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San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘Breaking Upwards’

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Dana Greene

LA JOLLA, California—Breaking Upwards is an engaging romantic comedy about a twenty-something New York couple, living in the West Village, who after four years into their couplehood, decide their relationship is at a dead end.  Unfortunately,  they have difficulty being apart.  This semi-autographical film is based on the actual  lives of director/actor Daryl Wein and actress  Zoe Lister-Jones, who also produced the film. 

The opening scene is the two of them having sex and then we see them texting on their cellphones independently while both are sitting the breakfast table.  No wonder they are bored.  Daryl and Zoe decide to start taking “days off” from each other, while exploring other opportunities and people.  The whole idea is to gain independence.

Zoe, an actress, is getting acting jobs, while Daryl, a struggling writer, is babysitting to get by.   Basically, they both need to find out who they are, but Daryl even more.  Between the two of them, Daryl is the much more sympathetic character.  Zoe is really tough.

The comedic relief comes from their two dysfunctional families and reaches a climax during the Passover Seder.  

This movie is perfect for the upcoming San Diego Jewish Film Festival because it’s a movie most singles can relate to…about breaking up.  People who should see it?  Twenties,  thirties, and fortysomethings  who are still searching for “the one” will be interested in this topic.

Breaking Upwards is not only about breaking up, but also about the personal growth that may occur during such a process.  It also refers to the fact that it’s a prolonged breakup taking months to happen.   

For two co-dependents, no matter what happens , breaking up is going to hurt.

Breaking Upwards will screen at 8:15 p.m., Saturday, February 13, at the AMC La Jolla

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Greene is a San Diego-based freelancer who specializes in writing about relationships

San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘Zrubavel’

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Yvonne Greenberg

LA JOLLA, California — The first film ever made by Ethiopian Israelis,  Zrubavel, a drama, provides great insight into their way of life, about which many Israelis have had  heretofore little interest in exploring.  Kudos to Shmuel  Beru, also an Ethiopian Israeli and its filmmaker, writer, and director, who at the age of eight courageously walked across the Sudanese desert with many Ethiopian Jews to immigrate to Israel.

Zrubavel involves an Ethiopian Jewish family that immigrated to Israel.  The film focuses on their religiosity and caring for and about their children and grandchildren and their future. We sense their friendly nature, as they share the Shabbat dinner with friends and friends of friends. 

The movie begins with aspiring adolescent filmmaker Yitzak (Daniel Beru) introducing his family and describing his street where black, white, and red people live, and his resentment over the overbearing presence of police in case there is trouble. His orthodox dad wants him to become a rabbi. Mom wants him to be a soccer star.  Grandfather Gite, who used to be a colonel, is now a street cleaner in Israel.  There is a very moving scene where Yitzak, feeling sorry for grandpa, finishes the street cleaning, and sends him to eat

Grandpa wants his son Gil to become a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, but the doors close to them at every school they go to, even cooking school, because of discrimination based on their color.

Gite’s daughter, Almaz, wants to become a singer and choose her own husband.  She has a boyfriend who is a distant cousin, and the family insists on knowing exactly how they are related.    

We delight in Almaz’s  PG love scene with her boyfriend.

However, Beru also shows scenes in his portrayal of the family that are not so sweet.  

The musicality, from rhythmical hand clapping and street dancing to a smaller and even larger combo of Almaz’s boyfriend, where she sings, adds great vibrancy to the film. 

Much more goes on with the family which is culturally enriching and certainly worth seeing.  

In 2008, at the closing ceremonies at the Haifa Film Festival,  Zrubavel won the Sharon Amrani Television Drama Award.  That award is considered by those who made Zrubavel the achievement of an entire Ethiopian community!     

Zrubavel is the first film Beru ever wrote.  He hopes that it will break down the barriers between Israelis and the Ethiopians. 

Zrubavel, in Hebrew and Amharic with English subtitles, will be shown  at the AMC La Jolla on Thursday, February 18, at 7:30 PM as part of the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival.

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Yvonne Greenberg is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘Look Into My Eyes’

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

 
By Paul Greenberg
 
LA JOLLA, California–By interviewing people in the United States and Europe, including a proponent of the pure German perspective and one of his followers who tries to resist looking into the eyes or even being touched by Jews because he considers them part of the devil, farmers, leaders of churches and their members, a French comedian, newspaper reporters who have covered anti-Semitic incidents, a German who supposedly left the right wing for something much tamer, and an Afro-American long married to a Jewish woman, rabbi-turned-filmmaker  Naftaly Gliksberg explores in his documentary, Look Into My Eyes, the pervasiveness of contemporary anti-Semitism. 

What he generally finds is familiar and not all that surprising: that anti-Semitism still exists in various forms in rural areas and big cities in the United States and Europe.  What he also finds, however, is far more interesting, unexpected, and unsettling: that the anti-Semites on camera are more than willing to spew all kinds of pathetic examples, some subtle, of hatefulness towards Jews after first providing evidence that they don’t hate them.
 
To wit: a leader of a church in the United States explains that Jews are the Chosen People, the Passion isn’t anti-Semitic, and  the Church doesn’t blame them for killing Jesus Christ.  He later adds that Jews implore Christians who leave Israel to come back only because they want their money and Hitler wouldn’t have killed six million Jews if only the Jews had gone back to Palestine.
 
A German, Mahler, an attorney who left the right wing because it didn’t espouse a pure German perspective, argues that skinheads aren’t part of the devil but are part of the opposition youth culture.  He later points out that the Jews have made two strategic mistakes: establishing the state of Israel and the cult of the Holocaust.
 
Another German, Randy, a Holocaust denier who supposedly left the right wing movement (and  disavowed its ideology) in order to prevent the German authorities from taking away his children, is unwilling to part ways with his valuable Nazi flag and still possesses a copy of the Mein Kampf and a large collection of Nazi audio CDs and brochures.
 
A Black man in the United States, who chose to marry a Jewish woman and, according to Gliksberg: “goes to synagogue more than I do, professes an affiliation for Israel, the Jews, and Jewesses,”  but nonetheless blames the Jews for the Crown Heights incident, doesn’t agree with the Jewish belief that whoever made this world made it a special place for them, and blames the Jews for moving into Crown Heights, which was once an almost exclusively Black neighborhood, so they could buy homes and sell them to the highest bidder. 
 
An example of the more subtle form of anti-Semitism denial is exemplified by a French newspaperman whose own paper devoted four front page stories to the kidnapping for ransom and killing of a 23 year-old Jewish man.  The alleged killer admitted that he kidnapped the man because Jews have money and can afford to pay the ransom, but the newspaperman denied that the killing was motivated by anti-Semitism, and explained in a convoluted and unpersuasive way that the perpetrators were simply street punks who didn’t have an anti-Semitic ideology but absorbed an anti-Semitic background expressed in their statement.   He couldn’t explain why the paper would devote so much prominent space to a story simply about street thugs kidnapping and killing a young man.
 
Unfortunately, in ground that has been covered before in other films, Look Into My Eyes also tells the story of the killing of 42 Jews in Kelc, Poland, in 1946 who were thrown out of windows and beaten by the locals as they lay on the sidewalk in retaliation for an eight-year-old who went missing from his parents and claimed he was kidnapped by Jews.  

The killings also were spurred by the locals who, assisted by the police, spread the rumor that Jews tried to kill him so they could get blood to make Passover matzoh.  It also shows an interview with one of the heads of the National Alliance, a white separatist political organization based in the United States.  Gliksberg gets into a discussion with the leader about whether one of the boots the group sells that has indentations in the form of a swastika on the bottoms is disrespectful because you are always stepping on the swastika.  The leader points out that people with a white mindset, as opposed to those with a Jewish mindset, don’t see it that way: they just like the swastika, and, anyway, you can leave a swastika imprint when you walk in the snow and rain.
 
All-in-all, the film is at times captivating, made so by the disarming interviewing style of its filmmaker and the sadly idiotic responses of its subjects.
 
Look Into My Eyes, in Polish, Hebrew, German, and English with English subtitles will be shown at the AMC  La Jolla on Sunday, February 21, at 1:30 PM as part of the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival. A panel discussion will follow.
 
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Paul Greenberg is a freelance journalist based in University City area of San Diego.

“We, the free and liberal people… ”

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Shoshana Bryen

 
WASHINGTON, D.C.– Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi spoke before the Knesset Monday, a rare honor for a visitor. He used the platform not only to praise Israel and talk about the warm Italian-Israeli ties that have grown and deepened during his tenure, but also to raise an increasingly difficult subject-Western civilization and the need to defend it.
 
News reports are concentrated on two themes-Berlusconi’s comments about Iran and the possibility of Israel joining the European Union (EU).
 
The Iran part is important, both because of the threats it poses and because Italian companies have been doing civilian business freely in Iran, including energy business.  Berlusconi noted in his speech that Italian-Iranian trade has been reduced by about 30 percent during his tenure and that ENI, the Italian energy giant, has declined to renew a contract to stay in Iran. He pledged to respect new sanctions.
 
But why the EU? Israel has never asked to join, although it has close trade and political relations with it. An effort to upgrade Israel’s diplomatic status was dampened by European reaction to Operation Cast Lead. 
 
The importance for Berlusconi may be in Article 49 of the EU Treaty, which includes the sentence, “The term ‘European’ combines geographical, historical and cultural elements which all contribute to European identity… [which] is subject to review by each succeeding generation.”
 
Who and what constitutes “European” is subject to review.
 
Israel is unquestionably the home of educated, inquisitive minds; representative government; capitalist economics and entrepreneurialism; tolerance, liberalism and religious freedom; and rule of law. All of which Europe is supposed to be; which Europe has been; and which Europe is increasingly hard-pressed to remain. In living memory-in Israel’s national memory-Europe abandoned its liberal tolerance and the Holocaust was the result. Abandoning the defense of European liberalism now would be a tragedy.
 
For Europe. 
 
Adversaries of the West, be they Taliban, al Qaeda, Hamas or Iran, are motivated in some measure by confidence in the belief that what they do is good, important, moral and righteous. They are not only reacting to what they believe is wrong with us, but what is right for them. The West appears far less confident in “Western civilization” and has been known to apologize for it. 
 
The Israel Test by George Gilder posits that one’s attitude toward Israel-positive or negative-is in fact a test of one’s self. Whether you see Israel as a positive, liberal force in the world or the nasty giant that “stole Palestine” is not so much about what Israel actually does as it is about your own worldview hence European “punishment” of Israel for defending itself against Hamas.
 
Prime Minister Berlusconi has no such problem. His worldview was expressed as “pride of the Judeo-Christian culture that formed the base of Western civilization.” He told the Knesset, “We, the free and liberal people across the world, thank you for your very existence.”

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member

American Wealth and International Affairs

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky
 
JERUSALEM–Money, money everywhere, but not enough. That’s the message from the massive deficit already apparent and projected for the United States. It comes from too many wars, too many tax cuts, too many entitlement programs, and too much exploitation by highly paid capitalists who forced the government into unprecedented bail-outs. Who’s to blame is problematic. Any quest for responsibility will produce a political dog fight that worsens the chances of getting cooperation to deal with it.

A newspaper headline captures the strategic threat, “Huge Deficits May Alter U.S. Politics and Global Power.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/us/politics/02deficit.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

At stake is the war on terror, health reform, tax and spending leverages to increase employment, along with prosaic domestic programs that are suffering on account of financial problems among states and localities. There is also a prospect of Chinese influence on American policy due to government bonds they have acquired from selling consumer and industrial goods to Americans, Europeans and others. The same changes in international commerce have also brought about the closing of factories throughout countries where shopping is a favored pastime.

It is too early to write finish to the power of North America and Europe. The Chinese cannot unload their bonds without reducing their value, and hurting themselves along with the United States. America and Europe are wealthy, and may be wise enough to avoid disaster. Yet signs of trouble include the interruption of medical evacuations from Haiti to the United States due to arguments as to which institutions would pay for treatment, and the president’s comments that the country could not afford an endless war in Afghanistan, a country his experts warned was unrepairable.

The dismay over deficits may be more important for the prospect of health reform than the loss of a Massachusetts Senate seat. The country with the best medical facilities in the world may continue to have them unavailable to much of its population. Large numbers will get only emergency treatment in public hospitals, and others who think they have paid for decent care will suffer the stinginess of insurance companies.

While avoiding the temptation of indicating which president or which bloc of Congress has contributed what portion to the deficit, it is useful to identify some traits of the United States that contribute to its problem.

The financial problems of the United States (national, state, and local governments) suffer from taxes that are lower than those of other western democracies, as well as from the costs of its overseas commitments. Americans concerned to deal with their deficits should not focus on their domestic programs, which generally are less generous than those of other democracies.

Wealth may be the single most important factor responsible for American prominence in international conflicts. Resources per capita in the United States are lower than in Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, and Sweden, suggesting that the average individual in those countries is better off than the average American. However, the American population is larger, and the overall wealth of the United States is greater than those countries. This gives the American government leverage not possessed by others. Military power derives from the total wealth of the United States, as well as its being the greatest surviving western power at the end of World War II, and then one of the two major players in the Cold War.

Being the lone superpower left standing in 1990 invited endless appeals for assistance, and made the United States the most attractive target for those whose targets are capitalism, individualism, the rich, and the non-Muslim. The World Trade Center fell as a result of the second attack on the icon of all that was viewed to be evil. The Gulf War of 1991 was a prelude to major military investments, largely American, in the area from Iraq eastward and southward. Iran’s animosity to the United States dates from intense opposition to the friends of the Shah and the hostage taking of 1979-81. It does not seem to be diminishing under the Obama effort at engagement.

The prominence of the United States, as opposed to that of Britain, France, Germany, or Russia in international politics is not only a product of wealth and military power. The structure of American government also has made its contribution to the role the country has chosen for itself. The separation of power, and the competition between Congress and the presidency adds to the heroic defense of national values not so apparent in the parliamentary regimes of Europe. The unity between executive and legislature may facilitate the willingness to accommodate hostile forces, most apparent in going along with Muslim and Third World demands in the United Nations, or abstaining alongside American nays.

Somewhere in the American mix is the power of the Jewish lobby. One must be careful of exaggerating. It is far from dominant. Insofar as Israel is often a target of Muslim and other Third World countries, however, Jewish influence in Congress and the White House is among the factors responsible for United States vetoes in the Security Council, and votes against resolutions in the General Assembly and other UN organs where European governments are generally not as outspoken.

While on the subject of Jews, it is appropriate to continue with the advantages of a country that is beleaguered, but also small and limited in its responsibilities. Israel devotes three or four times the percentage of its resources to security as the United States, and has suffered perhaps 10 times the casualties on a proportional basis since World War II, but it has advantages that the American giant can envy. While American troops fight from bases on every continent but Australia and Antartica, Israel’s military operations are restricted to a couple of hundred miles from the center of its country, plus the occasional operation further afield. The cultures and languages of America’s  enemies are beyond the ken of its intelligence capabilities, while Israel has operated throughout its history with agents in places not so foreign to those who direct and analyze the gathering of intelligence. Israel can get credit for the quick dispatch of a few well trained people, with appropriate equipment to Haiti and other disaster areas. The United States starts slower, but does the heavy lifting of prolonged care and the refurbishing of infrastructure. Israel’s airport and national airline led the world in security, but they deal with a smaller number of flights than those at a sizable American or European airport, and need not bother with inflated demands to treat every passenger as posing the same risk. Israeli security personnel pay less attention to aged Jews than to young Arabs.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Sports and the Arts

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By David Amos

SAN DIEGO–If you follow the National Football League and the San Diego Chargers, you were as disappointed as I was in their shabby performance in the playoffs two weeks ago. The “Kings of Choke” did it again, failing to perform at their best when faced with additional pressure and scrutiny.

Personally, I felt cheated, having devoted a substantial amount of time reading about this season’s team, and being involved in the sixteen regular season games. A salient feature of a true professional is consistency. We can forgive seeing overpaid athletes, many of them with an ego much larger than their talent and discipline. But, to witness sloppy play, major mistakes, unnecessary penalties, mental errors and sloppy execution, are inexcusable. Actually, I was insulted to have devoted my time and emotions, and faced such unexpected incompetence.

 A fabled college football coach was interviewed after a losing effort in a game. He was asked “What is your opinion on the execution of your team?” Without hesitating, he answered, “I’m all for it!” 

How does all this relate to the arts and to music? In both sports and the performing arts you will find the elements of talent, proper preparation, discipline, a healthy mix of arrogance and humility, pride in one’s performance, and the ability to focus at the moments when it counts the most.

A good orchestra, choir, ballet company, opera, or even soloists and ensembles have to be at their best when the pressure is up. And this is where the Chargers failed miserably. Is it the fault of the coaches or the players? Or is it that the local media hyped this club to a level it did not deserve? This can be debated somewhere else.

But, I have seen examples to the contrary. In the various recordings in which I conducted the Israel Philharmonic in the 1980’s, I had the opportunity to talk to many of the musicians. A comment from one of them explained a lot: “We have in front of us some great conductors, some very ordinary ones, and a few really bad ones. But, we have pride; we will play our best for anyone, no matter how terrible he or she may be. We will rise to the occasion, because our personal and orchestral reputation is at stake.” 

I hear similar comments from musicians in London orchestras, where the players rally to make the extra effort when faced with a weak director, to make sure that the final product is as perfect as it can be. This is true professionalism. 

In music, you are less likely to be disappointed. Musicians, whether amateur or professionals, will give their all to achieve the best results possible, with enthusiasm and finesse. In music, you do not have to wait until the last 30 seconds to know if this was a satisfying performance or not. In sports, the element of “win-lose” is so important, that it supersedes the element of joy of the entire experience. In sports, it is like gambling; the thrill of winning and losing is uppermost. Many times, we watch a game so fearful of losing thatwe fail to enjoy  the actual full experience. In theatre, music, and the other performing arts, the joy comes from a larger, deeper, more spiritual base.

We may still enjoy being spectators of competitive sports, but I urge you to direct your hours of leisure in activities which are more likely to uplift and inspire you. Invest in the arts. They are far less likely to disappoint, and the rewards will linger, and even connect with each other.

Involvement in the arts not only satisfies immediate emotional needs, but is also an investment in the future. The arts define who we are, and the legacy we leave for future generations. Civilizations are remembered by their wars and their culture. 

This is exactly why I have given a lot of my energy and creativity to promote the living works of Jewish artists, in music, sculpture, visual arts, literature, and drama. There is such a treasury of material waiting to be created, waiting for our support, sponsorship, and enjoyment. As Michelangelo is quoted as saying: “I have a block of granite; I want to create an artistic sculpture; all I have to do is chip away all that doesn’t look like that sculpture I envision.” 

In the world of music, I have talked to composers who, in different words, say the same thing: We have all these notes at our disposal; they are there, waiting for us. All we need is the inspiration and support to put them in the right order to create beautiful music. 

Let us all become pro-active in promoting some of these worthy thoughts.

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Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has guest conducted professional orchestras around the world.