Brief Review: A Martyr and the Robbery of the Century
Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh
Director Roberta Grossman’s documentary beautifully dramatizes Hannah Senesh’s attempt to save Hungarian Jewry by parachuting into the country; it was the only military rescue mission for Jews in World War II. Archival footage, narration from Senesh’s diary, plus interviews with fellow prisoners, pioneers and scholars bring to life the heroism of the Zionist, poet and Resistance fighter who was tortured and killed in captivity. Katahdin Productions (www.blessedisthematch.com).
—Sara Trappler Spielman
Saved by Deportation: An Unknown Odyssey of Polish Jews
Some 80 percent of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust did so because, in 1940, Stalin deported them to Siberian labor camps; on their release, they immigrated to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Polish-born director Slawomir Grünberg tells their story by following the journey of survivors Asher and Shyfra Scharf from Brooklyn to Siberia and Uzbekistan. Log In Productions (www.logtv.com).
The First Basket: A Jewish Basketball Documentary
David Vyorst’s entertaining documentary highlights the role American Jews played in popularizing basketball in the first half of the 20th century—and shows the way hoops helped Jews acculturate to American life (from left, City College of New York star Bernie Fliegel with legendary CCNY coach Nat Holman). This month in theaters in Miami and Los Angeles before opening around the country. Laemmle Zeller Films (www.thefirstbasket.com).
My Mexican Shivah
Alejandro Springall’s film showcases some truly unpleasant characters who are, nevertheless, trying to do the right thing after the sudden death of a man who was father, friend or lover. The daughter is preparing her house for shiva, instructing her kitchen help on kosher food preparation. But she wants nothing to do with her father’s gentile lover, who is among the visitors. Animosity and ego threaten to sabotage good intentions, and while all ends well, the humor meant to leaven the conflict is meager. Springall Pictures (www.mymexicanshivah.com).
Set in France before, during and after the Holocaust, the film visits the sins of the fathers upon their sons, not only among the Nazis but also among Jewish survivors. This complex film is told through the eyes of Francois, a baptized Jewish boy, as he slowly pieces together his parents’ painful story during the German occupation. Directed by Claude Miller, the film is based on the best-selling semibiographical novel of the same title by Philippe Gimbert (www.strandreleasing.com).
Exodus: An Oratorio
This three-part musical work boasts nuanced narration by actor William Shatner. Composed and conducted by David Itkin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the story of redemption is a welcome addition to the Passover holiday telling. JMG (www.jewishmusicgroup.com).
The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People
Shmaltz can be uplifting, heart-rending or just plain funny, as this album shows. Among the classic Jewish hits and liturgy sung anew are Jason Alexander’s version of “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max” and Barbra Streisand’s sublime “Avinu Malkenu.” Most surprising? Adam Sandler’s respectable (and respectful) rendition of “Hine Ma Tov.” Produced by Brooks Arthur. JMG (www.jewishmusicgroup.com).
Erfurt: Jewish Treasures
From Medieval Ashkenaz
This rare and exquisite collection of 167 medieval objects includes coins, tableware and jewelry. Discovered a decade ago, they had been hidden by a Jewish merchant fleeing a massacre of the Jews in Erfurt, Germany, in 1349. A Gothic tower-shaped wedding ring, eight silver nesting cups, brooches with gemstones (right) and belt buckles with enamel work are among the treasures as are maps, manuscripts and models of the Altneuschul in Prague and the medieval Erfurt Synagogue. Through January 29, 2009, at Yeshiva University Museum, New York (www.yumuseum.org).
Dr. Seuss Wants You!
Dr. Seuss characters first made an appearance in political cartoons urging an end to America’s isolationist policies just before Pearl Harbor. This largely unknown side of Theodore Geisel is illuminated in cartoons that appeared in PM, a leftist New York newspaper; public-service cartoons supporting the war effort; and illustrations for the United States Army. Meet Ann, the anopheles mosquito, a character from a cartoon chapbook advising G.I.s how to avoid contracting malaria. Through February 1, 2009, at Holocaust Museum Houston (www.hmh.org).
On Equal Terms
This mixed-media exhibit celebrates women in construction and other trades who have kept affirmative action alive for the past three decades. Susan Eisenberg—artist, poet, activist, scholar and master electrician—interviewed more than 30 trades-women about their inspirations, frustrations and experiences. Her works combine the practical and fanciful with first-person testimony, recreating the experiences of those who, in 1978, were first take advantage of federal public policy to open jobs and apprenticeship training to women. Through January 9, 2009, at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts (www.brandeis.edu/centers), then it travels to the Adams Gallery at Boston’s Suffolk University, January 23 through March 17.
The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World
While archaeologists and historians continue to debate who authored and who used the Dead Sea Scrolls and what this momentous discovery in the caves of Qumran reveals about first-century Judaism, the public can view fragments of six of the parchment documents—along with related artifacts. Through January 4, 2009, at The Jewish Museum, New York (www.thejewishmuseum.org).
—Barbara Trainin Blank
Dear Mr. Waldman
This Israeli film, directed by Hanan Peled, crosses the quirky, sweet humanity of a Yiddish folktale with the horrors of the Holocaust. Ten-year-old Hilik tries to make his despairing father happy by reassuring him that his first son was not gassed in Auschwitz but lived to become President John F. Kennedy’s adviser, Jack Waldman. Echelon Studios, distributed by Singa Home Entertainment (www.dearmrwaldman.com).
—Judith Gelman Myers
The Rape of Europa
The Nazi regime was not only the world’s greatest murderer but the biggest thief as well, seizing an estimated 600,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures and Judaica artifacts, with Adolf Hitler as plunderer-in-chief. This two-hour documentary meticulously tracks the great art robbery from Jews and others, much of it recovered by a special American Army unit. Investigations and lawsuits continue to return some 100,000 still-missing works (www.menemshafilms.com).
A growing number of photographers—amateur and professional—are capturing Israel’s sights in online journals. Yehoshua Halevi’s gorgeous weekly
https://israelthebeautiful.blogspot.com provides intimate views of Israel’s people—such as girls dancing at a bat mitzva (above)—and its natural beauty. The impressive https://blog.israelinphotos.comdisplays images from all over the country, while Emma Mrejen’s camera, www.telavivdeclick.com, offers a local guide to the city.
—Leah F. Finkelshteyn