Pride, Pathos and Prejudice
Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story
You don’t have to be a baseball nut to appreciate this sweet film. In paying tribute to the 160 Jews who have played in the major leagues, director Peter Miller weaves their feats into the fabric of Jewish integration into American society, occasionally marred by anti-Semitic outbursts by bigoted fans. But nothing detracts from the glories of Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax and Al Rosen (right). Seventh Art Releasing (www.7thart.com).—Tom Tugend
Radu Mihaileanu’s tale revolves around the fates of a former Bolshoi Orchestra maestro and his Jewish musicians, all of them fired by the anti-Semitic Communist regime. After 30 years in menial jobs, the ex-maestro slyly responds to a request from Paris for the Bolshoi to play as a last-minute replacement. There is humor and pathos in watching his reassembled, ragtag musicians make the leap from deprivation to the freedom of France—and in discovering the identity of the young French violinist the maestro insists must play with them. The Weinstein Company (www.productionsdutresor.com). —Zelda Shluker
Julia Bacha’s documentary is a succinct and stirring recounting of nonviolent resistance. Budrus, a West Bank Palestinian village, is dependant on some 3,000 olive trees just outside town. In 2003, when Israel began constructng the separation wall, the barrier would have surrounded Budrus and five other villages, running through a cemetery and cutting off villagers from the olive trees. At the heart of the movie is local activist Ayed Morrar, who brought together Fatah, Hamas, Israeli peace activists and environmentalists and, tellingly, local women to protest the wall. Just Vision Films (www.justvision.org).
The loners—diaspora soldiers whose families are far away—in this film are two young men from Russia, Sasha and Glory, who are accused of selling a rifle and stolen ammunition to Hamas terrorists. Based on a case that shook Israel in the late 1990s, Renen Schorr’s film, which takes place in a military prison, combines the tension of a mutiny with a critical look at Israeli attitudes toward newcomers. Israeli Films (www.israelifilms.com). —T.T.
Wo Ai Ni Mommy
Donna and Jeff Sadowsky are adopting their second Chinese daughter, an 8-year-old. Faith at first refuses to learn English and wants to go home to her Chinese foster family; but within 17 months, she’s almost entirely assimilated. On the phone she tells her foster sister in China, “We’re all Jewish, and we celebrate Hanukka.” Stephanie Wang-Breal’s documentary is touching and, ultimately, hopeful (www.woainimommy.com). —Renata Polt
Out of Europe
Filmmaker Richard Lerner’s close family miraculously escaped Hitler’s forces intact. Originally from Poland, they settled in Belgium, became successful diamond merchants and then had to flee after the Nazi invasion of May 1940. The aunts, uncles, grandparents—and 19 first cousins—and siblings were talented and attractive as well as resourceful. They made their way through the chaos of France and Spain, some to Cuba and Israel, most to the United States. Richard Lerner Productions. SISU Home Entertainment (www.sisuent.com). —Susan Adler
These Are My Names
What’s in a name? For Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, a lot. This film describes how government officials arbitrarily assigned Hebrew names to newly arrived Ethiopian Jews, stripping them of the rich significance of their original Amharic names. This 30-minute documentary, written, directed and produced by Ruth Mason, offers a fascinating glimpse into a painful and little-known period of Israeli history. Ruth Diskin Films (www.ruthfilms.com). —Brian Blum
Recordings Celebrations: The Heritage Ensemble Interprets Festive Melodies from the Hebraic Songbook
Diversity and tradition triumph once again. Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble quintet weaves a rich tapestry of Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Count Basie-recalling musical styles on the nine songs of this fresh exploration of Jewish holiday repertoire (here Hanukka and Purim). “Maoz Tzur” becomes an elegant jazz ballad, while the Jewish composer-pianist’s original “Yotvata”—honoring the noted Israeli dairy kibbutz—features evocative solo work from Lebanese saxophonist Michael Hashim. MEII Enterprises (www.meienterprises.com). —Jules Becker
It’s All Good
Enjoy the rhythmic interpretations of daily, Shabbat and other prayers on these 13 cuts. The strong drums, guitar, mandolin and keyboards are joyous, from the title song to the final “Havdalah Sweet.” Steve Brodsky, Robbi Sherwin and Scott Leader are the creative artists of Sababa (www.sababamusic.com). —Z.S.
Not a fan of rap? Listen to these clever lyrics and catchy rhythms that transform Bible stories from stale to cool and you will be enraptured. Twelve selections by Matt Bar include a cutting-edge Cain and Abel, dramatic David versus Goliath as well as Purim and Hanukka raps. Rock to “I’m Not White, I’m Jewish.” The Bible Raps Project (www.bibleraps.com). —Rahel Musleah
Saints & Tzadiks
Susan McKeown and Lorin Sklamberg represent two cultures—Irish and Yiddish—which they have brilliantly juxtaposed in ballads both heartbreaking and lively. Some selections, such as “Heart’s Blood,” are two versions of the same song. “Prayer for the Dead” opens with “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” a traditional 19th-century Irish antiwar ballad; the corresponding Yiddish melody is based on a Ukrainian song: “Kh’bin oysgeforn felder, oy vey!” The wedding song “Yula” is set to a Polish mazurka tune in the style of “Had Gadya,” with rounds of cumulative verses.
This is a beautiful, passionate recording no matter which culture you embrace. World Village (www.worldvillagemusic.com). —S.A.
Journeys: New Jewish Music By Sy Kushner Vol. Two and The New Jewish Sound—The Mark 3 Orchestra and Singers
One is tempted to call accordionist-composer Sy Kushner’s music klezmer, but his work in the 1960s as leader of Mark 3 owes more to Hasidic pop and dance music. That is apparent in the reissue of The New Jewish Sound, his pioneering 1966 recording. Mark 3’s modish up-tempo music based on Hasidic and liturgical themes wears surprisingly well.
Kushner’s current musical groove offers considerably more than danceability; Journeys, like his recent CD, Arise, offers solid original tunes. Where Arise drew on jazz and reimagined Borscht Belt schmaltz, Journeys is influenced by niggunimand marches, drawing anew on the influences of Kushner’s youth, but with the complexity and soulfulness of a mature creative artist. Nulite Music (https://nulitemusic.com). —G.R.
Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden
Framed by walls of Jerusalem stone, slate grounds, shrubbery and open air, the Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (www.atlantajcc.org) unites elements beyond mixed material. The half-acre garden features a series of nine bronze sculptures by Dee Clement, placed in a maze of five outdoor rooms, each with its own story; there is also an eternal flame.
It begins with Abe Besser’s story. His mother, Rifka, is depicted with one child to her side and another on her hip; by posing as the mother of her grandchildren and niece and going with them to the gas chamber, she saved the lives of his aunt and four sisters.
A dedication to prewar Jewish life, the next area showcases musical instruments and ritual objects and two bas-reliefs—one depicting kippa-wearing students poring over Jewish texts and the other, a newsstand reader surrounded by myriad Jewish papers (Warsaw boasted 26 Jewish newspapers).
A downward ramp leads to a display of death camp scenes in bas-relief; a crumbling stone wall and a steel table in the shape of Europe notes the death toll of Jews by country. An upward, or “aliya,” bridge, as project architect Stanley Daniels put it, leads to a memorial room enclosed by three high walls, one of which houses six alcoves, each holding a bronze torch to be lit for special occasions. Emblazoned on one wall is the Kaddish, and another carries a tray of stones to place at the foot of the Ner Tamid, a steel triangular tower rooted in crushed glass.
Emerge from here to find a sculpture of a man and woman heading down a gangplank, a symbol of life rebuilt. Of course, the same could be said of the entire $1,500,000 monument, which was funded by Abe and Marlene Gelernter Besser. Its central location amid the hubbub of Jewish life at the Marcus JCC, says Daniels, is “testimony to the fact that the Jewish people survived and continue and thrive.” —Rachel Pomerance
Freud’s Last Session
Sigmund Freud escaped from Nazi Austria to England, but not from inoperable oral cancer. Writer Mark St. Germain’s moving, speculative drama imagines the dying and God-denying Jewish psychoanalyst sparring with Catholic Narnia novelist C.S. Lewis about the Bible, religion, love and sex. Martin Rayner rages majestically as Freud, while Mark H. Dodd (more handsome than Lewis) aces the latter’s faith and optimism in this soulful fare. Open-ended run at Marjorie S. Deane Theatre, New York (212-352-3101; www.freudslastsession.com). —Jules Becker
This Mad Men-ish revival works best in director Rob Ashford’s high-stepping dances to the snappy Burt Bacharach-Hal David score. Neil Simon’s aging adaptation of The Apartment leases wit in allusions like a hot New York bar named “Grapes of Roth.” Dick Latessa shines as heroic Jewish doctor Dreyfuss helping redeemed shlemiel Baxter (winning Sean Hayes) save suicidal secretary Kubelik (affecting Kristen Chenowith). Through early January at Broadway Theatre, New York (212-239-6200). —Jules Becker
Israeli ingenuity extends to the world of design, and a number of sites feature worthy introductions to innovators in the fields of jewelry, fashion, even housewares. Among the highlights of an Israeli virtual design tour is the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts site, www.aidaarts.org. Its Israel Through Art: A Guide, available as a free PDF download, is an introduction to studios and shops—look here for the country’s impressive array of ceramic collectives. Next, tryhttps://designbreak.strawberrypixel.com for its clear pictures and eclectic take on anything from toys to textiles. Finally, for those who want to go beyond Michal Negrin, jewelry trends are a focus at www.stylistiet.com (and many of the items mentioned can be purchased at www.etsy.com). —Leah F. Finkelshteyn