Editor’s Wrapup: Dramatis Personae
On the eve of World War II, Poland was home to more than three million Jews, most of whom perished in the death camps. Of the survivors, the large majority emigrated, and for decades most sources listed the country’s Jewish population as under 5,000.
After the fall of Communism, it was inevitable that some people who had hidden their Jewish identities would emerge but, as Toby Axelrod reports (page 26), what began with a few dramatic stories of return has continued for almost 20 years. “In a country whose population was traumatized by two dictatorships,” she writes, “the Jewish secret settled to the bottom of the soul.”
In fact, many of the Jews or Jewish descendants emerging today didn’t know they were hiding. Axelrod cautions that Polish Jewry will never recover its prewar vitality, but she observes that the surfacing of lost Jews is giving the community a new reality—one that nobody had dreamed of for decades.
In America, the popularity of reality shows is supposedly a sign that, after more than 50 years, television drama has played itself out. But in Israel, drama as fiction was never able to compete with the conflict and complexity of daily life. This is one reason that, as the country’s film industry has matured, Israeli directors have been making far more documentaries than feature films. Israeli documentaries now contend for top awards at major international festivals.
This issue includes a series of articles on Israeli film. Sara K. Eisen reports on the country’s emergence as a force in documentary cinema (page 44) and also profiles Joseph Cedar (page 58), director of the feature film Beaufort, the Israeli movie nominated for an Academy Award this year. Judith Gelman Myers focuses on the Other Israel Film Festival, which showcases movies about Israeli Arabs made by Arab and Jewish directors (page 54). As directors of both features and documentaries have discovered, drama is something of a natural resource for Israel and the Jewish people.