Palestinians, Tunisians and Druze Onscreen
For My Father
aka Weekend in Tel Aviv
A young West Bank Palestinian infiltrates Tel Aviv with orders to blow himself up in the crowded Carmel Market. A switch on his suicide belt malfunctions, and while waiting over the weekend for a replacement, he meets a rebellious Jewish girl who has been banished by her Orthodox father. Despite the grim theme, the German-Israeli coproduction, directed by Dror Zahavi, has touches of humor and love, plus first-rate acting. Produced by Zvi Spielmann and Heike Wiehle-Timm (www.relevantfilm.de). —Tom Tugend
The Wedding Song
It is 1942 Tunis, and Nour and Myriam—one Muslim, the other Jewish—are 16-year-olds who have been inseparable friends since childhood. At the same time as they face the prospect of marriages to grooms picked by their parents, the German occupation tests their loyalties to each other and to their intended husbands. Karin Albou, a Jewish-French-Tunisian director, explores the intersection of Muslim and Jewish cultures and awakening female sexuality with sensitivity and assurance. Strong adult sexual content. Strand Releasing (www.strandreleasing.com). —T.T.
Lady Kul El-Arab
Duah is a contestant in the Lady of the Arabs beauty pageant, but wants to compete in the Miss Israel pageant—which would require her appearing in a bathing suit and courting disapproval by her Druze family and society. Ibtisam Mara’ana’s documentary is not only suspenseful—what will Duah decide to do?—but also an important examination of present-day conflicts between generations and cultures in an Israeli minority community. Ruth Diskin Films (www.ruthfilms.com). —Renata Polt
Chronicle of a Kidnap
Hezbollah’s abduction of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev triggered the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Nurit Kedar’s impressionistic documentary examines the aftermath: Goldwasser’s wife Karnit’s efforts to involve politicians and the media, her meetings with Shimon Peres, her hope that “one morning [I’ll] wake up and think this was all a dream.” Self-indulgent editing and too much eerie background music blunt this film’s emotional impact. In Hebrew and English with English subtitles. Ruth Diskin Films (www.ruthfilms.com). —R.P.
Inglorious Basterds Quentin Tarantino’s comic book version of World War II has the requisite Nazis, including an apoplectic Hitler, and Basterds, a band of Jewish American soldiers out to kill Nazis under the leadership of hillbilly lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), who knows a thang or two about dealing with the enemy (scalp ’em). Beautiful French Jew Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) escapes death at the hands of a charismatic SS Jew hunter (Christoph Waltz) and resolves to revenge her family’s deaths. The Jews are less characters than pawns in Tarantino’s hyperventilating plot. For the director, historic facts are no deterrent to a bang-up conclusion. Universal Pictures (www.ingloriousbasterds-movie.com). —R.P.
The Sway Machinery: Hidden Melodies Revealed
From the driving, explosive drumming that opens this set you know that this isn’t like any other album of High Holy Day liturgy you’ve heard before. Sway leader Jeremiah Lockwood is the grandson of a prominent hazan, and the melodies here are both traditional and the work of Golden Age cantors like Zawel Kwartin and Leib Glantz. But this isn’t his grandfather’s hazonos—think Tom Waits with throbbing Afro-funk horns. A dazzling feat in both concept and execution, audacious and exciting. JDub Records (www.jdubrecords.org). —George Robinson
The Hidden One:
Jewish Mystical Songs
Vocalist and cantor Richard Kaplan offers gentle, meditative settings for texts in Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Aramaic nestled in melodic traditions from Salonica, Belarus, Mongolia and more. Backed by piano, frame drum and other instruments, the chants include familiar texts like “Yedid Nefesh” and “Sim Shalom,” a niggun from Reb Nahman of Bratslav and original compositions. Five Souls Music (www.kaplanmusic.com).
The Little Trees Are Weeping: Songs of the Holocaust and Resistance
Every song on Carl Nelkin’s second Yiddish album is suffused with the Jewish suffering of the ghetto. The depth, pathos and bitterness are evident in “Mach Tzu di Eigelech,” seemingly a lullaby but actually a cry of misery. Songs seek God amid the tears: “A Yiddish Kind” bemoans the loss of a child; “Rivekele” is the wife who cannot celebrate Shabbos because her husband was taken away. The finale is the marching beat of “Never Say” by Hirsh Glick, the most widespread song of the ghetto. Irish Jewish Music (www.irishjewishmusic.com). —Zelda Shluker
French director Elie Chouraqui’s film is a cinematic retelling of the book of the same name by Dominique Lapiere and Larry Collins. It attempts to give a balanced portrayal of the Arab-Jewish conflict—from the November 29, 1947, United Nations partition vote to the surrender of the Old City on May 1, 1948—through the eyes of a Jew and an Arab who meet in America and become friends, only to go to Israel where they are on opposite sides of the conflict. Despite stilted dialogue and major battles insufficiently portrayed, there are some well-dramatized events (such as Golda Meir’s secret meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah). Samuel Goldwyn Films. Anchor Bay Entertainment (www.ojerusalemthemovie.com). —Z.S.
House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague
The Prague cemetery is intriguing, and this film by Allan Miller and Mark Podwal shows why. With 12,000 visible headstones and perhaps 10 times that many belowground, the cemetery tells the history of the Prague ghetto, an overcrowded center of Jewish life. Today, stones are being cleaned and deciphered and information stored on a database. It is here that the Magen David was used for the first time as a Jewish emblem. The most visited site is the tomb of the Maharal (Rabbi Judah Loew), legendary for the stories about the Golem he is said to have created to protect the community from pogroms (www.firstrunfeatures.com). —Susan Adler
THEATER J PREVIEW 2009-2010
Mostel, Warhol, Mikveh Among Theater Season’s Themes
By Barbara Trainin Blank
When Theater J started life in the basement of a rented Washington, D.C., townhouse in 1990, there was no room to stage a show such as Fiddler on the Roof.
Since moving to its much-larger home in the DC JCC, the theater—devoted to thought-provoking, publicly engaged, passionate and entertaining plays and musicals—has presented shows such as Theodore Bikel’s Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears but not traditional large-scale Broadway fare.
Yet, the spirit of Fiddler lived on in the opening production of Theater J’s 2009-2010 season—a one-person show about the original Tevye. Zero Hour was written and performed by Jim Brochu, who met the legendary Zero Mostel backstage as a teenager and became a friend and admirer of the actor, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
Another figure of controversy was Baruch Spinoza, who shocked 17th-century Amsterdam with his views and was cut off from the Jewish community. Playwright David Ives retells the story of the philosopher’s trial for heresy in New Jerusalem. Theater J’s production is the first of the work since its Off Broadway opening in 2008.
The play questions the “irrational underpinnings of the Christian faith and how the Jewish community used the excommunication to curry favor with non-Jews,” Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth explains. “While Theater J is devoted to Jewish theater, we do present works about Jewish themes by non-Jewish writers, such as Ives.”
Each season, Theater J presents five mainstage productions and three limited-engagement shows of both revivals and contemporary works. Judy Gold’s multimedia memoir Mommy Queerest takes a comic spin on parent-child conflict as she considers being a gay working mother, the legal restrictions on her getting married, nursing homes, and what she really thinks of her own kids.
The current economic turbulence and the strength of character that carries people through adversity find expression in Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers. The Depression-era play about a troubled yet resilient family with the will to survive underscores the gifts of a “master playwright and extraordinary craftsman,” Roth says.
Also featured is Mikveh, an Israeli play in which women bare themselves (literally and figuratively) in the ritual bath. The Four of Us, by Itamar Moses, is a somewhat autobiographical play about how success challenges friendship.
Josh Kornbluth’s Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? wrestles with the pop artist’s portraits of Jews, while In Darfur explores what hasn’t been learned about the genocide in Sudan.
Since its inception, Theater J has gained Equity (professional) status, tripled its number of subscribers and increased its staff by a factor of 10. Last year the theater received its first Helen Hayes Award and the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play for Stephanie Zadravec’s Honey Brown Eyes.
“We’ve attempted to reclaim the urban Jewish sensibility, rooted in social values, the Jewish community’s relations with non-Jews and the health of the Jewish family,” says Roth. “We offer new voices, holding up a mirror to who we are and what our values are.” H
THEATER J’S 2009-2010 SEASON
October 21-November 29
Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon
January 20-February 21, 2010
The Four of Us by Itamar Moses
May 5-June 5, 2010
Mikveh by Hadar Galron
June 26-July 25, 2010
New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch De Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation, Amsterdam, July 27, 1656 by David Ives
December 16-January 3, 2010
Mommy Queerest with Judy Gold
March 6-21, 2010
Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? with Josh Kornbluth
March 31-April 18, 2010
In Darfur by Winter Miller
Theater J performs in the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center (202-777-3210; www.theaterj.org; 1529 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C.)