Brief Reviews: Music, Humor, Memories and Hope
Violins in Wartime
When the Second Lebanon War breaks out in 2006, one likely casualty is the annual international violin master course at Kibbutz Eilon, a mile south of the Israel-Lebanon border. But the students and master violinists who come from around the world are determined that classes and the closing performance must go on. Yael Katzir’s uplifting documentary insists that nothing can raise embattled spirits like great music. New Love Films (www.newlovefilms.com). —Tom Tugend
Saviors in the Night
A superb ensemble of German actors retell the true story of Marga Spiegel, whose family was hidden for two years by the German Aschoff family of farmers. The film is suffused with realism and humanity, owing much to director Ludi Boeken’s own history—his parents were Dutch resistance heroes—and the bravery of the rescuers. Menemsha Films (www.menemshafilms.com). —Judith Gelman Myers
It is impossible to describe the impact of this documentary without spoiling it for potential viewers. Arnon Goldfinger decided to produce the film while cleaning out the closets of his recently deceased 98-year-old grandmother and discovering a secret about his German grandparents. Unable to reconcile everything he has ever known with what he had just learned, he searches for the truth that spawned generations of denial. Ruth Diskin Films (www.ruthfilms.com). —J.G.M.
Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story
Yoni Netanyahu was the only Israeli in his commando troop to perish in the 1976 raid that freed 102 hostages at Entebbe. Spectacular archival footage—Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak debating the feasibility of the raid, Walter Cronkite reporting on conditions on the ground—interviews and voiceover from Netanyahu’s letters show him to be compassionate, brilliant and courageous. But his personal story is complex: Netanyahu was a reluctant warrior. Directed by Jonathan Gruber (www.followmethemovie.com). —J.G.M.
The Moon Is Jewish
Imagine an anti-Semite’s surprise when he finds out he’s Jewish. Former skinhead Pawel Bramson wrote this documentary with Michal Tkaczynski to elucidate how he transformed from a believer in the righteousness of anti-minority violence into a strict adherent of kabbalistic Orthodox Judaism. Bramson is assistant to the chief rabbi of Poland, but one wonders whether his change is real or the product of an addictive personality. Krakow Film Foundation (www.ukjewishfilm.org). —J.G.M.
What Happened Here?
Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein in 1879 in today’s Ukraine. Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929 and assassinated in Mexico in 1940, he came from a Jewish community decimated by the Nazis. Director Rob Nilsson tries to track down Trotsky’s childhood homes, with results alternately lyrical and tendentious. He cannot decide whether he admires or despises Trotsky. Citizen Cinema (https://citizencinema.net). —Renata Polt
Elie Wiesel in Concert “Memories and Melodies of My Childhood”
ElieWiesel adds a singing voice to his literary one as he retrieves the melodic legacy of the East European Jewish world. His heartfelt renditions of 14 Hebrew and Yiddish classics—“Gut Shabbes,” “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen,” “Oyfn Pripetshik,” “Sholom Aleichem,” “V’taher Libenu” and more—end on a fervent note with “Ani Maamin.” Recorded in concert at the 92nd Street Y in New York (www.eliewieselconcert.com). —Rahel Musleah
Gracia: Sarah Aroeste
The dark beauty of Sarah Aroeste’s new album of original compositions and traditional Ladino songs captures the spirited nature of Sefardic music infused with a sultry blend of experimental, feminist, rock and Mediterranean sounds. Whether singing a fiery “La Comida La Mañana” (The Morning Meal), a tender “Ensuenyo Te Vi” (I Saw You in My Dreams) or classic “Las Estreyas” (The Stars), Aroeste’s passion flows through every song about memory, family, marriage, loss and hope (www.saraharoeste.com). —R.M.
In 13 tracks, instrumentalist Frank London and vocalist Lorin Sklamberg give us sweet, heart-stirring pleasure in these meditative, humorous songs for Sukkot, Rosh Hashana, Pesah and Hanukka. They make good listening before the upcoming holidays (www.tzadik.com). —Susan Adler
NEWSical the Musical
Do you look to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for your news? Then consider NEWSical your scoop. Constantly updated by ingenious author-composer-lyricist Rick Crom, this fast-moving 90-minute revue—with breezy musical arrangements by Ed Goldschneider—takes on the likes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, world economic woes and such outspoken celebrities as Joan Rivers, Oprah and Lady Gaga with wit and sharp physical comedy (billed for ages 12 and up). Open-ended run at Kirk Theatre, Off Broadway (https://newsicalthemusical.net). —Jules Becker
Old Jews Telling Jokes
Based on the popular Internet comedy video series (https://oldjewstellingjokes.com) and book of the same title, the staged version, created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Okrent, features five terrific actors—young and old—who entertain audiences of all ages with deep-rooted Jewish humor, nostalgic anecdotes and “not-so-kosher” wisecracks. The gags, songs and monologues about birth, death, marriage, sex, religion, aging, illness and Jewish mothers revive an earlier Jewish American tradition. Open-ended run at the Westside Theatre, Off Broadway (https://oldjewstellingjokesonstage.com). —Sara Trappler Spielman
In the 1950s, vacationing Jews flocked to the pools, golf courses and comedy clubs of Catskill resorts. The Borscht Belt age is over and photographer Marisa Scheinfeld has captured the ruins of resorts like The Pines Hotel and Camp Hi-Li in the photo series “Leftover Borscht.” Her surreal images record what remains—from a ghostly lounge chair on a carpet of moss in Grossinger’s Resort and Hotel to the scattered pink chairs of The Pines’s dining room. The thoughtful compositions, at www.marisascheinfeld.com (click on Collections), replete with decaying opulence and hinting of nostalgia, find beauty in places long past their day in the sun. —Leah F. Finkelshteyn