katz, former president of Sinai’s men club and of the national federation, was instrumental in mobilizing the organization and clubs around the world to raise the $50,000 to produce the video.

“The federation has made a commitment to improving and increasing Conservative men’s Judaic actions,” Rothman says. “They want more Jewish men to do more Jewish things, and this was a great opportunity.”
“Ties that Bind” will be run Sunday, Jan. 28, at 8 a.m. at Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. For more information call (310) 474-1518. To find other locations in Southern California or to purchase the video ($28, $18 for members) call the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs at (800) 288-FJMC, (212) 749-8100, or visit