Search result for 'jewish film'.

First Book About Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Shoa is finally in Print

Literary event, Uncategorized

Remember the Women Institute Invites You to a Book Launch for

Sexual Violence against Jewish Women During the Holocaust

Meet co-editors Sonja M. Hedgepeth and Rochelle G. Saidel, who will discuss the book, the work of some of the chapter authors, and why they decided to edit a book on this subject.

At a time when rape is routinely used to accompany genocide in Africa, it may seem surprising that it took sixty-five years for a book to appear about Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust.

The groundbreaking volume, with this title, challenges claims that Jewish women were not sexually violated during the Holocaust.

Using testimonies, Nazi documents, memoirs, and literary and film interpretations, this anthology offers readers broader and deeper comprehension of Jewish women’s experiences of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust.

The book, published by Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, is featured in the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Series on Jewish Women. Written with the support of Remember the Women Institute, the anthology has sixteen chapters by a prestigious interdisciplinary and international group of scholars.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

5:45 – 7:45 pm

Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion

1 West Fourth Street

(Greenwich Village, between Broadway and Mercer Street)

New York, NY

A book signing and reception will follow.

Please RSVP to and please bring a photo ID.

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Houdini:Art and Magic at the Jewish Museum and a New Musical Drama about Raoul Wallenberg by NYCGuy

Events, Theater, Uncategorized, exhibit

Friday I went to the Jewish Museum to check out the just opened Houdini exhibit, Houdini:Art and Magic. It has all the same kind of oddities, paraphernalia & interesting factoids that made the museum’s earlier Sarah Bernhardt such a smash. Houdini contains video clips, including silent films made by the Budapest-born magician, who like Bernhardt was an early star of the medium.

There’s even a photo of the two together.

A scene from eponymous 1953 movie features a young Tony Curtis in what ironically was the breakout film that launched his career.

The Bronx born actor, the child of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, apparently spoke only Magyar until he was 5 or 6. His 2nd wife, whom he met while filming Taras Bulba, was the German actress Christine Kaufmann, mirroring Houdini’s marriage to German American Bess.

Both the former Erik Weisz & the former Bernard Schwartz who played him escaped poverty. Ironically, the exhibit’s opening was bracketed by Curtis’  death on September 29 and the 74th anniversary of Houdini’s death on Halloween.

Like the Sarah Bernhardt show, this one displays the impresario’s magical hold on our imagination. Late in life, it appears the actor experienced a renewed interest in his Hungarian Jewish roots, establishing a foundation in his father’s name that has among other things, helped restore Europe’s largest synagogue, on Dohany Street in Budapest. (The foundation is based in Queens where Houdini’s buried.) Which leads me to the next unsolicited endorsement, a new musical drama I was invited to see the following evening…..

I would never have pictured a musical being made based on the experience of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who managed to outwit the Nazis & safeguard an estimated 100,000 Jews in Budapest.

This is no Springtime for Hitler. Saturday evening’s world premier is part of a relaunch of the White Plains Performing Arts Center as a venue for new works. Can a theater in a downtown mall challenge New Haven’s role as try-out stage for Broadway? Maybe. It’s an hour closer to Grand Central. The theater is very comfortable but non-descript.

The new artistic director Annette Jolles has two Emmys, six nominations, experience directing,choreographing & producing at major venues in Manhattan & London & a musical theater teaching gig at Yale. Oddly, the 1st thing that made me think this was serious was the set, which frames the stage, with “stones.” When the curtains open there’s a vista of the Hungarian capital. Having seen the real thing from the station platform at 6:00AM on a August morning, while traveling from Prague to Belgrade, it felt like I was again in Budapest.

With artful props, the space becomes various exteriors & interiors with views of the city & its river. But it takes more than architectural tricks & magic of lighting. It seems the librettists, Laurence Holtzman & Felicia Needleman spent several years researching everything they could get a hold of re the Wallenberg story & those rescued, including a scene from drownings in the Danube that brought to mind those of Operation Condor. This pair has done musical theater & cabaret, the latter of which can be very personal & very grand. Add a symphony orchestra & stir. It’s happened at Lincoln Center. Still, a musical about the Holocaust & a hero whose fate was Stalin’s gulag, seems incongruous. Yet, here’s the opening number,: .

The composer, Benjamin Rosenbluth, trained with such masters as Pulitzer Prize winners Milton Babbitt & John Corigliano. Is there an Ernő Rubik to solve the puzzle of bringing this sung story of real life New York sister city Budapest 30 minutes south to a Broadway stage?

Meanwhile, you have through November 21 to escape to this unexpected gem in Westchester.

This post is by guest author NYCGuy

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Events, Film, Uncategorized
The JEWISH WOMEN’S FILM FESTIVAL is a presentation of
films submitted in competition and never before exhibited
commercially in the New York metropolitan area. The films
focus on experiences, aspirations, and accomplishments of
Jewish women through the ages and throughout the world.
The festival is organized by the ELEANOR LEFF JEWISH
and was rededicated and named in honor of Eleanor Leff in
2000. JWRC explores, documents, and celebrates the full
range of Jewish women’s experiences – religious, secular,
public and private. Its goals are achieved through ongoing
programs, special events, conferences, publications, book
discussions, lectures, seminars, workshops, and readings.
The National Council of Jewish Women is a grassroots
organization of volunteers and advocates who turn
progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values,
NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of
life for women, children and families and by safeguarding
individual rights and freedoms.

The JEWISH WOMEN’S FILM FESTIVAL is a presentation of films submitted in competition and never before exhibited commercially in the New York metropolitan area. The films focus on experiences, aspirations, and accomplishments of Jewish women through the ages and throughout the world. The National Council of Jewish Women is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of  for women, children and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.

There are 2 sessions

THE JEWISH WOMEN’S FILM FESTIVAL    Sunday, November 14, 2010

Baruch Performing Arts Center at Baruch College E. 25th Street between Lexington & 3rd Avenues 55 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10010

SESSION 1 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM


Director: Gay Block. (47 Minutes) – Women who were together at Camp Pinecliffe in 1981 reminisce about their camp experience – happy, sad, funny, sentimental, life-changing – more than 25 years later. With whom

do you identify?


Director: Ruth Fertig. (22 Minutes) – Creatively using live-action and animation, the filmmaker, via her grand-mother’s memoirs, takes us on a journey recreating the experiences of the family during the Holocaust. It is a

story of resilience, survival, and hope.


(Directors: Ron Ofer and Yohai Hakak. (50 Minutes-subtitles) – Through determination, ingenuity, resource-fulness and their own personal magnetism, two Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women, Adina Bar-Shalom and Rachel

Chalkowski (Bambi), effect major social change among the women in their community.


Director: Y. Enav. (24 Minutes-subtitles) – A seemingly generous and compassionate dentist confronts repressed memories of the Holocaust, resulting in an unexpected assault on one of her patients that leads

to her arrest. Be a spectator to the unraveling mystery and its surprising denouement.


2:30 PM – 5:30 PM


Director: Yael Kipper. (61 Minutes-subtitles) – Nine years after being critically wounded and losing her younger brother in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Maytal embarks on her biggest challenge – her decision to undergo fertility treatments to have a child as a single mother.


Director: Susan Schwarzwald. (26 Minutes) – On the 11th birthday of her own child, Lily – daughter of a refugee from Hitler’s Germany – reminisces about a childhood trip her family took back to her father’s native city of

Vienna. Through the lens of memory, she re-visits the pain of remembering, tinged with the fear of forgetting, that silently haunts her father, herself, and her young daughter. (Director’s comment).


Directors: Noam Demsky, Mordi Kershner. (48 Minutes-subitles) – Who is a Jew? How about Incas from Peru? View this fascinating commentary about the Valderama family and their struggle to convert to Judaism, and, finally, their arrival in Israel.


Director: Y. Enav. (5 Minutes) – The briefest of come-

dies depicting a worldwide problem with which all

women can identify and have often experienced!


The Eleanor Leff Jewish Women’s Resource Center will present its Ellie Award

to the Director of the Best Film as selected by an independent panel of judges.


Film Sessions:

NCJW Members: $12.00 per session

(If Purchased in Advance)


$15.00 per session

Reception (Advance Purchase Required):

Dietary Laws Observed

NCJW Members: $75.00 (Includes session 1 or 2)

Nonmembers: $90.00 (Includes session 1 or 2)

Friends of NCJW:

Patron: $125.00

(Includes reception, sessions 1 and 2, and name

in program)

$60.00 tax deductible

Benefactor: $150.00

(Includes reception, sessions 1 and 2,

and name in program) $85.00 tax deductible


In Person: Purchase tickets at NCJW NY offices

Monday – Thursday: 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Friday: 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM

By Phone: (212) 687-5030, ext. 14

Monday – Thursday: 11:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Friday: 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM

At the Door: $18.00 per session


The JEWISH WOMEN’S RESOURCE CENTER began in 1977 and was rededicated and named in honor of Eleanor Leff in 2000. JWRC explores, documents, and celebrates the full range of Jewish women’s experiences – religious, secular, public and private. Its goals are achieved through ongoing programs, special events, conferences, publications, book discussions, lectures, seminars, workshops, and readings.

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ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival, “Mary and Max”

Film, Lily's notes

ReelAbilities film festival is a completely unique festival and describes itself as “devoted to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.

They will screen award winning films in various locations throughout the NYC metropolitan area. Discussions and programs are also planned.

GothamGirl attended the screening of one of the films in this festival which was included in the  recent Jewish Film Festival at the Walter Reade Theater, and if this film  is any indication of the quality of the films in this festival, then select a few to see.

We saw MARY & MAX, a claymated, award-winning,  feature film by Adam Elliot. Claymation is a demanding form of stop-motion animation and this film is a absolutely terrific example of the technique.

New York City, Australia the characters etc, etc are all formed of “clay” and the result is it’s own unique universe of action. If you go to the film’s site, there is a section which shows their behind-the-scenes technique.

It is based on a story of pen-pal  friendship between two very different people; Mary Dinkle, a  lonely, eight year old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max Horovitz, a 44 year old, lonely Jewish man with Aspergers Syndrome, living on his own, coping as best as he can with his situation,  in New York City. We see NYC through his eyes. He is “voiced” by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Mary and Max’s friendship endures for 20 years, and the story explores the nature of friendship, autism, and communication. It also mentions: taxidermy, psychiatry, alcoholism, where babies come from, kleptomania, sexual difference, depression, trust, agoraphobia and more.

Try not to miss this one but please remember that this is a film for adults.

This is a sad film and it is not for children.

Please see the ReelAbilities site for tickets, showtimes, programs and venue.

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14th Sephardic Film Festival

Events, Film, Lily's notes

It seems to be film festival season. Don’t mix this festival up with the NY Jewish Film Festival (see previous posts),  the Sephardic festival is the only  annual film festival in America devoted solely to the rich and colorful stories, customs and culture of Sephardic Jewry. Thirteen films, including three American and seven New York premieres will be shown. Also, there are talk backs with directors scheduled.

We always enjoy this festival, especial the variety of countries encountered, the music in the films, Sephardim in the audience greeting each other with warm smiles, and the variety of languages, this year: English, Hebrew, Ladino, Amharic, French, Japanese, Bulgarian, Moraccan, Spanish, etc …Yiddish….. ok, ok,  probably not Yiddish. But some of us are “Ashke-Phardic ” and enjoy all of the possibilities.

Please see The Sephardic Film for screening details and tickets.

Sponsored by the  American Sephardi Federation/Sephardic House (ASF) and Yeshiva University Museum. Supported by the Consulate General of Israel in New York. Here is their schedule at a glance.

Opening Night
Feb. 4th @ 7:30pm COCO
Followed by Opening Night Reception
Saturday Feb. 6th @ 7:30pm A MATTER OF SIZE
Feb. 6th @ 9:30pm HONOR
Sunday Feb. 7th @1:00pm LÉON- A NEW ENCOUNTER
Feb. 7th @ 3:30pm MASHALA
Feb. 7th @ 3:30pm FIESTAREMOS!
Feb. 7th @ 5:30pm REVIVRE – PART 1
Feb. 7th @9:00pm REVIVRE – PART 2
Monday Feb. 8th @ 2:00pm COCO
Feb. 8th @ 6:30pm ACROSS THE RIVER
Tuesday Feb. 9th @ 6:30pm REVIVRE – PART 2
Feb. 9th @ 9:30pm PILLAR OF SALT
Wednesday Feb. 10th @ 2:00pm SALVADOR
Feb. 10th @ 6:30pm AZI AYIMA
Feb. 10th @ 7:30pm HONOR / AT THE JCC – MANHATTAN
Feb. 10th @ 8:30pm QUEEN KHANTARISHA
Closing Night
Feb. 11th @ 7:00pm CHILDREN OF THE BIBLE
Followed by Closing Night Reception
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Protektor and Leap of Faith

Film, Lily's notes

Protektor, a film by Marek Najbrt, is a sophisticated, artful and  intelligent film which takes place in Prague during the Nazi occupation. It is an unusually nuanced film which feels truer to what it must have felt like to live through that time period…it is heads and shoulders above the many films produced in a “heroic”, or even worse , the new “vengeful mode” .

The cross currents of the love story intertwined with the severe time period, the ambivalence of some of the characters, and the aspect of chance in life is completely absorbing. Also, this film has a film-within-a-film,  which evokes the films of the 40’s perfectly. The film visually makes reference to art of the 40’s, and is in Czech.

I would put Protektor on my must-see list.


Leap of Faith, a documentary About Converting to Orthodox Judaism in America, follows four diverse families, who live in the United States, as they consider conversion to Orthodox Judaism.

Since Judaism does not seeks converts,  those of us who were born Jewish are frequently fascinated by converts to Judaism and want to know a great deal about their attraction, decision, experiences and the reaction of their families. This film will satisfy a some of that interest, without having to be tempted to be rude and actually ask a convert you may know any overly personal questions.   The film examines only a very specific part of the story: converts to Orthodox Judaism in the  US. This particular scope is quite understandable considering that the film-makers themselves are Orthodox Jews married to women who have converted to Judaism.

We meet  a lovely Trinidadian woman raised in a warm religious Christian home.  Her loving family, her story of attraction to Judaism, her personal struggle,  and the reactions and kindness of her supportive family are a lovely example of the best of family values. There is a single mother and her son, an elderly couple, and a once devout Christian family with teenage children who all convert.

All of the families are fascinating to watch. In one family, we meet a woman so upset by the conversation of a relative, that she asks the interviewer “What do you call your religion” and she says that even the name “sounds ugly” to her. Makes you squirm, we really do not expect such a blatant anti-Semitic remark.

The most revealing question of all is never verbally answered: the interviewer asks one of the Hasidic Rabbis involved in the conversions if he would like a child of his to marry a convert.

I left with the feeling that although this is a fascinating and worthwhile film, I had seen only an extremely limited picture of people who convert to Judaism in the US.

These films are included in the current 19th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival at the Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. More details are on the festival site.

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“Eyes Wide Open” (Eynaim Pekukhot)

Film, Lily's notes

Eyes Wide Open (Eynaim Pekukhot) directed by Haim Tabakman opens the viewers eyes, with insight, to see into the attitudes and complications of being gay within the ultra-Orthodox community in contemporary Jerusalem.  There is no possible hiding from the eyes of this community or from ones’ family. No light ever enters this film which could guide a path to acceptance which includes remaining within the community. The attitude towards gayness in this community is not identical with the attitude among ultra-right wing Christians. In the ultra-orthodox community, gayness is not a “sin” but an “evil urge” which should be resisted.

This fine point does not help much at all to relieve an individual’s suffering , especially when you consider how any scandal, shame or any myriad of other problems can have a terrible effect on the future acceptance and happiness of a person’s innocent children and other family members within the ultra-orthodox community.

In Jewish tradition, lesbians are not even mentioned as a possibility, (and therefore sexual relationships between women are not prohibited), and this film makes very little reference to women at all. We meet a long-suffering, kind wife and a young women marrying a man she does not love. We see the face of the extremists of this community and the kindness and caring of others, including the Rabbi.

This is a strong, quiet and painful film, well acted and well made, starring Zohar Strauss and Ran Danker.

In an interview, Haim Tabakman is quoted as saying, “The film can be part of the evolution in the orthodox world”.

Let’s hope so.

This will be shown at the Jewish Film Festival on January 19 (at the Manhattan JCC) and January 23rd (at the Walter Reade Theater). See schedule in my previous post and buy tickets in advance.

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Coming soon:The 19th Annual Jewish Film Festival

Film, Lily's notes

We always enjoy this film festival immensely and would encourage you to get your tickets to the screening in advance since many screenings sellout.  GothamGirl will be attending some preview screenings and write about them shortly.

Presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Jewish Museum, Jan. 13-28

Here is a preview of their schedule:

Screenings at the Walter Reade Theater unless otherwise indicated.

165 West 65th Street close to Amsterdam Avenue

Wednesday, Jan. 13

1:00          Saviors in the Night

3:45          Gruber’s Journey

6:15          Saviors in the Night

9:00          Gruber’s Journey

Thursday, Jan. 14

1:15          Bar Mitzvah

3:30          Gruber’s Journey

6:15          Ahead of Time with Making the Crooked Straight

9:00          Ajami

Saturday, Jan. 16

6:30          Ajami

9:15          The Jazz Baroness

Sunday, Jan. 17

1:30          The Axe of Wandsbek

4:15          The Jazz Baroness

6:30          Happy End with Point of View

9:00          Protector with With a Little Patience

Monday, Jan. 18

12:30        Leon Blum with Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness

3:30          Protector with With a Little Patience

6:15          Forgotten Transports: To Poland

8:30          The Jazz Baroness

Tuesday, Jan. 19

1:00          Happy End with Point of View

3:30          Protector with With a Little Patience

6:15          Happy End with Point of View

7:30          Eyes Wide Open with Kallah*

8:45          Leon Blum with Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness

Wednesday, Jan. 20

1:00          Forgotten Transports: To Poland

3:30          Leon Blum with Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness

6:30          Einsatzgruppen

Thursday, Jan. 21

1:00          Human Failure

3:30          Berlin ’36

6:15          Human Failure

8:45          The Peretzniks with Happy Jews

Saturday, Jan. 23

6:30          Eyes Wide Open with Kallah

9:00          Mary and Max

Sunday, Jan. 24

1:00          Bar Mitzvah

3:15          Berlin ’36

6:00          Eyes Wide Open with Kallah

8:45          Mary and Max

Monday, Jan. 25

1:00          Gevald! with Chronicle of a Kidnap

3:00          Valentina’s Mother with Pinhas**

3:30          Leap of Faith

6:15          Gevald! with Chronicle of a Kidnap

8:30          Leap of Faith

Tuesday, Jan. 26

1:30          Valentina’s Mother with Pinhas

4:00          Human Failure

6:30          A History of Israeli Cinema

Wednesday, Jan. 27

1:00          Within the Whirlwind

3:30          The Peretzniks with Happy Jews

6:15          Valentina’s Mother with Pinhas

8:45          The Peretzniks with Happy Jews

Thursday, Jan. 28

1:00          Ultimatum with Prrrride

3:45          Within the Whirlwind

6:15          Ultimatum with Prrrride

8:45          Within the Whirlwind

*At The JCC in Manhattan

334 Amsterdam Avenue at West 76th Street


Tuesday, Jan. 19

7:30          Eyes Wide Open with Kallah

**At The Jewish Museum

1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street

Monday, Jan. 25

3:00          Valentina’s Mother with Pinhas

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2009 Gotham Girl’s Gift Giving Ideas

Concert, Lily's notes

Here are some simple, creative ideas for this strained financial time: go towards quality and enjoyment of life.

The most wonderful DVD we have seen and heard is by Jazz at Lincoln Center: Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis Play the Music of Ray Charles. Norah Jones appears and sings like a sweet angel. “Hit the Road Jack”, “Unchain My Heart”, Hallelujah I Love Her So”…mmmm…..just music magic…This was filmed excellently at the concert at the Rose Hall in Lincoln Center, it feels very intimate, and it is a pure pleasure.   I saw this on Blue Ray, it is luscious in sound and beautifully filmed. Give this to someone!

Give a gift membership to the MoMA, Jewish Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art or any other museum, usually about $75 for annual single membership.

Give a gift membership to Symphony Space, or the Film Society/Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.

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Elie Wiesel at the Zamir Choral Festival 2009

Concert, Events, Lily's notes

As Elie Wiesel the novelist, journalist and Nobel Prize for Peace winner was honored at the final event of the Zamir Choral Festival 2009, and he did much more than merely accept  an award of recognition from the Zamir Choral - he stood on the stage and sang alone.

He sang a few niggunim from his hometown of Sighet to the 450 participants in the Festival.

The participants had learned these niggunim during the festival and then sang with him in four part harmony. It was very moving to hear him sing, and then to sing together…it was an emotional musical bridge from the Europe of the past to the Jewish community of the present  in America.

He stayed afterwards and very graciously shook people’s hands and accepted their good wishes and thanks. It felt like a visit from a respected, beloved, close relative.

Dr Ruth Westheimer had arrived at the Festival and was honored as well.

Dear tiny dynamo Dr Ruth, is now a film-maker and had her new film about Bedouin women with her; her ongoing creativity is an inspiration.

There are many so many ways to be a witness.

The Festival was an exciting and fulfilling experience: so many fine musically talented and knowledgeable people, such all-over good spirit, excellent workshops and classes, late night jam sessions,  schmoozing laughter-filled meals with new and old friends, and wonderful choral concerts!

At one late night jam, the terrifically talented singer, Magda Fishman, sang and played the trumpet(!) with 2 guitars, a piano and several flutes. Fun!

We returned home happily exhausted and would attend again next year.

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In Search of the Bene Israel and The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rainforest

Film, Lily's notes

In Search of the Bene Israel by Sadia Shepard is a moving and compelling documentary about the 2000 year old Jewish community of the Mumbai region. The film-maker is a descendant of this community and she shares the story of the BeneIsrael and of her beloved grandmother very tenderly and thoughtfully with us, the lucky viewers.

Her Jewish grandmother eloped as a young person with a Muslim man, they moved to Pakistan and then to the US where eventually, the film-maker was born. SadiaShepard returned to spend a full year working with the remaining Jewish community in and around Mumbai. The majority of this community has emigrated and now lives in Israel.

Also, the Bene Israel say that they have never experienced anti-Semitism in their 2000 years in India, -what a wonderful heritage. They clearly love India deeply but want more economic opportunity and to stem the tide of assimilation.

The documentary explores the myths, history and current reality of this fascinating community.

We saw this in a screening at the Walter Reade Theatre as part of the Jewish Film Festival and this film  will be screened again at the 13th Annual Sephardic Film Festival at the Center for Jewish History. It is a marvelous film not to be missed.

See the post below this for more details about the 13th Sephardic Film Festival.

At the same afternoon screening, we travelled from crowded Mumbai of the Bene Israel, and a community in the midst of emigrating to Israel, into the lush Amazon rainforest in Peru in The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rainforest by Lorry Salcedo Mitrani. This film is about a community of Jews from the Amazon who have relocated in the Negev desert in Israel.

These 300 to 400 Jews are the descendants of Jewish men who came to the Amazon seeking their fortunes in the rubber boom during the late 1800’s, and their indigenous wives and girlfriends. We follow their journey to become fully recognised as Jews, their mass conversion to Judaism, and their emigration and stunningly remarkable adjustment to life in Israel. We meet the scholar, Ariel Segal, and the Rabbis who took part in this remarkable education and conversion. Engrossing.

Clearly, the Jews of the Amazon have a real historical and cultural claim on their Jewish ties as certainly do the Bene Israel of Mumbai. 

These films also brought to mind what we learned when we were in Israel in the summer 0f 2007.  We learned that many desperate people from Africa make their way across the African continent each year to the Egyptian border with Israel and beg for political and economic asylum and the right to live in Israel. They say that the Jews should know what it is to be homeless, destitute and war-tossed, and not wanted by other countries, and they ask to be admitted into Israel for a chance to make a new more prosperous life.

Israel sorts through their claims and tries to find the true political asylum seekers for admission into Israel and sort them out from the economic immigrants since no country can admit all comers.  We do not know why this human story has not been the topic of any reporting we have seen in the regular press.

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Another Film Festival! The 13th NY Sephardic Film Festival

Events, Film

The 13th New York Sephardic Film Festival will run for one week screening 15 films from 14 countries.

These will be shown at three venues: The Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, The JCC of NY on Amsterdam Avenue at 76th st and in Miami,  Sunrise Cinema at the Intercoastal Mall.  Please click on their site above for ticket and event details.

February 5 through February 12.

GothamGirl hopes to have at least 3 reviewers attend the various screenings and events.

Each year we love this festival!

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Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story, The Woman from Sarajevo, and Milk: Three Films

Film, Guest Author: NYCGUY

Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story,  by a very youthful director from Oz,  Julian Shaw, will screen just twice on Thursday, January 29 at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, as part of the 18th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival. Ironically, it’s paired with another doc, The Woman from Sarajevo, about a Muslim woman from the city famous for its Haggadah, the daughter of a Righteous Gentile, who becomes an Israeli and a Jew.

Evita Bezuidenhout, the Most Famous White Woman in South Africa, was profiled by the Gray Lady during the height of apartheid and the hype of its  supporter, Ronald Reagan. (If you recall, he was an actor who added politician to his CV while retaining a, um, TV presence.) 

Mrs Bezuidenhout, the ambassador to a Bantustan just outside her posh suburban Johannesburg door, was and still is satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys. Pieter/Evita remains a national presence as his/her country transitioned to democracy. As Uys – pronounced “ace” notes – “politics no longer kills, it just irritates.”

The son of two concert pianists – a Calvinist Afrikaner father and a Jewish Nazi-Berlin refugee mother – with a London-resident sister who hewed to her parents’ career tradition, Uys is clearly a concert artist him, um, her self.

Nowadays this good friend of two giants, Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu, uses the tricks of his/her trade – to battle public ignorance about HIV/AIDS, a serious problem in what is supposed to be the moral beacon of much of the continent.

The audience is the rainbow of South African youth.

They love the Pieter/Evita transformations. These personalities, the subject of a documentary, Darling! The Pieter-Dirk Uys Story, by Julian Shaw, will screen just twice on Thursday, January 29 at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, as part of the 18th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival. Ironically, it’s paired with another doc, The Woman from Sarajevo, about a Muslim woman from the city famous for its Haggadah, the daughter of a Righteous Gentile, who becomes an Israeli and a Jew.

If you’ve been culturally closeted of late, you may have missed, but must go see the much praised performance of Sean Penn,  the straight, agnostic son of a once backlisted Russian-Lithuanian Jewish actor/director father and an Italian-Irish Catholic actress mother as the Long Island-reared,  closeted , athletic, funny  Jewish guy in the gray flannel suit – Harvey Milk – who makes a break from New York to San Francisco, at the tender age of 40. The Gus Van Sant eponymous film traces the stirred up ex-New Yorker’s emerging political clout in the western city of seven hills and the Shaar Zahar state.

This emotionally powerful, dramatic work weaves in documentary footage reaches a crescendo in a nationally-observed statewide political referendum that mirrors the recent, closely-watched referendum that rolled back marriage right.

Released on the 30th anniversary of the protagonist’s assassination, Milk can be seen at several New York area theaters.

Perhaps imbibing Milk’s coalition-building skills, a New York State LGBT rights group ESPA has linked with major unions, a tenants rights organization and progressives to
challenge three Democratic State Senators who’ve threatened to block the voters will and much legislation in Albany.

No documentary or dramatic film, as yet.

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“Waiting for Armageddon” at the NY Jewish Film Festival


“Waiting for Armageddon” will be screened at the NY Jewish Film Festival in January 2009. This fascinating and absorbing documentary brings us into the personal lives of extreme Evangelical Christians. It is a troubling film and I would recommend seeing it.

These Christian fundamentalists believe that the Jewish people and the state of Israel will play a central role in an apocalypse that will happen so soon, that they believe that their own children do not have time to grow to adulthood before the destruction of the world. The film also examines the effect of Christian fundamentalism on American policy in the Mideast.

The film travels with them from their homes and churches in America to Israel and we hear their alarming views, such as their happy expectation that the Dome of the Rock will be destroyed at any moment. We stand with them on peaceful looking Har Megiddo in Israel, which is the Armageddon of the Christian Bible, as they happily anticipate the ingathering and total destruction of the Jewish people closely followed by the destruction of everyone else in the world who does not believe as they do. They have that weird glow in their eyes of strange cultists with sweet smiles.

Christianity teaches that God is love, yet these fundamentalists are steeped in a happy anticipation of graphic, cruel, death and destruction by means of horrible violence. The film asserts that there are about 50 million American Christian fundamentals of this sort. They seem to be close cousins of the Americans who believe in alien abductions, although the “abductees” are not as violent in their visions.

Both groups seem to have mental health issues. Perhaps a poor adjustment to the truly hard realities of the world. A therapist friend says that the “abductees” are pshychotic, that is they are already living in a complete delusion while the “Soon-To-be-Raptureds” have a different disorder: they are incomplete as individuals and are afraid of disappearing or being erased.

Watching the fundamentalists at home, indoctrinating their children, raises questions about what kind of parents they might be considering that they believe these children will not reach adulthood. It is very troubling.

 The film includes a clip of Ehud Olmert happily welcoming these nuts to Israel, how extremely naive Olmert appears in this film. It is said that you should choose your enemies with care, this goes for choosing friends as well.

A Jewish extremist who would like to rebuild the Third Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock and re-establish the ancient rituals of animal sacrifice appears in the film. The Jewish people substituted prayer for sacrifice 2 millenia ago. I wish he had been better defined in this film so as to be clear that here presents a minority of extremists. Main stream Judaism hopes for a Messianic Age brought about by the positive actions of people, such as treating each other with compassion, and not by apocolypse, Armageddon, animal sacrifice, or tearing down other’s sacred places etc.

It is creepy to watch these Christian fundamentalists who are so normal looking, and seemingly educated people happily expecting the most violent end of the world and death of millions of human beings.

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“A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad”

Film, Guest Author: NYCGUY

The 18th Annual Jewish Film Festival, review by NYCGUY of “A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad”.

During the 1950s & 60s, The Jewish Museum, not MoMA, was THE avant garde showcase in New York City. After decades of taking a safer route, the doyenne of the nation’s Jewish museums seems to be, at least in part, taking this path again, most recently evinced by the stunning exhibit, “Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama,” which asked, in part, just what is a Jew?

For their 18th annual New York Jewish Film Festival, now a long running partnership with the Film Society of Lincoln Center, they’ll be screening an Austrian made- for-TV doc, “A Road to Mecca: The Journey of Muhammad Asad,” the story of the scion of a long line of Orthodox rabbis from Czernowitz (now Czernovtsy), born in 1900 in Lemberg (now Lviv), both then part of Austria-Hungary, who began schooling with a religiously rich education until WWI caused his family to move to the secular capital Vienna.

Leopold Weiss would attend university, acquire new languages, dally with the intellectual brilliance of 1920s Berlin, becoming a screenwriter & then a journalist, trek to Saudi Arabia, befriend the king Ibn Saud, convert to Islam, spin a 1st name meaning lion to an analogous last name & in effect, become a light for the then contemporary Islamic awakening as the colonial domains began their march to independence. 

In india he became an intimate of the western trained poet/philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (a follower of among others, the French Jewish Nobel Laureate philosopher Henri Bergson) & together with others conceive of a Muslim state – or at least autonomous region – within NW British India that would become Pakistan. Weiss/Asad would become a minister & early UN rep for the new state created to protect Muslims from increasing Hindu hostility.

Before this he would sojourn in mandatory Palestine, where he’d engage with uncles from both sides of his family, one Zionist, one clearly not, adopting the latter’s views, writing for the then liberal Frankfurter Zeitung (indirect forerunner of the similarly named modern journal), living amongst the wandering Bedouin who he came to feel were more like the ancient Hebrews, penning the once influential, now out of print, but still cited The Road to Mecca, visit Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Soviet Central Asia.

He fell out of favor with Pakistan’s governing circles & became saddened with the trajectory of its governance which he envisioned as naturally democratic, settled in Tangiers, wrote what is considered one of the best translations of the Qur’an, fell out of favor in Morocco & made his last home the once glorious Andalusia.

The film covers his wanderings from Lviv to Vienna to Jerusalem to Mecca to Lahore to New York to Tangiers & concludes at his gravesite in Spain. He was always in places that at least once contained a cosmopolitan mix of peoples & engaged with artists, writers, philosophers & politicians who were no less at home in the world of ideas.

The documentary maker Georg Misch – whose film company is named Mischief – takes on the naming this past April of a square by the UN complex in Vienna  for Asad – a first for a Muslim in Europe (& a site created by the Jewish Social Democratic Prime Minister Bruno Kreisky), he follows Palestinians making Hajj to Mecca via a flight from Amman, looks in at a gathering of Asad acolytes in Pakistan’s intellectual hub, the decaying beauty of Lahore, engages with two Sephardi sisters in Tangiers who Asad assiduously visited bearing Sachertorte, travels around Manhattan on 9/11/06 with Asad’s son Talal, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the CUNY Grad Center, reflecting, like his father, on the West’s perceptions of Muslims.  

One hopes the Museum will pair the two screenings with a symposium or panel. The filmmaker, his co-writer, anthropologist Miriam Ali de Unzaga, an Ismaili & Talal Asad come to mind. Meanwhile, to learn more about the subject, check out the extensive or the shorter For a brief excerpt from the film’s namesake book, see

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18th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival January 14- 29, 2009


The upcoming 18th Annual New York Jewish Film Festival will have an excellent mix of 32 features, documentaries, and short films, including world, United States, and New York premieres from 15 countries, with many fine actors and directors.

It will be held at a few venues including The Jewish Museum , the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center,  the JCC of Manhattan and 92ndStYTribeca from January 14 through January 29, 2009.

This week Lily and NYCGuy are previewing some of these films and we will have our reviews posted over the next few days.

Tickets go on sale Thursday December 18, 2008, many screenings sell out.

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Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theatre


Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theatre at The Jewish Museum  is not to be missed. Most of this exhibit is on loan and has wonderful art not shown before in New York.

This exhibit has Marc Chagall and other fine artists, theatre sets and theatre history, political history and the arts, the Golem, set and costume design, Jews under the Soviet regime, many wonderful old film excerpts, sci-fi and haunting imagination,  Bubbe Yachne (if you have to ask-don’t ask), and something for you  to seriously consider and learn if you haven’t yet learned enough about the cruelty of Stalin.

This exhibit features a time of great creativity in a severe political context. Seriously a terrific exhibit in all aspects. Placing the art in political history is the most special aspect of this exhibit, for instance: We do not think of the stories of Sholom Aleichem as expressing a “ruined past and good Soviet future”, it is certainly not how we have seen or interpreted Fiddler on the Roof and so this raises many very good questions about artist’s intent, context and time.

Also, the artists had to live under the radar of Soviet censorship of ideas. An-Sky’s play, The Golem, who was a monster created with the best of intentions, and expressed the dangers of Kabbalah study, was re-interpreted by the theatre troupe as a comment on the Russian revolution and got past the censors who didn’t get the reference and interpretation. Costumes, sets etc are on display while the moving and haunting score written for the Golem plays in the gallery of the costumes and drawings of fantastic Kabbalistic costumes and sets.

When you see Marc Chagall exhibited in a setting that knows Jewish cultural and religious references you realize that the exhibit cards actually make sense…that his work expresses how the natural world and the spiritual are one and that Chagall’s paintings allows you see the unseen and the seen, human and animal, and deep interconnections…oh..even a cow that moos in Yiddish: “Shagall”, and a fantasy of magical chicken soup (and chickens) in the magical (and natural) realm of a wedding feast. Try to remember that in Kabbalah, the Bride is a reference to the Shekhina, the feminine aspect of God, as you enjoy his stage design,….and that a Bride is also a Bride.


Also at the Jewish museum at this time: Susan Hiller: The J. Street Project.  Susan Hiller researched every German street that has the prefix “Juden” (Jews) in its name. These were the names of the streets before the Nazis took over Germany. The Nazis changed these names and following Germany’s defeat and after de-nazification, these street names were restored to the original names containing “jude..”.

There are no Jewish communities on these streets now, so they mark what once was. 

The exhibit contains the 303 photographs of these streets Hiller created over a three year period, arranged alphabetically by location, along with a map of Germany, a list of sites, and a video documenting the hundreds of locations she identified throughout the country.

It is shocking to see the charming little streets and corners in lovely little towns and contemplate how these communties of Jews where so cruely destroyed. How did the neighbors living in these towns behave? No contemporary local residents appear in the photos, just the empty “charming” streets.


And more at the Museum : The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World, here is the Museum’s own description of the exhibit:

“The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World
September 21, 2008 – January 04, 2009

In 1947, a significant discovery of ancient Jewish texts was made in a cave near the Dead Sea. These and other Dead Sea Scrolls found later have shed light on the major transformations and debates that occurred in ancient worship during the first centuries BCE and CE, that contributed to the development of early Judaism and Christianity. This exhibition will present six Dead Sea Scrolls complemented by objects excavated from the site near where they were found. Three of the scrolls have never been exhibited, including a portion of one of the three earliest copies of the Hebrew Bibles in existence, and three others have never been shown in New York.”


Ok, ok you have read this far and you have asked : Bubbe Yachne,  also known as Bubbe Yagga,  is a witch(! ) who lives in a cabin deep in the woods which rests on chicken feet (!) that allows the cabin to turn in any direction! Careful, she causes the black spots on the moon! And possibly in bananas as well (said my older brother). Can be mean or kind. Probably tried to roast Hansel and Gretel or is a relative. She is from Slavic folklore. Told you not to ask. Now if you ever see chicken feet under a building in a Chagall you might get the reference. Aren’t you glad that you asked?

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The Jewish Women’s Film Festival

Events, Film

This is a fine, focused and unique film festival.

The National Council of Jewish Women New York Section has an open film competition which is held every two years. The focus is films on the “experiences, aspirations, accomplishments of Jewish women”,  and the selected films are screened in a one-day film festival.  These films have never before been shown commercially in the New York area. This year it will be held on Sunday, October 26, at the JCC in Manhattan (76th and Amsterdam.)

This year’s selected films are:

Making Trouble, director: Rachel Talbot. Four Jewish comedians reminisce about the careers of the women who paved the way for them with lots of great archival footage. See my previous review of this film on this blog on January 25, 2008. Click on calender or enter title in search.

Family Picture, director Itzhak Haluzi (31 minutes) A dinner invitation transports them to their past during the Holocaust and provides an opportunity for revenge. 

Not Old Yet, directors: Miri Shnera and Moshe Timor, (27 Minutes) Anna goes from being a successful opera singer in Ukraine to becoming a cleaning woman in Israel. A touching story of her determination, good humor and faith in pursuing her lost career.

Passages, director: Gabriela Bohm (66 minutes) When the film maker learns that she is pregnant, she searches for her family history of myths, mysteries and secrets on a journey that takes her to Israel, Argentina, Hungary, and the US.

Westerbork Girl, Director Steffie Van Den Ord (48 minutes) The story of Hannalore Cahn, who was freed from Westbork Transit Camp during WWII. A film about survival, memory and love. And about an impossible decision that still haunts.

My Nose, director Gayle Kirschenbaum (13 minutes) A mother’s preoccupation with her daughter’s nose. Will she or won’t she?

Here’s the link to their festival information.

An organizer wrote this note to me: “Some film makers will be attending the sessions and the reception… we will be honoring Jane Rosenthal (of the Tribeca Film Festival, etc) and the winner of the best film award at our festival (only the award maker and one or two of the staff knows who that is… even the committee does not know). The festival is a competition and the judging was done by an independent panel.”

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A Thousand Years of Good Prayers


Just before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year ( it is now 5769 for those of you who are counting), we saw A thousand Years of Good Prayers, a wonderful Wayne Wang film based on the book of stories about China and the US by Yihun Li.

It is a story about relationships: communication,  truth, silence and healing.

The story very moving, it is shot delicately and the cast is excellent. Put this on your list of “must see” films.

A  man travels from his home in China to America to visit his daughter after her recent divorce. His trip starts off as a mission to comfort her and give her support through a difficult time, although their personal history has been marked by distance.

The quality and types of communication by all of the characters makes this story so poignant. I would write more but I do not want to spoil one single moment of this story.

 It is currently at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema on Broadway and 62nd St. The NY Film Festival rightfully attracts so much attention, but I would urge you not to miss this film.

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A Few Notes on the New Season

Art, Concert, Events, Lily's notes

Vacation is over and we are getting ready for the new season of arts in New York City; art exhibits, concerts, films, theatre, readings and other events. Shortly, I will be updating interesting and/or unique listings that might be easily overlooked among all of the events happening in New York City. Please send me information about an event you would like me to list.

The New York Philharmonic has it’s opening night concert tomorrow and tickets are still available. Also, there is a FREE open dress rehearsal in the morning.

Andy StatmanTrio (Andy on clarinet and mandolin, Jim Whitney on bass and Larry Eagle on drums and percussion) are back at the Charles Street Shul (Congregation Derech Amuno)  on Charles St at West 4th most Mondays and Thursdays at 8:30 PM. They play klezmer, of course, and very wicked bluegrass.

The MoMA will have a new exhibit of Vincent Van Gogh titled: Van Gogh and the Colors of Night opening September 21. Hmmmmmm. Paintings of in New York at night need  that soft red sky of summer…or the deep blue sky of October.

Museum of American DesignThe new Museum of Art and Design will September 27 to the public.  Att NYERS: This is the new museum in the former “lollipop” building on Columbus Circle that has had the very beautiful extreme makeover.  I can’t wait to go inside and see this museum and the new interior. Their old museum on 53rd is closed, and they will soon open with 3 new exhibits: Remixing the Old, a Jewelry exhibit and their permanent collection.

An indescribable friend sent me this note: “Hope you’re feeling and doing as close to optimally well (according to your self-definitions) as humanly possible. I expect that this event will be particularly enjoyable if you’re into this type of thing; and even if you’re not. I hope to see you there. ” Havdalah Kirtan this Saturday: Themes of Forgiveness and the High Holy Days with Rabbis Andrew Hahn and David Ingber combines yoga, chanting and Havdalah, which is the Jewish end of Shabbat.
Actually, it is not my cup of tea but I think that I will go once.  Sounds like fun.

High Holidays check list: make appologies, pay up debts, study something worthwhile, decide on which shul you will attend, get tickets, invite friends and family, reply to invitations, give some Tzedakah (Charity)….. try to think about something in addition to the presidential race and the financial markets.

That’s all for now.



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“The Counterfeiter” and “Who Will Carry the Word?”

Film, Theater

This weekend we saw Who Will Carry the Word ? by Charlotte Delbo performed at the Red Fern Theatre by a very dedicated and moving cast and the Oscar winning The Counterfeiter.

Both pose the question of what is moral behavior under the most extreme immoral conditions of a concentration camp during the Shoah (Holocaust).

Our society is so based on the individual, we tend to want to focus this question on an individual’s behavior and choices but what emerges in both works is how the sum of the behaviors of individual actions adds up to something much more than what any one person does. In The Counterfeiter, we are in the male barracks of the Nazi concentration camp, Sachsenhausen,  in the unique prisoner blocks dedicated to conterfeiting currency. *More on this camp and the specific barrack blocks later.

The lead character, Solly,  a Jewish counterfeiter, goes by his moral code: never be a rat even if you can’t stand the other guy, do anything to keep alive and help others stay alive. Adolf, the communist prisoner has a different code: don’t cooperate with the Nazis and sabotage the counterfeiting work, come what may and perhaps martyrdom is an honorable outcome. This code could easily enrage the Nazis to kill them all. The other inmates depicted just try to stay alive. 

In the end, both of these  points of view are needed by the group for moral and physical survival.

In this film, the “criminal” Solly is much more likable and much less frightening than the ”high-minded” Adolf. The Nazis are portrayed correctly as collectively dispicable, the worst of the worst, of course. Thankfully, there is no trace of any romanticizing  of them or of their motives. No individual action “overcomes” their collective guilt.

This excellent film is very worth seeing and deserves its award.

Who Will Carry the Word, was written by  Charlotte Delbo who was a survivor. The Red Fern Theatre Company partnered with the Remember the Women Institute for this production.

By contrast, we are in the women’s barracks of Auschwitz. These women do not have any skill such as counterfeiting, that they might be able to play for survival’s sake. They are trapped and helpless. Much of the overt dialog of the play involves the question of how to retain the will to live and whether to retain the will to live. What emerges is the way these women try to support and comfort each other. Again, the collective actions surpass any one individual’s action.

This was the first event on the Shoah I have attended in which much of the audience was young, and many probably were not Jewish. After the play, a camp survivor, Bronia Brandman, told her moving, harrowing, determined story of survival as a young pre-teen (and of becoming a teenager) and took questions afterwards. She was asked “Do you believe in God?” and replied with her family’s history which includes descent from illustrous Rabbis, and her love and devotion to Judaism and Jewish culture.

This was tremendously moving. She is an excellent soft-spoken  speaker, and a woman able to convey her experiences and emotions. She is a docent at the Museum of Jewish Heritage a Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park, New York City, and she speaks regularly to school groups. Some in the audience said that this was their first experience meeting an actual survivor.

The film, play and museum are all very, very worthwhile.

If you haven’t ever spoken with a survivor, try to do so before one can not do so any longer- time is running out as they age.

More on this camp and these specific barrack blocks: I will add  the fascinating experiences of  Remember the Women colleagues who visited the precise barracks depicted in the film.  I should receive the comments in a day or two.

Here are Bronia Brandman, Rochelle Saidel, and  the Red Fern Theatre’s, Melanie Williams and Emilie Miller.

Bronia, Rochelle, Melanie and Emilie

Photo courtesy of the Red Fern Theatre Company

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“Making Trouble” and “Orthodox Stance” by NYCGuy

Film, Guest Author: NYCGUY

Five Real Jewish Women – Three of them Mothers – All Dead of Cancer Before 60 ….by guest author NYCGuy.

 I sat between Lily and my mom at the afternoon screening of Making Trouble, a doc about three generations of Jewish comediennes, three of whose careers I experienced in real time: Gilda Radner, Wendy Wasserstein and Madeline Kahn. A Q and A followed with director Rachel Talbot and editor Philip Shayne in the Jewish Museum hall that could only be described as a sea of silver-haired ladies. I asked the director what it was like to deal with three boomer women whose lives had been cut short way too soon.

Talbot, a boomer, seemed taken aback, but Shane interceded that they were filming Wasserstein vis-a-vis Kahn’s acting career and her role in her Sisters Rosensweig when the playwright died. So, she became one of those profiled as well as the segue into the Kahn segment. I later discovered I’d erred about the very sexy, sharply funny Kahn. Her birth preceded the baby boom by four years.

 The film used the vehicle of four contemporary Jewish comics or comedy writers fressing at Katz’s delicatessen, for propulsion, but I don’t somehow recall mention of lives foreshortened. The film, with significant support from the Jewish Women’s Archive, is ostensibly about six pioneers – Molly Picone, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker and the still kicking Joan Rivers – but the sadly serendipitous inclusion of Wasserstein, a single mom and sole non-performer, added a woman as shammas whose extraordinary gift for story telling set ablaze the careers of many fine actresses.

So, you ask, who were the other two whose lives were cut short?

This evening I attended the closing festival screening with my friend M. The documentary, Orthodox Stance, looked at the boxing career of a Soviet immigrant, Dmitriy Salita, who takes on what was the sport of the earlier generation inter-war Jewish immigranmt boys who also sought a route out of poverty.

Dmitriy, who sat on the step next to us as the film rolled, began his training in the Starrett City Boxing Gym, a white kid among Black and Latin youths, with a legendary elderly Black trainer, Jimmy O’Pharrow, who, during the Q+A, Dmitriy named as his surrogate grandfather.

Early in his training, his mother develops and eventually succumbs to cancer. The husband of her Orthodox Jewish hospital roommate connects Dimitriy with a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi in Flatbush, setting a different spin on the young man’s life. His focus on boxing was also a way of dealing with the loss of his mother. The film opens theatrically at Cinema Village on January 25. Go see it!

Lily alread wrote about Praying with Lior. Isaw this with Lily and her husband sitting on one side and my friend G on the other. I had immediately checked off that film as a must see by the compelling picture of Lior in the Frestival brochure. In the course of the doc, via family film footage, we see the loss of Lior’s birth mother, a rabbi, and later discussion about this threaded throughout. His dad, also a rabbi, Mordechai Liebling,  a prominent thinker in the Reconstructionist movement eventually remarries. Lior’s new mom sees him into his current adolescence and with his dad to the pivotal preparation for the celebration of his bar mitzvah. On the eve of this event there is a scene with Lior and his dad at the birth mom’s gravesite. If there’s anyone unmoved their heart is clearly made of stone.

I don’t know if the organizers of what was the NY Jewish Film Festival 17 realized that the loss of vibrant women not due to the holocaust was woven through three very different documentaries that very much need to travel and be discussed.

That apparently is the desire of all the film makers.

In January 2009, the Festival turns 18, chai, life in Jewish numerology. What might this bring? Who might be missed?

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LimmudNY at the Nevele Grande in the Catskills

Events, Lily's notes

Limmud NY filled the Nevele Grande in the Catskills with about 1,000 people for their annual study event during the long Martin Luther King, Jr weekend. Limmud means “study” in Hebrew. There were over 350 study sessions, workshops and films over the four days. There was a camp for the kids. Many different style minyans were held and there was a shuk selling books and Judaica, also many organizations looking for volunteers and distributing information.

The participants came mostly from the North East of the US but there was a sizable number of Brits, Banner and three girlsCanadians (of course) and lots of Californians, and some Israelis. All ages came, there were many families with children, many of high school and university students too.

It was an incredible marathon with so many choices and activities, and so many interesting people to meet. Really wonderful. There were many performers including musicians, comics, and a one-man play. Events started and 7:30 am and ended at 2 or 3 am…It was sometimes difficult to choose exactly what to attend. My friend told me the best joke of the event:

How do you tell the neurotic from the psychotic at an event like this? The neurotics do not sleep and the psychotics don’t go to the bathroom.

The sessions we attended had real variety, intellect and depth, once I stumbled into a “new age” class and left quickly- not my cup of tea at all, but the others in the room were happy…very happy with it. I have a limited appetite for Kabbalah, or demons and devils as well…it is the “Litvak” in me that just cannot  listen to this for very long but I did go to a session about all of this stuff. I did enjoy the sessions on the Mussar movement. There was something for everyone.

I attended a few discussions which were a true pleasure. People of differing opinions discussing serious topics with respect and humor, that is without the bile and without monsterizing the other’s opinions as we usually hear in so-called “discussions” the media.

One was “Who Wrote the Torah- a Conversation on Bible Scholarship and Faith” with Everett Fox, Nigel Savage, Rachel Berkovits, and Danial Goldfarb. Excellent.

There were many films, and an extraordinary session with slides on the history, false Soviet propaganda and reality of Birobijan, the soviet “Jewish” state, by a person who was born there. The slides were incredible: a soviet brochure with photos of palm trees (!) in Siberia, moving stories of the people who came in hope and mostly experienced tragic ends.

Alicia SvigalsAlicia Svigals, the great Klezmer fiddler not only played on Sunday night for a dancing, happy crowd which included dancing children (who the adults lifted up in chairs during the dancing) and dancing adults in the Nevele nightclub called the “Stardust Room”. I love these Catskills- this evening was timeless! The next day, Alicia lead a session on the history of Klezmer music, played some excerpts and also explained why so many “Jewish” names come from instruments such as Feidler, and Zimbalist etc. It was all fun.

We had hoped to get to the indoor pool and to take a freezing walk in the snowy woods, but we were just too busy. I did see about thirty Canada Geese fly in and land on the half-frozen lake honking loudly and we had a great view of the mountains from our window…

My best and most extraordinary moment: meeting the warm, happy woman I would never have expected to be at Limmud. We had not seen each other since she was a teen about 25 years ago. She had lived with our family for a short time. It must be the real reason I was meant to be there.

One more note: Limmud takes place in many locations around the world, and will be at the Nevele next year. If you look up the Nevele Grande on the net you will see horrible reviews which have no validity at all. I do not know who those writers are or what their motivation was but I can tell you that what they wrote is completely untrue. The Nevele is clean, perfectly pleasant and the staff was helpful and always positive.

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“Praying With Lior”


Praying With Lior will open shortly at the Village Cinema, and perhaps elsewhere. We saw it at the Jewish Museum as part of the  Jewish Film Festival followed by a fascinating discussion panel.

Make time to see this film.

This is a loving, compelling documentary about the world of Lior, a young man with Down’s Syndrome, his amazing family which includes four siblings, his community, how he deals with loss, and his preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. (warning:bring tissues).

It is most interesting to see how people choose to project onto Lior what they would like to see- a Magical Child- and how Lior, his parents and siblings deal with reality. It is wonderful to spend time with this family.

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Four films in the Jewish Film Festival


This film festival has had so many special films that I want to comment only very briefly on just a few of them. Most of these will be shown in other festivals in the future, try to see them:

The Hebrew Lesson, documentary in Hebrew, Chinese, Russian and other languages, the drama of real peoples’ lives, with the kind of uniqueness and details that fiction can not dream up.

Someone to Run With, in Hebrew based on a novel by David Grossman- a riveting drama which takes place in Jerusalem. Extremely well done.

Love One Another, a restored print of a 1922 silent film with Danish and English titles, by Carl Dreyer (not Jewish) is a protest against anti-semitism in Csarist Russia. Very remarkable film. We saw it with a live pianist. Some of the actors are from the Moscow stage and eventually performed in the NY Jewish theatre of the 20’s and 30’s and in Hollywood.

Two Ladies,in  French and Arabic, Jewish Esther and Moslem Selima’s mother, are both Algerian born and living in France. They share a fascinating friendship in spite of the surrounding extremism and prejudice.

Each year I go to this festival and no matter how many films I manage to see, friends see a few I haven’t seen, they tell me how wonderful they were, and I have the feeling I have missed too much!

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