Now that Israel’s early elections have been called off, there may be a sigh of relief among supporters of the Jewish state who feel that a new order will form in the country. The fact that a new so-called unity government has now been formed, with the needs of the religious and the secular communities being addressed equally, could offer the country the stability it needs to handle its external enemies without having to worry as much about the internal strife tearing it apart. That remains to be seen, but the hope is being restored.
When events such as the reformation of the government occur, it behooves the country to do as good a job as it can to spread the word far and wide proclaiming the positive. Too often media and other forces opposed to Israel gather morsels of negativity and portray those as truly representative of the people and government of Israel. Israel is often its own worst enemy when it comes to public relations; its Hasbara, as it is referred to, is often too defensive and focused in shades of black and white, and therefore can seem harsh and selfish.
If it could only show a different face of the country, to accent attributes other than its military, its land disputes, or the internal, sometimes bitter, divides between the religious and secular communities, Israel can show its appeal as world class leader in arts, technologies, medicine and other areas of worldly advancements.
This task is really best not left to the government. The people who research sciences, run businesses and advance medicine or enterprises should be promoting their skills to the communities they address. They know it best and can do it better, and often have no other motive than promoting what makes them so proud.
When Daniel Senor and Saul Singer wrote Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, they set out to use their talents to promote the talents of Israel. Senor is an entrepreneur, and Singer is a journalist, and the two presented the case for Israel’s spirit for research, technology and advancement, and were convincing. Illustrations like Startup Nation do more to help Israel’s cause than a dozen government spokespeople using obscure metaphors to illustrate how the world has the picture wrong.
This weekend in Long Island and New York City, moviegoers will get to see a work that serves to promote Israel as a place of warmth, beauty, and love, but also one of passion and courage that runs deeper than most would imagine. Best of all, it is a film created under the auspices of a nonprofit foundation created in 1996 to benefit the Jewish people and the State of Israel primarily through media, and it pumps its net proceeds back into more hasbarah related projects that continue to further positive images of Israel.
Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story is a documentary about the life of a true Israeli hero. Netanyahu was made famous after his death for the spectacular raid in Entebbe, Uganda, that freed 103 mostly Israeli and Jewish hostages from a group of Palestinian terrorists. The near impossible operation, often called Operation Thunderbolt, was meticulously planned and carried out with such surgical precision that it is considered one of the greatest military feats by many experts.
Yet, the story is not a mere recounting of that feat, as Hollywood already did what it could in two motion pictures, one featuring Charles Bronson as Brig. Gen Dan Shomron and Peter Finch as Yitzhak Rabin. Those were adventure dramas that presented Israel as a superior force with luck and God looking out for it. No, Follow Me is an honest retrospective of the life of the young, academic, passionate and poetic son, brother, friend, boyfriend, and husband Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu.
Directors Jonathan Gruber, Ari Daniel Pinchot, and producers Mark Manson and Avi Savitsky put together a collection of letter written by Netanyahu to his loved ones while in school and in the army, and uses interviews with high-level Israeli leaders today, including his younger brother, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. The letters show a boy caught between wanting more out of his life with academics to family, and struggling with his love for his country and his real effectiveness as a strong military leader.
Jews all over the world celebrate Israel’s Independence Day – even those who have no intention of ever coming on aliyah, and many of whom have never even visited Israel. “It’s a kind of insurance policy” one overseas friend told me. “By supporting Israel financially and emotionally, I know that its sanctuary is available to me or my children or grandchildren should the need ever arise.”
I find this kind of thinking very sad, because Israel is so much more than a refuge for persecuted Jews. Not every immigrant who has built a life here was escaping from the horror of the Holocaust, the tyranny behind the Iron Curtain or the cruelty of life in an Arab country. Many of us (the ones Israelis refer to as “Anglo-Saxim) lowered our standard of living significantly when we settled in Israel, yet found something here that enhanced our quality of life even as we struggled with inflation, mortgages and trying to make miniscule salaries stretch to the end of the month.
We found here a family – our own people. Of course, just like any family, we fight … about religion, politics, the settlements – and the fights can be very bitter. Yet at bottom we care about each other and bond together when we face a common enemy. We celebrate together and sometimes we even have to grieve together. Basically, when the going gets rough, we are on the same side. We express our identity as Jews in different ways, but it is the same identity.
We found here a beautiful country, unique in the variety of its scenery and climate. Mediterranean beaches banded by azure and indigo water and pure white sand; coral reefs; dense forests; wooded mountains; deserts and rivers and waterfalls; the shimmering mirrored glass of the Dead Sea; fields carpeted with wildflowers – and Jerusalem, the priceless jewel.
Some of us found here a spirituality that we’d never been able to achieve abroad. Anyone who has been in Israel on Yom Kippur, when the whole country comes to a standstill for one day, cannot doubt the kedusha, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael. It is intangible, yet it is an undeniable presence.
We found here a pride in the remarkable achievements of this tiny country. We can match, and surpass, the high-tech of much bigger, richer and better-developed nations. We teach agriculture to the world. We are rich in poets, writers, musicians, actors and artists. We can boast of industrial entrepreneurs and brilliant scientists. When any new Israeli invention captures the world’s imagination, somehow we all bask in the reflected glory.
Israelis have always been compared to the Sabra – the cactus with the thorny exterior but the soft heart. We celebrate Yom HaTzma’ut in many ways – campfires and singing, picnics, a Bible Quiz, concerts, music and dancing in the streets. We spend the day with family and friends and relish every moment of it. But it is more than just enjoyment. On every building, the Israeli flag flies. Almost every balcony, in every city flies the white flag with the blue Magen David, the Shield of David. And for days beforehand and a week afterwards, the Israeli flag flies from every car on the road. Every ceremony opens with the singing of “HaTikva” – the Hope – Israel’s national anthem. We sing it standing straight and proud, and usually with tears in our eyes as we remember the broken people who found a safe haven here, and those who never managed to reach its shores and died with the dream of Zion in their hearts. And we also remember the brave men and women who gave their lives in all of Israel’s wars, and in the pre-State days, the fighters and pioneers who fashioned this wonderful land that we have inherited.
Shin Shalom, one of Israel’s greatest poets, expressed it for all of us in his “Mother Jerusalem Singing,” which he wrote a day after the Yom Kippur War in 1973:
“Love forever, glow forever,
Cherish, yearn, preserve the kernel
Of an everlasting nation, of a heritage eternal.”
Dvora Waysman is the author of 11 books including The Pomegranate Pendant, now a movie titled “The Golden Pomegranate” and her latest novel In A Good Pasture (Chaim Mazo Publishers) “
The website WRAP has gotten hold of “an explosive nine-page letter” from Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (“Basic Instinct,” “Jagged Edge”) to Mel Gibson, his collaborator on a movie about the Maccabee revolt, in which Joe is accusing Mel of “hating Jews” and of using him to deflect his anti-Semitic reputation.
Eszterhas wrote that Gibson, the director of a sadomasochistic flick about how the Jews killed you-know-who but not before flogging the skin off of him, never actually intended to make the movie about Jewish heroism, titled “The Maccabees.”
Eszterhas wrote that the real reason Gibson had announced the project was an “attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career.”
Eszterhas added: “I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason you won’t make ‘The Maccabees’ is the ugliest possible one. You hate Jews.”
Meanwhile, according to the WRAP, Warner Bros. has suspended Mel Gibson’s movie project about that 2nd Century BCE Maccabee revolt, after reading Joe Eszterhas’ script. Or, as Warner put it: “We are analyzing what to do with the project.”
A few years ago, Mel Gibson went on a rampage when he was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Los Angeles, nd according to the arresting officer’s report Gibson exploded in a barrage of anti-Semitic statements such as “F—-g Jews” and “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”
Jewish groups were outraged initially, after news broke in September that Gibson signed the deal with Warner’s to direct a film about the life of Judah Maccabee, who drove the Syrian armies out of Judea, as we celebrate each year on Hanukkah.
“Braveheart” about Jews, if you will.
Abraham Foxman of ADL told The Hollywood Reporter, “It would be a travesty to have [Judah Maccabee's] story told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier said at the time, “Mel Gibson has shown nothing but antagonism and disrespect to Jews.”
According to WRAP, Eszterhas’ letter reveals “a disturbing picture of Gibson as a man yet again out of control, inflicting frequent rages on those around him, in the grip of an anti-Semitic obsession, and possibly dangerous to those around him.”
For instance, Eszterhas’ letter recounts Gibson’s threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Gregorieva: “You were raving at Oksana even after you’d reached a custody agreement over Luci, and then you were even more explicit about your threat: ‘I’m going to kill her! I’m going to have her killed!’ You said you’d become friends with two FBI agents (or former FBI agents) and they were going to help you to kill her.”
But throughout the work on the Maccabee script, Mel’s pervasive hatred of Jews hung in the air like the alcoholic fumes that got him arrested those few years ago. Eszterhas writes:
“You continually called Jews ‘Hebes’ and ‘oven-dodgers’ and ‘Jewboys.’ It seemed that most times when we discussed someone, you asked ‘He’s a Hebe, isn’t he?’ You said most ‘gatekeepers’ of American companies were ‘Hebes’ who ‘controlled their bosses.’”
It just went on and on:
“You said the Holocaust was ‘mostly a lot of horses–t.’ You said the Torah made reference to the sacrifice of Christian babies and infants. When I told you that you were confusing the Torah with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, … you insisted ‘it’s in the Torah — it’s in there!’”
Finally, Eszterhas wrote that Gibson had told him that his intention in making “The Maccabees” was “to convert the Jews to Christianity.”
WRAP also cites Mel Gibson’s response letter to Eszterhas:
“Both Warner Brothers and I were extraordinarily disappointed with the draft. In 25 years of script development I have never seen a more substandard first draft or a more significant waste of time. The decision not to proceed with you was based on the quality of your script, not on any other factor.”
Gibson actually apologized for using “colorful” language, but said that much of Eszterhas’s observations were “utter fabrications.”
“Braveheart” about Jews, indeed.
A judge in Egypt sentenced Adel Imam, a famous Egyptian comedian, to three months in jail for “defaming Islam.”
Imam was convicted in absentia, as his whereabouts are unknown. The state-run internet news organ Ahram reported that his conviction was based on his roles in a 1998 play and 2007 movie.
I am blessed to live in a tradition filled with many incredible people, but it is rare I actually have the chance to meet a hero. I give sincere thanks to the Japan Society for honoring a great Jewish woman, Beate Sirota Gordon. A distinguished lady who wrote the equality clause of the new Japanese constitution, Ms. Gordon is also the scion of an illustrious musical family whose tree is traced in the movie, The Sirota Family and the 20th Century. As Ms. Gordon herself said, although her father has been a half-century in the grave, the director of the film fell in love with him. While Leo Sirota, her father, could obviously not be interviewed; his music is played throughout, giving him a voice in the film that shows the depths of his passion of music. It is fair to say the audience fell in love with Sirota as well.
Having a distinct love for the Japanese culture, due to their excellent literature, and being fiercely proud of my Judaism, I could not imagine a more perfect evening. The Japan Society is a beautiful building, tucked away by Dag Hammarskjold Square, a place I had visited so many times to protest the UN. I was very pleased to be there for a less stressful reason. From the indoor water garden to the elegant pictures on the wall, the place seems to be a quiet oasis in a very busy city. Given the emotions I knew I would feel watching a Holocaust film, I found myself feeling strangely at peace and calm. It was a perfect place to watch the movie and I hope there will be more joint Jewish-Japanese events in the future.
Both the family and the film begin in Kamianets-Podilskyi during the time period in which Ms. Gordon’s grandparents lived. Each member of the Sirota family has been blessed with an incredible gift for music. Although they endure persecution and pogroms, they continue to attend some of the most prestigious schools of music from Kiev to St. Petersberg to Paris, performing and teaching wherever they went. Leo Sirota tours the world with his music and finds himself being offered a job in the most unlikely (and non-Jewish) place – Japan. Unfortunately, their lives and the lives of the people around them are shattered when the Nazis come to power.
Ms. Gordon talks painfully of her memories of being taught to Seig Heil at the beginning of every class, of being twelve-years-old and ostracized by those around her. An uncle perished in Auschwitz and a cousin was killed fighting in World War II. Ms. Gordon herself was in America studying at Mills College and spent years having limited conversation with and information about her parents.
After the war ended, the twenty-two-year old Ms. Sirota joined the Occupation force in Japan as a translator, as she was one of the sixty-five Caucasians who were fluent in Japanese. Her previous experience at Time Magazine had taught her how to gather information and therefore, she was able to do the research required to assist in writing the Japanese constitution. Although the project was top secret, Ms. Gordon sneaked in to gather as much information as possible while sneaking in a few novels in order to make sure no librarians caught on to her ruse. She was instrumental in making the constitution of Japan strive for a more equal and better place for everyone, including women.
Throughout the movie, I was amazed at the strength of the Jewish people, who have given so much to such a terrible world. This is the heritage of a people who have survived and thrived and embraced the title of “chosen” by contributing wonderfully to every society where they have found themselves as refugees. What an honor to have the Japanese cultural society honoring the contributions of our people. When talking about fixing the world, this is where it starts.
Ms. Gordon may be elderly, but she is still taking on the world. She talks about the pride she feels in the Japanese making war illegal in the constitution, “forever renounce(ing) war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” She speaks as a grandmother who hopes to see that amendment ratified in every single country, as another world war would end the world, as we know it. In the stress I have been feeling with the developments in the Middle East, I very much doubt that such an amendment would work, but it is a dream well worth having.
At the reception after the movie, I felt a bit overwhelmed to be the youngest person in the room and mingled accordingly, trying to sound sophisticated and praying no one would send me back to the children’s table. I was honored to actually speak with Ms. Gordon and tell her how much I shared her dream of seeing war banned. “I am not an expert on the subject,” Ms. Gordon said modestly. “But it’s the only hope we have.”
In March 1941 – nine months before the attack on Pearl Harbor impelled America to enter the Second World War – one colorful American hero already had joined the battle: Captain America.
The famous front cover of Captain America #1 showed its titular hero punching Hitler straight in the face, sending the ridiculous-looking Führer tumbling backward.
With that single unforgettable image, the Nazi ideal of the Aryan übermensch was dealt a fatal blow, as was what remained of the once respectable American “isolationist” movement.
As the first comic book character to enlist in World War II, Captain America was an instant success, selling nearly 1 million copies per issue. In a way that’s not surprising, considering the character’s pedigree. Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, second-generation Jews who made no secret of their source of inspiration.
The character of Captain America, Simon said, “was our way of lashing out at the Nazi menace.”
In that first issue of the Marvel comic, readers meet the superhero’s “everyman” alter ego, Steve Rogers. A sickly Depression-era child, Rogers loses his parents at a young age, then tries to enlist in the military. Too feeble to join the regular forces, Rogers volunteers for a top-secret military medical experiment known as “Operation Rebirth,” being overseen by one Dr. Reinstein. (Note the character’s Jewish name, one that sounds suspiciously like “Albert Einstein.” In 1941, Einstein was a wildly popular – if little understood – cultural icon in the real world.)
In need of a human “guinea pig” to test his formula, Dr. Reinstein injects Rogers with his Secret-Soldier Serum. Unfortunately, a Nazi spy infiltrates the experiment and kills Dr. Reinstein, leaving the newly empowered Rogers as the serum’s sole beneficiary.
Hailed by the U.S. military as a superhuman savior, Rogers dons a patriotic costume of red, white and blue, with a star on his chest and stripes on his waist. Captain America is quickly dispatched to his most important early assignment: destroy his evil “super soldier” counterpart, a Nazi agent called the Red Skull.
Fast forward to 2011: This summer, Captain America returns to the big screen. Unfortunately, the spirit of 1941 (let alone 1776) is a long way off. In an era of anti-Americanism – at home and abroad – the movie’s director and star have been playing down the character’s American identity.
Director Joe Johnston insists that “this is not about America so much as it is about the spirit of doing the right thing.” Chris Evans, who plays the title character, echoes the sentiment, saying “I’m not trying to get too lost in the American side of it. This isn’t a flag-waving movie.”
This isn’t the first time Hollywood has eagerly de-Americanized superheroes, sometimes by undercutting traces of “corny” patriotism with doses of winking irony. Take the 2006 film “Superman Returns,” which has Clark Kent’s boss cynically describing Superman as fighting for “truth, justice all that stuff.”
Or take the 2009 movie based on a hugely popular toy from Hasbro. The film’s title, “G.I Joe: A Real American Hero,” was trimmed down to just “G.I Joe,” the toy’s iconic logo with the American flag was removed, and the storyline transformed the title character’s American anti-terror squad into an international peacekeeping task force that apparently took its marching orders from the United Nations.
The fact is, Hollywood movies today live or die based on worldwide ticket and DVD sales, and in a world in which American flags are burned regularly from Paris to the Punjab, received wisdom has it that anything too “American” is international box office poison.
Anticipating anti-American blowback, Paramount and Marvel Studios actually offered distributors the choice of marketing the new movie using its real title – “Captain America: The First Avenger” – or opting for simply calling it “The First Avenger.”
Most distributors say they are going with the original title, eager to take advantage of decades of “Captain America” brand recognition. However, three countries – Russia, Ukraine and South Korea – have decided to promote the movie as “The First Avenger.”
By literally cloaking their character in patriotism, Kirby and Simon displayed unabashed love of, and confidence in, the United States. Like many Jewish Americans during World War II, such as the heads of Hollywood studios, they felt duty bound to use their creativity in the service of their country.
But it was Michelle’s willingness to acknowledge that she had these symptoms and needed help dealing with them; her willingness to accept what others saw in her behavior even when she didn’t and trust in their judgment over her own, that helped this couple survive the ravages of the illness. What Michelle was able to do is very difficult for many who are chronically ill. But accepting that one needs help in seeing their symptoms and having the willingness to deal with them, can mean the difference between a healthy marriage and a troubled one, and make a world of difference to the well spouse.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sholom Aleichem: Laughter through TearsBy Theodore Bikel; Derek Goldman, director; Tamara Brooks and Merima Ključo, musicThrough January 18, 2009Theater J, the Washington DC JCC1529 Sixteenth Street, NW, Washingtonhttp://www.theaterj.org
Generally, sequels are best avoided. It should not have taken three remakes to prove that the first “Planet of the Apes” was more than enough, and the movie-going public would have been far better off without repeats of films like “Legally Blonde” and “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Therefore, seeing “Fiddler on the Roof Returns” or “Sholom Aleichem Strikes Back” on the shelf at your local movie rental shop should not inspire excitement – but in the capable hands of award-winning actor Theodore Bikel, Tevye’s return is anything but redundant. Bikel’s one-man production at the Washington DC JCC’s Theater J is so successful, because it not only looks back to the Eastern European shtetls but it finds timeless tales and lessons that still apply today.
Bikel’s world premiere of “Sholom Aleichem: Laughter through Tears,” which seamlessly blends his skills as a storyteller, dancer, singer, and actor, could have been a flop. The actor, 84, has played Tevye the milkman more than 2,000 times, and he could be easily be forgiven for developing a multiple personality disorder and believing he was Sholem Naumovich Rabinovich (1859-1916), who went by the pen name Sholom Aleichem. “In my work I deal in many things: in the memories of yesterday, the realities of today, the dreams of tomorrow,” Bikel notes at the beginning of the play. “My task is not to pretend to be someone else; it is to become that someone else. Harder to do when you portray an actual person, living or dead.”
Growing up, Bikel’s father used to read him Sholom Aleichem stories and plays in Yiddish every Tuesday night after dinner, so playing Tevye when he grew up was like “simply taking an old garment out of the closet, something I had not worn for a long time and, wonder of wonders, it was still a perfect fit.” Not only does the old garment fit Bikel perfectly, but Sholom Aleichem’s writing – however dated the statements are in their cultural and political references, like: “Tevye is not a woman, Tevye can restrain himself”- still rings true.
“I came to America because I thought this is the one place where Jews can have a life. But I was not prepared for what I found,” says Bikel as Sholom Aleichem. Instead of flowing milk and honey and streets paved with gold, Sholom Aleichem found tenements, diseases, and poverty when he arrived in New York. “Not much different from the old country you might think, but there is a big difference. Over there the oppressors were always the ‘Others,’ the nobles, and the Czar’s people. Here in America Jews are scrambling to make a meager living and most of the people who oppress – the landlords, the owners of shirt factories – are Jews, that’s the difference.” As headlines about Bernard Madoff continue to dominate the news, it is clear that a lack of Jewish loyalty in the new world remains a problem, even a century later.
Sholom Aleichem himself, one can imagine, would be thrilled with Bikel’s oscillation between sobering stories and observations and humorous tales. “Believe me, if you spent just one day in kheder, you would never forget,” Bikel declares before launching into a story about the teacher – a rabbi “whose only function is to teach children and whose only educational technique consists of whipping.” To a businessman who has just seen an important deal fall through, Bikel jokes, “What are you so worried about? Relax, G-d will help. And if he doesn’t, you have an uncle in America.” And perhaps the mama of all one-liners: “I guarantee you, go through world music, Russian, French, German, Greek – nowhere except in a Jewish song will you ever hear a mention of hemorrhoids.”
Beyond the jokes and the Yiddish songs, the early part of the play is a tease. The viewer knows Tevye is coming, but he makes a very late appearance, perhaps because of his “miserable excuse for a horse,” a “wretched beast” who moves when Tevye wants to pray and won’t budge when he bids it go. “When troubles descend on Tevye, they never come singly,” Bikel announces as Tevye, as he updates the audience on Tevye’s new troubles – more poverty, an apparent suicide, a profitable shidduch that goes bankrupt. Bikel cannot resist a bit of postmodern humor. “Maybe other people, too, will one day try their hand at giving my milkman a place on the stage. They might even make Tevye sing and dance, G-d forbid. No, they wouldn’t do that, would they?” he asks. “That would reduce Anatevka, paint it smaller, make it less than I intended. I would then become like the man whose leg was cut off and who keeps feeling for it in the place where the leg used to be.”
Theodore Bikel premieres his one-man show at Theater J. All photos by Stan Barouh.
The question whether Broadway versions of “Fiddler on the Roof,” with their distinctly American flavor of nostalgia, trivialize shtetl life, is obviously subject to debate. Tevye has perhaps become the Jewish everyman that Willy Loman always wanted to be; attention has been paid. But the irony of the man who has all but become Tevye, impersonating the man who conceived Tevye, while calling into question the theatrical portrayal of Tevye, makes Bikel’s play is a must-see not only for what the actor has to say about Tevye, but for the mark Tevye has made on the actor.
Bikel tells of Sholom Aleichem’s meeting with Mark Twain – “Neither of us uses his real name; my nom de plume means hello, and his measures the depth of a river” – in which Sholom Aleichem told Twain, “some people have the temerity – our word for it is chutzpah – to call me the Yiddish Mark Twain!” Twain replied, “They are wrong,” he said. “I am the American Sholom Aleichem!” Hopefully Bikel will forgive the chutzpah in the not inappropriate comparison of the poignancy and brilliance of “Sholom Aleichem: Laughter through Tears” to another actor who is in his 80s and who has become Mark Twain in his own plays, Harold Rowe “Hal” Holbrook, Jr.
For more information about Theodore Bikel, visit his website at http://www.bikel.com/.
Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at email@example.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.