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“West Bank Story”-a film review

February 19, 2010 2 comments

By Sara Appel-Lennon

LA JOLLA, California–West Bank Story received the Academy Award for Best Short in 2006. Israeli and Arab communities embraced the film. At the International Film Festival in Dubai, West Bank Story screened most often of all the films. Audiences at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem film festivals were fond of it too.

Director Ari Sandel, and screen writers, Sandel and Kim Ray, created this film as part of Sandel’s Master of Fine Arts Degree at University of Southern California. Sandel made certain the film was captivating, funny, and gave a positive message to Israelis and Arabs alike. He clarified that this serious topic needed to be presented as simplistic. “It is a movie about HOPE and PEACE and that is it,” said Sandel.

West Bank Story is patterned after West Side Story. The rivalry between Israelis and Palestinians has elements similar to those of the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story. In both films groups of people fight about land and freedom. Then a love story blossoms between two young people from opposing sides. Sandel and Ray portray a “Middle East Conflict” vignette with humor by using song, dance, and costumes. The singing and dancing served to entertain and evoke emotion. The choreography captured audience attention.

West Bank Story takes place in present day on the West Bank in Palestine. The film starts with a Palestinian snapping his fingers as a signal for the others to join in song and dance. An Israeli motions his group with the same finger snapping much like in West Side Story. The plot centers on competing falafel stands next door to one another . The Israelis have Kosher King; the Palestinians have Hummus Hut. The restaurant uniforms match the colors of their country’s flag and add to the film’s humor.

An Israeli and a Palestinian argue “Your side of the screen is encroaching on my side of the screen.” The complaint symbolizes their fight about land.

David, an Israeli soldier falls in love with Fatima, a Palestinian female “Employee of the Month” from Hummus Hut. Much like Tony and Maria, they know their parents mutual dislike,  yet their love binds them together.

When Fatima runs after a customer who forgot his food, she yells “humus.”  Israeli soldiers stop her with pointed guns. David intervenes by explaining she said hummus not Hamas. Fatima retorts “Do I look like a suicide bomber? Do you think I would be caught dead in this uniform?” pointing to her Humus Hut hat which resembles  skewers of gyros on each side.

The Israelis buy a new piece of machinery which takes up some Humus Hut space. A Palestinian sabotages the Kosher King machinery. The Israelis then build a wall around Humus Hut and start a fire.  Hummus Hut burns. The Israelis cheer. But,  Kosher King goes up in flames too.

Fatima yells in desperation “Is this what you all want? Is this how you want to live your life?’ David then takes a stand to become rejoined with Fatima. Both falafel stands have burned and the customers are hungry. The customers still must be fed and the line grows longer. How will they feed the customers and carry on business as usual?

To find out, see the film. West Bank Story is a film to remember.

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Appel-Lennon is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Her email: appels@jewishsightseeing.com

‘Devotion’ is a journey through emotional trauma

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro, Harper , 2009, ISBN 978-0-06-162834-4, 245 pages, $24.99.

By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—Successful though she may be as an author, Dani Shapiro has had a difficult emotional life. The parent whom she admired was killed in a car crash following his seizure behind the wheel. The parent with whom she had always battled somehow survived the same horrible crash, but her near- death did not serve to bring them closer.

Shapiro is of a generation sandwiched between traumas. Her son, Jacob, suffered from infantile spasms, a stormy brain condition that almost always is fatal. Fighting for her son, confounding the terrible odds, Shapiro alternated seeking the wisdom and comfort of her father’s Orthodox Judaism with meditational experiments in Buddhism. In both practices of devotion, she was drawn to order and to ritual, even as she once found magnetism in the meetings and procedures of Alcoholics Anonymous , even though she herself was not an alcoholic. Shapiro’s search for peace of mind is ceaseless.

There may be times when readers feel like unpaid psychiatrists upon whose couches Shapiro plops herself and begins relating in episodic fashion her search for mental peace and for God. Her self-absorbed narrations might even be considered a burden– recounting in near streams of consciousness her doubts, her quests, her frequent starts and stops. However, although Shapiro doesn’t bring certainty to her subject matter, she certainly knows how to write. Her phrasing is artful, her self-analysis insightful, her book strangely compelling, even to strangers.

I dare say that I understand why Shapiro never could find peace—only meditative approximations of it. Writers tend to be observers—their minds are frequently analyzing their environments, their mental processes often absorbed with seeking and finding just the right words to describe what they see or feel. Peace of mind cannot come easily with such mental acuity—one cannot turn one’s faculties on and off at the same time. Imagine a Zen riddle master asking students to describe in detail the exact sensations of one’s own mind letting go. Does answering the question preclude the experience?

Nevertheless, Shapiro finds more peace at the end of the book than she had at the beginning. She has reengaged in a Judaism alloyed with the insight and practice of Buddhism. She has donned her father’s tefillin. She has visited her mother’s grave and recited kaddish.

As readers and as human beings we are thankful that for some unfathomable reason—coupled with experimental medicine—little Jacob beat the odds and went on to lead a life as normal as any other American child’s.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World