Jewish Arts

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Ahead of former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters’s Canadian tour in October, B’nai Brith Canada and award-winning filmmaker Ian Halperin will premiere a film exposing the anti-Israel rocker’s history of promoting anti-Semitism. “What motivated B’nai Brith to get involved [with screening the film] is the chance to promote awareness that the BDS movement is inherently anti-Semitic, and that its supporters, like Roger Waters, strengthen the campaign that seeks Israel’s destruction,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn told JNS.org.

The 3rd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art runs from Oct. 1-Nov. 16, featuring work from more than 200 Israeli and international artists who have creatively addressed a diverse array of Jewish content. For its debut in 2013, the festival “had around 60 participating artists, and only 10 of them were from outside Israel,” but this year’s group of artists contains roughly equal percentages of Israeli and foreign-born participants, said biennale founder Rami Ozeri. “This [international representation] will give us more interpretations of what contemporary Jewish art can be,” Ozeri told JNS.org.

Director Joshua Weinstein’s “Menashe,” which debuts nationally July 28, emanates a rarely seen authenticity, tenderness and depth sadly lacking in other mainstream on-screen depictions of Hasidic Jews and their communities, writes film reviewer Jane Hanser.

As Israeli actress Gal Gadot’s “Wonder Woman” film heads toward $400 million in earnings, and numerous big-name musical acts line up to perform in Israel this summer, the influence of the BDS movement’s cultural boycott of the Jewish state appears to be waning. Following May’s performances in Tel Aviv by Justin Bieber and Aersomith, the upcoming major shows hitting Israel include Tom Jones, Armin van Buuren, Britney Spears, the Pixies, Guns N' Roses, Rod Stewart, Lil Wayne, Radiohead and comedian Chris Rock.

Following the recent 50th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification, the city is going through a renewal of multiculturalism underscoring the richness of its diversity. The Israel Festival, which celebrates this transformation through music and art, runs through June 18 at the Jerusalem Theatre and other local venues. Through its avant-garde fusion of music, theater and dance, the festival offers an innovative and interdisciplinary platform to widen the conversation about global cultural landscapes. 

Ever since Michael Kagan, 60, was a boy growing up in the U.K., each detail of his father’s escape from a Nazi labor camp has ricocheted through his mind and heart. Now, in his new documentary “Tunnel of Hope,” the son is sharing his father’s story with the world. It’s a story that Jack Kagan had fought to keep alive, recording not only the escape, but the murders of the vast majority of the Jews of Novogrudok—a city in Belarus—who were dead long before that fateful night. “He was driven, determined to get it out there,” says Michael Kagan.

Diplomats never pretend to be experts on acting, yet for some reason actors constantly present themselves as experts on international affairs. Hollywood award ceremonies are now dominated by awardees delivering pretentious political diatribes. The latest presumed fount of wisdom is Richard Gere, who visited Israel last week to promote a film in which he plays a character modeled on the American Jewish businessman from whom Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accepted large bribes. When you’re “impossibly good-looking,” you can get away with pro-Palestinian hypocrisy, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow.

A recently deceased co-star of the most widely viewed Holocaust drama in American television history was raised Catholic, but said he was so deeply affected by the role that he "became a Jew" in his view of the world. Fritz Weaver, who died Nov. 26 in New York City at age 90, co-starred on “Holocaust,” a four-part miniseries that aired on NBC in mid-April 1978. The miniseries chronicled the fate of Europe's Jews under Hitler through the fictional lives of a Nazi war criminal and a German Jewish family.

"Rio Olympics 2016: Sport imitates life," the latest illustration by FeinTooner. 

In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he told JNS.org. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels ($2.36 million) a year into the local cinema industry and shells out millions more to international companies filming there, and his office is decorated with posters of films produced and shot on his watch in Jerusalem. This week, the fund announced the opening of its newest frontier. Beginning this year, it will connect Israeli content creators with three major North American animation studios to turn local intellectual property into globally marketed television series.

“When it comes to apartheid, Israel sucks.” It’s a key quote delivered by American comedian Brad Stine, a devout Christian and a featured personality in the new documentary film “Hating Israel: In Search of the Truth Behind BDS.” The premiere of the film produced by Laurie Cardoza-Moore—founder and president of the Christian Zionist organization Proclaiming Justice to the Nations—was held in Jerusalem on June 8. Stine shapes his opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while traveling throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. He carries out a series of interviews with Jews, Christians, and Muslims to get their thoughts about what life is really like. The comedian is hopeful that his humorous interviews will be an effective tool to help the film's viewers digest a serious message. “Humor helps people ‘take the medicine’ of a documentary,” Stine tells JNS.org.

“Most bizarre” and “most trashy” are just some of the categories that made the 5th annual Berlin Music Video Awards (BMVAs) stand out. The indie awards event was founded by Aviel Silook, an Israeli man who sought to provide an open platform for celebrating video and performance acts from across the globe. “Bizarre” and “trashy” also describe some moments during the recent 2016 BMVA finale, where Silook stood wearing a black spacesuit of sorts, and looking nervous and proud as he beheld his creation: beautifully and creatively dressed internationals networking around the art of making music videos. As some mingled outside in the party atmosphere, others stayed inside the theater to watch the off-the-wall, uber-creative, and sometimes hyper-sexual winning videos. Performance acts included a trashy nude performance by Stephen Paul Taylor and a bizarre musical performance by Lizzy and her drum-set dress. So how did this Israeli immigrant to Germany dare to make such a loud cultural impact? Silook shares his story with JNS.org.

Squeals of laughter and high-spirited traditional Ethiopian dancing, coupled with deep and mournful cries of loss and pain. The piercing sound of bullets whizzing above a soldier’s head. The quiet smile of a night under the stars with your fellow comrades. “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew,” the latest production from the film-focused educational non-profit Jerusalem U, is the story of an intrepid and introspective young Ethiopian-Israeli soldier. The film, which debuted last month, is a spinoff of Jerusalem U’s previous documentary, “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front,” which followed five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) recruits, including Mekonen Abebe, through their military training. “Mekonen” follows up by honing in exclusively on Abebe, a young Ethiopian shepherd who overcame financial and familial hardships to realize his dream of becoming an officer in the IDF. “I decided to participate in ‘Mekonen’ to be there for others who need hope,” Mekonen Abebe tells JNS.org. “It’s to give the weaker segment of society, those who are struggling, an example that you can win from nothing.”

Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film directed by Eyal Resh. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. “Telling Israel’s Story” seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. Spinning shots depict the natural beauty of Israel’s geography and landmarks. Viewers glimpse the religious passions underlying the society; the business and artistic ventures for which Israelis are known; and the violence that all too often puts Israel in the news. Sirens blare as a rocket streaks across the night sky. But when the rocket is later revealed to be part of a festive fireworks show, the music and montage resume with renewed vigor, depicting the celebration of life that underlies Israeli existence. “I see it as my responsibility to use my abilities to change Israel’s image in the U.S. and the world,” Resh tells JNS.org.

Three Israeli real estate brokers, developers, and property managers based in Brooklyn were in the heart of the real estate boom prior to the big bust of 2008. They were buying dilapidated properties, renovating them, and then reselling them—usually to people who could only obtain loans through the controversial government-backed programs that encouraged property ownership even for those who could not afford it. What they saw were greedy mortgage brokers, shady developers, and likely inept or corrupted appraisers, and they witnessed firsthand the dealmaking on the ground to get these properties sold. It inspired them to write a screenplay and develop a story to share with the world—the 2015 movie “The Closer.” Eli Hershko, Isaac Broyn, and Victor Baranes have elevated themselves from unknown real estate entrepreneurs to the competitive world of Hollywood and the indie film market, writes film reviewer George Bishai.

There’s no one label for the deep, spiritual, funky, fun, and eclectic tunes of one of the hottest new Hassidic funk bands, Zusha. “What are we? What are you?” asks band member and guitarist Zachary Goldschmiedt, 24, over coffee in Jerusalem. Yes, they’re Jewish and Orthodox, with long beards and soulful eyes, but that’s where the labels stop. Zusha’s music is tough to define. Some call it hipster, others dub it Hassidic soul. It’s probably a combination of both of those genres. The band is in the midst of an international tour, celebrating its latest and second album, “Kavana,” which means intention in Hebrew. 

“What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site of the Jerusalem Biennale, as part of an installation called “Betrothal.” With exhibits taking over seven of the city’s most interesting public spaces, the Biennale adds a fresh dimension of culture and innovation to the city’s more traditional Sukkot activities.

These are Israeli folk songs as you’ve never heard them before. And that’s exactly the point: Los Angeles-based cantor Elisa Waltzman’s debut album seeks to bridge a gap between traditional Hebrew music sung by her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and the musical sensibilities of her kids growing up in the United States. Set to a jazz ensemble, it combines verses remembered by children of the Holocaust with a modern sound familiar to Jews in the English-speaking world. But besides spanning generations, “Reinvented: Hebrew Songs for Families” is a family affair.

The 94th installment of Harvey Rachlin's comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

The 93rd installment of Harvey Rachlin's comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.