Historian Deborah Dash Moore will discuss her new book, “GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation,” at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Sunday afternoon Oct. 18. In an exclusive interview with the JUF News, Moore, the William R. Kenan Junior Professor of Religion at Vassar College, said she was prompted to begin her book 10 years ago during the 50th anniversary celebrations for the end of World War II. “I was struck at the time by the disjuncture between the focus on the Holocaust, where Jews were understandably victims, and the parallel focus on the end of the war, where Jews just disappeared. They were never mentioned. The only way in which Jews seemed to appear in the context of WWII was as victims of the Holocaust.”
Since Moore’s own father, Martin Dash, was a WWII veteran, as were many of his friends, she began to wonder about the Jews who served in the military on the American side and what that meant for them. “As I dove into it I began to realize that the dominant narrative of WWII was that of the melting pot. WWII [supposedly] erased the differences for white ethnics, so that people came out of service ‘Americans.’”
Moore was already working on “GI Jews” when she heard about 9/11 on the radio. “In some ways, it was eerily like Pearl Harbor. It was all aural for me, which was how Pearl Harbor was; people heard the news on the radio. I saw the television reporting much later in the day, when I got home. My 9/11 experience made me want to bring a sense of immediacy to my book, bring alive the immediacy of the moment.”
To read more about “GI Jews,” as well as additional excerpts from this interview, visit www.films42.com/columns/berga
The Chicago International Film Festival begins Thursday, Oct. 6 and ends Thursday, Oct. 20. Just like last year, all films will show either at the Landmark Century Center Theatre on North Clark Street or at the AMC River East 21 on East Illinois Street. This year’s schedule contains over 100 films, and at least four of them will be of specific interest to Jewish audiences: “Bee Season,” “Fateless,” “Free Zone,” and “Protocols of Zion.”
The most controversial of the four is undoubtedly “Free Zone.” Forget everything you might have heard about the tzuris unleashed when actress Natalie Portman was seen kissing co-star Aki Avni at the Western Wall; “Free Zone” is a very serious film, both well made and exceptionally thought-provoking.
“Free Zone” begins with a tight close-up on the tear-stained face of the beautiful Portman, and the camera remains there, for minutes that feel like hours. As “Rebecca,” Portman’s character, cries, audience attention turns to the haunting music on the soundtrack, which sounds vaguely familiar but weirdly dissonant. It takes a while to realize the voice belongs to Chava Alberstein and she’s singing her version of “Chad Gadya,” originally recorded in 1989 during the first intifada: “All the nights [of Passover] I asked only four questions. This night I have another question: when will the circle of terror end?”
When the camera finally pulls back, we see that Rebecca is in the back seat of a tour van. Her driver is “Hanna,” played by Hana Laszlo (who won an acting award for this role at last May’s Cannes Film Festival). Hanna has a mysterious errand to run and since Rebecca has nowhere else to go, Hanna reluctantly takes her along. It turns out they’re bound for an economic “free zone” at the border between Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. When they finally arrive there, they meet “Leila” (wonderfully played by Hiam Abbass).
What makes “Free Zone” so special is director Amos Gitai’s ability to explore the personal and the political in the same frame. All three of these very fine actresses play intriguing characters while simultaneously embodying archetypes. For a time it seems the American, the Israeli, and the Palestinian will find a way to accommodate one another, but in the end Chava Alberstein’s voice returns to drown out their final argument: “Today I don't know who I am.”
Based on the best-selling book by Myla Goldberg, “Bee Season” is a drama about a Jewish family directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (best known for “The Deep End”). The screenplay was written by Naomi Foner (who also wrote “Finding Isaiah” and “Running on Empty”). “Bee Season” stars Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche.
“Fateless,” the semi-autobiographical tale of a 14 year-old Jewish boy from Budapest, who finds himself swept up by the Holocaust, is also a literary adaptation, based on a Hungarian novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Imre Kertesz (who wrote the film’s screenplay). This is the first film ever directed by Lajos Koltai, who served as cinematographer on such well-known recent films as “Being Julia” and “Sunshine.” Koltai received a Best Director nomination for “Fateless” at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
On the other hand, “Protocols of Zion” is a documentary. In his press kit for the film, Producer/Director Marc Levin wrote: “When I first read the book “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” years ago, I thought it was like a Japanese sci-fi comic and an over-the-top artifact of a time long gone. But after 9/11, I realized how dangerous it still was. The Protocols re-emerged in a new, virulent form and I set out to understand why.”
“Bee Season” and “Protocols of Zion” are already scheduled for theatrical releases later this year, whereas “Free Zone” and “Fateless” have yet to find distributors. However, filmmakers from all over the world attend the CIFF, and often participate in question/answer sessions after their films are screened, making the film festival experience especially enriching.
For more information, consult the CIFF website www.chicagofilmfestival.org.
To hear Chava Alberstein sing “Chad Gadya” (from her London album), visit www.hebrewsongs.com/song-chadgadyachava.htm
The world premiere of the new musical “Tevye” at the Theatre Building Chicago on Aug. 13 was an unqualified triumph, and the creative team is currently planning additional performances in South Florida and Los Angeles. The second annual HAMSA festival “From the Middle East to the Midwest” had a lively throng in Lincoln Park clapping and cheering the weekend of Aug.27-28. Featured performers included the Manhattan-based group Pharoah’s Daughter and the Iraqi-born Israeli musician Yair Dalal. Undoubtedly the year 5766 will bring many talented performers to Chicago, and hopefully both Pharoah’s Daughter and Yair Dalal will be back soon as well.
Off the shelf
“Walk on Water,” the best-grossing Israeli film in U.S.A. box office history, has just been released on DVD. Lior Ashkenazi stars as a Mossad agent given a sensitive assignment: he is to befriend a German tourist and find out if the man’s grandfather, a notorious Nazi war criminal, is still alive. In an exclusive interview published in last February’s JUF News, Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films, said he chose to release “Walk on Water” in the U.S.A. because it “addresses important and complicated issues with fascinating characters.” Unfortunately, the film falls short in its last moments, providing superficial resolutions to both Eyal’s personal and political conflicts. Nevertheless, Gottlieb was certainly correct when he stated, “There’s a lot to discuss over coffee afterwards.”
Follow this link to read more about “Walk on Water” in the context of recent Israeli films: http://www.juf.org/news_public_affairs/article.asp?key=5742
© Jan Lisa Huttner (10/1/05)
Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to: tzivi (at) msn (dot) com