Volume 3, Number 47
"There's a Jewish story everywhere"
DELRAY BEACH, Forida—Now that Israel's President Shimon Peres has invited Bibi Netanyahu of Likud to form the next government, there are several possible scenarios.
The main figures in such a government —Bibi, Avigdor Lieberman of Israel Beiteinu and Shas— have contradictory views on whether or not and how to achieve a long-term truce with Hamas. None of them come close to anything that would be acceptable to George Mitchell. the Mideast envoy for U.S. President Barack Obama This scenario has no future.
Meanwhile Lieberman is being lambasted in the American media by Debra DeLee, head of the Americans for Peace Now. She issued a press release quoting his many racist attacks on Israeli Arabs and on Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator.
Yes, he is a hateful character.
This rotation was done once before with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir each serving two years as head of the government.
This scenario would be the one that would be most acceptable to George Mitchell. Each of the three has worked in the past with the American government. Each has promised, at one time or another, to freeze the settlements but none has complied.
Scenario number three would be to add Avigdor Lieberman to the mix. They could please the majority of Israelis by adopting a central plank in Lieberman’s campaign, civil marriage. Many of his core voters, the Russian immigrants can’t be married by the Orthodox Rabbinate. They are forced to resort to all kinds of dodges , some of them expensive, in order to register their union in matrimony.
The institution of civil marriages would not only solve the problems of the Russian immigrants it would also end the controversy over the growing number of Reform and Conservative Rabbis who demand the right to marry their parishioners.
Lieberman’s racist demand that Arabs sign a loyalty oath before voting could be compromised to please most Israelis. Add Arab youth to the draft for national service. They won’t serve in the Army unless they volunteer, as many now do. But they will serve in Arab hospitals and schools and other institutions.
Lieberman is of course anathema to the Americans. His racist remarks have antagonized every right-thinking American Jew. But that was in the past. Politicians change, sometimes radically. Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir were terrorists. They killed people, Jews, Arabs and Britons, before they were transformed onto statesmen and prime ministers of Israel.
Scenario number four. Tsipi and Lieberman, who have maintained a personal friendship since they worked together in Sharon’s Likud office, get together and exclude Bibi. They bring in Barak by offering him the Ministry of Defense, which is all he cares about.
Then they do something revolutionary. They bring in Hadash, an Arab-Jewish party with Communist antecedents. This will give them a bare majority and will help get Arab support for a national draft. It would transform Lieberman from an anti-Arab racist to an ally .Together they will end the Orthodox strangle hold on marriages.
An Arab party has never been part of an Israel government, . It won’t happen now and Lieberman won’t change his spots. But I can dream, can’t I?
ENCINITAS, California—Anti-Israel agitation and demonstrations are increasing throughout the world; especially in Europe. Islamist and pro-Palestinian groups are allied with radical leftists in this effort. US campuses are also seeing such agitation and demonstrations. How should Jews deal with it?
“This year’s Film Festival featured a number of exceptionally moving films,” said Film Festival Producer Sandra Lynn Kraus. “We received many expressions of appreciation from people who were touched and grateful to have been able to see outstanding films not available to the general public.”
“I’m also thrilled that we have continued our tradition of showing film gems that have gone on to win an Academy Award after the festival ends,” said Kraus. “It’s especially interesting that the winners have often been screened during the Joyce Forum, the day set aside for emerging filmmakers.”
The winner of the Audience Award for Best Feature Film was the Israeli film Noodle, a delightfully spirited drama portraying the adventures of two unlikely companions, Mir, a twice-widowed 37-year-old El Al flight attendant and the six-year-old Chinese-speaking son of her housekeeper. Mir’s efforts to reunite mother and son become a scheme of international proportions. Noodle was also the winner of the Best Feature Film award at the Boston Jewish Film Festival. Noodle was directed by Ayelet Menahemi. In second place for the Audience Award for Best Feature Film was The Little Traitor, an Israel/American film starring Alfred Molina.
The Audience Award for Best Documentary went to Blessed is The Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, an American dramatized documentary celebrating the World War II-era poet, diarist, and staunch Zionist who became famous as a paratrooper, resistance fighter and modern-day Joan of Arc. Hannah’s dramatic life story is seen through the eyes of her mother, and includes interviews with family members, classmates, and kibbutz members. Blessed is The Match was directed by Roberta Grossman. In second place for the Audience Award for Best Documentary was Sharon, an emotional Israeli/German film about the former Prime Minister of Israel.
The winner of the Audience Award for Best Short Subject Film was Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a treatment of the amazing life and career of Gertrude Berg, the creator, writer and star of “The Goldbergs,” a radio show that debuted in 1929 and subsequently became a popular weekly TV program during the 1950s. Berg pushed the boundaries not only of television’s possibilities, but also of women’s roles in the entertainment industry. Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg is an American film in progress directed by Aviva Kempner. The runner-up in this category was Got Next, an American short film about a young Jewish boy who wants join in a street basketball game in Harlem.
The Joyce Forum Award for Best Short went to Toyland (Spielzeugland), a German film that won an Academy Award yesterday for Best Short Live Action film. A young German boy who thinks his Jewish neighbors have gone away to Toyland sneaks off to join them. The director is first-time filmmaker Jochen Alexander Freydank.
A Joyce Forum Special Recognition Award went to We Must Remember, a film by sixteen broadcast students at Carlsbad High School focusing on their experiences while discovering the horror of the Holocaust: touring concentration camps, interviewing Holocaust survivors and soldiers who liberated the camps, and meeting with German high school students. The students hope to distribute the film to every middle and high school in California. The World Premiere of We Must Remember pulled the largest audience of the Film Festival, filling three theaters at the AMC La Jolla 12 Theaters.
The San Diego Jewish Film Festival is the largest international film festival in San Diego and one of the most popular Jewish film festivals in the country. The films included 50 feature, documentary, and short-subject films from 12 countries. They were showcased in five San Diego locations during the 12-day festival, February 4-15, 2009. The San Diego Jewish Film Festival is a program of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, JACOBS FAMILY CAMPUS.
SONGS OF OUR PEOPLE
SAN DIEGO—When Jews in Eastern Europe lived in segregated communities, (the pale of settlement) with no access to local concert halls to hear great voices, they would especially welcome outstanding visiting- cantors in their “Shuls" (synagogues). Virtuoso cantors of those days had developed their “chazzanut” (cantorial abilities) to an “art form”, and travelled around the country to conduct services or present liturgical concerts. Years later, as the tide of Immigration eventually flowed to America, the love of great cantorial voices and liturgical music never abated. Major Orthodox and Conservative congregations soon brought many of these virtuoso cantors from Europe to grace their pulpits to carry on this great tradition.
The musical styles and brilliant voices of these great European cantors became a main attraction among Jews throughout North and South America, just as they had been in the “old country." Their davening (prayer) was sung with passion and improvised with many vocal twist and turns. It is a responsive “vocal-play” between the choir that answers, echoes and accompanies the cantor. Great tenors and their brilliant high notes were acclaimed, and when a choir was added to accompany the cantor, the occasion was heightened. Many American Jewish composers included this style of “chazzanut” in their works, and it is now an important part of the repertoire of all cantors.
“Accept, o Lord our God, your people Israel and their prayer: restore the service to the inner sanctuary of your home; receive in love and favor both the offerings of Israel and their prayer; and may the worship of your people Israel be ever acceptable unto You, and let our eyes behold Your return in mercy to Zion. Blessed are You, O Lord, who restores Your divine presence unto Zion.”
JEWISH FAMILY SERVICE
NEW YORK--Let’s face it: the story about the time the Jews of ancient Persia were saved from genocide doesn’t sound like a recipe for hilarity. Yet every year, we celebrate the festival of Purim to commemorate that important victory. In doing so, we also acknowledge the significant role humor plays in the Jewish faith.
The lasting appeal of the Purim story, or megilah, owes a great deal to its split-second reversals of fortune, called hippuch in Hebrew. A potential tragedy turns triumphant just in time, when, in an ironic twist, the evil villain Haman ends up being executed on the very gallows he’d built to hang the Jews. The Purim story, with its upside down punchline of an ending, is the taproot of all Jewish humor, which traditionally links the tragic with the comic, and the bitter with the sweet.
But with all the tzurus in the world, what is there for today’s Jewish comedians to joke about? The answer is: plenty. Where the rest of us see a seemingly endless parade of misery and woe, the comic genius sees potential material for his next great joke. And luckily for us all, a veritable army of next generation Jewish jesters are on the scene, ready to slay the world’s modern day Hamans with their wit.
I write all about this new generation in my new book Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century. Sure, we all know how Jewish performers and writers dominated the comedy scene in the 20th century – think of Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and all those Catskill stand ups in the Jackie Mason mode. However, today’s generation – such as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Jewfro’d movie stars Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill -- don’t play down or apologize for their heritage. They value acceptance of their own heritage over assimilation into the broader culture. The resulting “shtick shift” in sensibility brings a whole new flavor to Jewish comedy that is daring, edgy and, of course, often hilarious.
While we’re on the subject of Purim, let’s look at For Your Consideration (2006), an indie movie-within-a-movie. Presumably to satisfy non-Jewish viewers, the low-budget movie in question, Home for Purim, gets changed to Home for Thanksgiving. As the studio exec played by Ricky Gervais suggests, “Tone down the Jewishness so everybody can enjoy it… I don't go around saying ‘I'm a gentile.’”
Inside-showbiz lines like that demonstrate the new “shtick shift” sensibility, and show how far we’ve come from the days when TV execs nixed any overt Jewish content to safeguard the real or imaginary sensibilities of (gentile) American audiences. Gervais is not a real studio executive, and “Home for Purim” isn’t an actual movie, so the film’s “Jewishness” isn’t really being “toned down” at all. By actually raising the issue for the sake of a punch line, the creators of For Your Consideration (that is, Jewish director and co-writer Christopher Guest) are in fact “toning it up.”
Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his controversial Borat character, personifies that sort of in-your-ponem attitude. In his next big budget film, he’ll switch to a new character: Bruno, a flamboyantly gay fashion stylist. Like Borat, Bruno often “interviews” serious, real-world figures, with unpredictable results. A rumored scene in Baron Cohen’s upcoming movie features Bruno interviewing former Mossad agent Yossi Alpher about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Bruno seems to think is actually between Jews and Hindus. This leads him to confuse “Hamas” with “hummus” and to attempt a shallow gesture of “solidarity”: “Yesterday I had to throw away my pita bread because it vas dripping hummus. It’s too high in carbohydrates.”
Entering into even more provocative territory, director Harold Ramis takes on the Old Testament in Year One, a biblical comedy film produced by Judd Apatow, the young talent behind such hits as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. In the upcoming movie, Jack Black goes looking for the meaning of life and along the way meets Abraham, played by Hank Azaria, who has fun sacrificing his first-born son Isaac, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (better know as Nerdy McLovin).
Today’s generation likes its Jewish heroes tough, an attitude captured in the comedy Knocked Up, in which Seth Rogan’s Jewish character praises the controversial Stephen Spielberg drama, Munich. “Every movie with Jews, we’re the ones getting killed,” he enthuses to his friends. “Munich flips that on its ear!”
Lest you think I’m blowing the importance of comedy out of all proportion, let me leave you with a little lesson from the Talmud. (What kind of a rabbi would I be if I didn’t?)
We learn in the Babylonian Talmud that Rabba, the eminent sage of his generation, began his classes with a humorous observation. He didn’t just do that to entertain his students or “break the ice.” His higher purpose was open his students' minds and make them into eager receptacles for wisdom.
Now let’s face it: today’s racy, offensive Jewish comedians don’t tell the sorts of jokes Rabba would steal for his classes. But in a nation where some of the most prescribed drugs are anti-depressants, it’s obvious that we all need a good laugh, and not just at Purim, either.
Rabbi Simcha Weinstein is the founder of the Brooklyn Jewish Student Foundation. Along with Shtick Shift (Barricade Books: 2008), he is the author of the award-winning book Up, Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero (Leviathan Press: 2007). He can be reached at www.RabbiSimcha.com.
SAN DIEGO (Press Release) — In Hebrew Day’s fourth grade secular studies class, the students write, write and write some more! It always seems like they're working on writing and creating a multi-media book report on a long chapter book; plus they are deep into their year-long "California Report" project. Therefore the students were so excited when their teacher, Mrs Adams, asked them to choose a Caldecott Medal award winning book to read, write a report AND create a pop-up book that captured the essence of the illustrations. The students were excited because Cadecott books are short picture books awarded for their distinguished illustrations; for example books like "Where the Wild Things Are.” The students really demonstrated their incredible creativity in their 3-dimensional art pop-up book reports.
Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School serves children from infants through eighth grade and offers generous financial aid grants to families to make a Jewish day school education affordable to all. For more information on the school, visit the web site at http://www.hebrewday.org/ or contact Audrey Jacobs, Director of School Advancement at 858-279-3300 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CAROL ANN GOLDSTEIN