This Week at the 16th Street J

Click to Register for Session IIHot Times in The City Summer Day Camp

Session II Begins Monday, June 30
Spots still available in Camp Skate, JKids and for CITs (we’ll even pro-rate if you’re reading this after Monday 6/30)

Is your kid spending the summer at Camp XBox? Get them off the couch and into the best urban camp in the country.

The Annual Washington Jewish Film Festival Friendraiser: The Debt

The DebtMonday, June 30, 7:30 pm
Join past donors to the WJFF for a great film and light reception. Meet Susan Barocas, the new director of the WJFF as it gets ready to launch its 19th edition this December.

2007, Israel, 35mm,
93 minutes, Hebrew, German and Russian with English subtitles
Director: Assaf Bernstein

This thrilling drama tells the tale of three Mossad agents who capture the “Surgeon of Birkenau”, a monstrous Nazi war criminal in 1964. The agents keep him confined to their safe house on the outskirts of Berlin awaiting further instructions to return to Israel. As they watch over the captive, a psychological duel begins between the Nazi doctor and the three young agents; leading to the doctor’s eventual escape. Unable to face their horrible failure, the agents fabricate the Surgeon’s death and return to Israel as heroes. More than thirty years later, the Surgeon resurfaces in the Ukraine, claiming he wishes to confess his crimes against humanity. Gila Almagor (Munich, In Treatment) plays the ex-Mossad agent Rachel, who must take action to protect their lie by terminating a man known to be dead and redeem the debt against which she has built her life.

Hebraica Mirrors by Matatiaou in the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery

Opens July 1 through September 30
Hebraica Mirrors by MatatiaouHebraica Mirrors includes over 60 fine prints on Arches Velum and leather parchment, representing the crossroads of contemporary design and traditional Hebrew calligraphy by the French Jewish artist Matatiaou. This universal graphic interpretation is inspired by the Zohar- the direct origin of the Kabbalah, written circa 1300. The exhibition comes to us from The Jewish Museum of Florida.

WJMF Sound Byte: Davka and The Golem

Daniel Hoffman and Davka perform their live score for The GolemI remember shortly around the time I graduated from college I started hearing from friends about how if you turned the volume off while watching the movie The Wizard of Oz and substituted Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon as the soundtrack, the two lined up with amazing results. The resulting phenomenon has been alternately called The Wizard of Floyd and Dark Side of the Rainbow.

It blew our minds that it worked so well–a movie from 1939 reinterpreted thanks to an album released in 1973 which we enjoyed at the height of our slackerdom in the early 1990s. It taught me a powerful lesson of how music can heighten the sensation of film watching.

Better however, than hearing canned music accompanying a DVD, is the visceral experience of hearing a live ensemble accompanying a film projected through celluloid onto a cinema screen. That’s what Daniel Hoffman and Davka will be doing when they perform their live score to the silent movie classic The Golem at the Washington Jewish Music Festival on Tuesday, June 3.

The GolemIt is another opportunity to appreciate the musical genius that is Daniel Hoffman’s, who is also the composer of David in Shadow and Light and currently performing five times a week in the band accompanying the show (I’d call it the pit orchestra except that they perform on a platform above the stage). Click below for a little taste of what you’ll hear as Daniel is reunited with his longtime band members from Davka. The clip is “Florian’s Theme” from their live soundtrack for The Golem.

Yom HaShoah–Making Memory Meaningful

This week marks Yom HaShoah, the day set aside for remembering the victims of the Holocaust. It is around this time every year that I receive an email from some well-meaning friend or acquaintance that goes something along the lines of, “keep forwarding this email remembering the six million until it has reached six million Jews and we’ll have had our revenge on Hitler.” I may be getting the details wrong, it may be the goal to send it not to six million Jews but to sixty million people. It may not say anything about having “our revenge on Hitler,” it may be a tad less dramatic, something about, “keeping memory eternally alive.”

I don’t forward these emails. Hitting forward may fulfill a desire for active memory for some, but not for me. No thanks. Then again, I can’t quite bring myself to hit delete either. Who am I to tell people how they should remember? Is it worse that they should remember through chain emails than not remember at all? Is deleting one of these emails, over-wrought though I find them, akin to aiding and abetting a creeping complacency in historical amnesia?

We’re showing a film tonight, The Last Fighters about the living remnant of a moment in history at once tragic and heroic. It won’t grant us some sort of revenge on the many evil and many more complicit people who conspired to make a place like the Warsaw Ghetto a reality. It certainly will not lessen the burden of finding ways to remember the genocide of the Holocaust without becoming enslaved to that memory. And in the years since Warsaw, we’ve witnessed Cambodia, Darfur and Bosnia, so we know that our memory alone cannot prevent future genocides from taking place.

What we can do is draw on the memory of those who were lost, those who fought and those who survived in the unending work of repairing a badly broken world. An email can’t do that alone. Neither can a film. But it’s a start. As long as it’s not the end.

Chametz on Screen–Completely Kosher: Hit Israeli Film “Noodle”

We won’t go into the reasons here, but pasta is one of the foods commonly forbidden during Passover. However, as with so much else in Jewish culture, I will argue that these laws do not apply to Chinese food. Or Israeli movies. Or Israeli movies in which large quantities of Chinese food gets consumed.

In that spirit, don’t miss Noodle this Tuesday, April 22, 7:30pm at the Washington DCJCC. Please note, the following trailer is in Hebrew without English subtitles (but you get the point anyway) and is only kosher for Passover if you refrain from licking the screen.

Shabbat Surfing: Big Weekend For Jewish Films

The most exciting thing going on this weekend? The Cherry Blossom Festival? Nah, only inflames my allergies. The National Marathon? I’m more of a treadmill guy. Opening of the Nats new Stadium? Couldn’t score tickets (and we tried). NCAA tournament? My bracket’s already gone to gehena (thanks for nothing Georgetown).  

No, the most exciting thing about this weekend is the explosion of Jewish film on the local cinema screens, and most exciting is the double bill taking place at the Avalon.  We are honored that they are doing a special engagement featuring both of the audience award winners from the 2007 Washington Jewish Film Festival.

Praying With Lior is Ilana Trachtman’s transformative documentary about Lior Liebling, a young man with Down Syndrome preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. But to describe it like that is to do it a severe injustice. It is a film about transcendant spirituality, about family and loss and faith that will leave you amazed. Don’t mistake this for an “illness of the week” weepy–any time the film begins to veer too towards unearned sentimentality, Trachtman wisely steers it back to a practical plane (usually with humor), and allows the truly powerful moments to speak for themselves. You cannot miss this film.

Arranged is a triumph on so many levels: quality independent filmmaking, an orthodox Jewish narrative told without condescension, an authentic display of womens’ voices connecting across a faith divide. Structurally, the film plays like a romantic comedy, but its content is refreshingly unique, about the friendship between and an Orthodox Jewish and a Muslim woman who are both facing arranged marriages. It is based on a true story and that authenticity shines through.

Also opening this weekend at three area theaters is the Opening Night film from the 2007 WJFF, The Year My Parents Went on Vacation. If you missed our sold-out Opening Night or last week’s sold out sneak preview, be sure to check out the film that made the short list for Foreign Language Oscar. You can read more about the film at its website.

Mark Jenkins (formerly of The City Paper) has reviews of all the films at his new site

More Shabbat Surfing after the jump

Sneak Preview of “Then She Found Me”

Then She Found MeThe Screening Room is holding a free screening next Friday, April 4 at 5:00 pm of Helen Hunt’s directorial debut Then She Found Me. It’s a remarkable film and a little unexpected coming from Hunt who made a career out of playing the ultimate shiksa in the 90s television series Mad About You opposite professional nebbish Paul Reiser. This isn’t one of those charming, indie, New York-based films where everyone in it is a coded Jew (neurotic, urban, mommy-issues). No, the characters, adapted from the Elinor Lipman book of the same name, have real Jewish identities, celebrate Shabbat, even (gasp!) pray and believe in G-d. The main character’s Judaism is a central aspect of her character and not just fodder for comic moments. That said, these are complete characters, so they’re not entirely defined by their Judaism–just like most of the people I know who have a religious life of any denomination. It is an interesting choice, and one wonders if those years of hanging around Reiser (and in a long-term relationship with Hank Azaria) had a lasting impact on her that attracted her to this story and to the character of April Epner. She also managed to assemble an amazing cast including Colin Firth, Bette Midler and Matthew Broderick, as well as an unexpected cameo by Salman Rushdie.

The other intriguing thing about the film is how well it handles the emotions and experiences of infertility and adoption which are as large a presence in the film as April’s Jewishness. My wife and I went through infertility and are frustrated when so often popular entertainment gets the whole thing wrong–either by focusing on septuplets as the obvious result of fertility treatments or by making adoption seem like an easy way out. (I’m pointing the finger at you Friends– we know you knew better Courtney Cox Arquette!) The reality is of course, far more complex and Then She Found Me deals with both topics–adoption and infertility–with extraordinary veracity to the conflicted emotions and hard decisions involved in both.

It is a free screening, but a reservation is required and the slots are going fast. Click here to get yours. It opens in theaters May 2nd in DC. The trailer from the film is below:

Adoption Stories from Israel, The Girls From Brazil

An interview with Nili Tal, director of The Girls From Brazil

Q: Tell us a little about how you decided to make the film, The Girls From Brazil.Nili Tal - Director of “The Girls From Brazil”

A few notes about Israel. We do not have children up for adoption here. The reasons will be given later. So, Israeli families, who wanted children, traveled to third world countries before Madonna and Angelina ever did. In the 80s, they discovered the opportunity to adopt in Brazil. It was far and expensive, but they went for it.

As mentioned in my film, 3,000 families adopted their children there. In 1988 this international adoption stopped because of one baby.
And that is the cause of my film.

It was 1986, when the Tourgeman family adopted baby Bruna. She was 4 months old. One shiny morning in 1988, Rosilda Vasgosales, a Brazilian woman, arrived in Israel accompanied by a British TV crew and demanded the baby back. She pleaded Habeas Corpus in the Israeli High Court. It was a modern Solomon trial that shook the entire country. At the end, the judges ruled to return the child to her biological mother. Everybody cried when Bruna left Israel.

20 years later, I was eager to know what happened to Bruna?
I pitched the Bruna project to channel 2 in 2006 and they accepted the project and funded it.

In May 2006 I flew to Curitiba, Brazil to look for her. When I returned to Israel I found a letter on the web from a young man telling that he tried to locate his biological mother in Brazil. Then I read another letter. I started to research the matter and met 22 young women and men that wanted to find their biological mothers. I decided to help four of them. I pitched the story to Yes Docu and they accepted the film.

When I went to Brazil again for the Bruna story in October 2006, I took the four young adopted women and one adoptive mother with me. I wished for luck. Continue reading

Making Trouble: “Brass, Brio & Balls”

Great article in the Express this morning about our screening tomorrow night of Making Trouble:

The list of Jewish men who made their mark on American comedy is long and the tradition strong.

But what about the women?

“When we think of Jewish comics, we usually think of male comics,” historian Joyce Antler says in the documentary “Making Trouble,” which screens Tuesday night at the Washington DC JCC, with a special appearance by comedian Judy Gold.

“It took a long line of Jewish women who had show business in their hearts and souls to turn this around.”

Meet the Jewish mothers of comedy. They had brass, brio and balls. “Making Trouble” tells their story.

Click over to their site to read the full article and view some of the videos they’ve posted from the film. This first one below is the very beginning of the film…

Lior in NY

Praying With LiorIf you’re going to be up in NYC this weekend be sure to head over to the Cinema Village on E. 12th Street and buy a ticket to see the WJFF Audience Award-winning documentary Praying With Lior.  We’d love to see the film get a commercial run in DC, but that won’t happen without a decent first weekend in the Big Apple. It truly is a one-of-a-kind film about an amazing young man, not just living with Downs Syndrome, but inspiring others through the way he lives his life and the manner in which he connects with G-d. As director Ilana Trachtman pointed out at her screening in December, the film industry can get reductive, so the film risks being summarized as, “Downs Syndrome Bar  Mitzvah.” But in truth the film is so much more than that, and they’re counting on a considerable grass-roots movement to help spread the word. Trust me. See the film and you’ll want to be part of that movement.

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