Film Trailer: Maya

Don’t miss this exciting DC premiere tomorrow, followed by a party on the steps!

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Talking About the Gaza Flotilla – part two, with podcast

This morning’s briefing on the Gaza Flotilla crisis with Noam Katz, Minister of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel was really quite exciting. We had around 60 people attending and a very robust Q&A session following his introductory remarks. Those remarks are available here as an MP3 — the Q&A session was technically “off-the-record” so I can’t post any recording of that. However, it was a very broad cross-section of opinions from those who feel that Israel was completely justified in its actions and needs to do more to get out its story, to those who believe that the blockade of Gaza is both immoral and illegal, to those who feel that Israel’s strategic interests are no longer being well-served by the blockade, to those who want more public acknowledgement of the aid that is regularly transported to Gaza from around the world. Minister Katz handled all the questions respectfully and while his answers may not have satisfied everyone, it was generally agreed that the opportunity for the conversation was much appreciated.

It is our hope to have more discussions like this one with other speakers with differing perspectives.  In the mean time, here are Noam Katz’s opening remarks.

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Ajami’s Foreign Language Oscar Nomination for Israel: Can it win?

The first thing that needs to be said is, “Way to go Israel!” This is the third year in-a-row that an Israeli film is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In fact, Ajami  is Israel’s ninth candidate to make the final round of nominees–making Israel the country that has been nominated the most times without a win. They’re turning into the Susan Lucci of foreign films.

I wrote about Ajami back when we premiered the film in DC as part of the 20th Washington Jewish Film Festival. While I don’t think it is as strong a film as Israel’s two prior nominees (Beaufort and Waltz With Bashir), this category is particularly quirky and there are good reasons why this film could be the one to finally take home the golden statuette for Israel.

First, is the film’s subject which is a neighborhood mixed with Jews, Christians and Muslims in the city of Jaffa. It also deals with several characters who have snuck into Israel-proper from the West Bank and are working in Arab businesses illegally. The film provides real humanity to all of its characters without forcing you to choose sides. In this way it pulls off the neat trick of being a film about Arab-Jewish relations in Israel that isn’t chiefly concerned with the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Second, the production team behind the film reflects the mixture of peoples in Jaffa. The film is co-written, co-directed and co-produced by the Yaron Shani, “an Israeli Jew” and Scandar Copti “a Palestinian citizen of the Israeli state” according to their bios on the film’s website. Hollywood likes the warm fuzzies that come from collaborations like these — although the film is by no means warm and fuzzy.

Third, this just might be Israel’s year by sheer fact that they have had a nominated film for the last three years. Oscars are rarely about the quality of the actual films. Sometimes they are about what makes good TV — giving Ajami the Oscar could provide a memorable moment for a Jew and a Palestinian to stand at the podium making a plea for tolerance and communication. 

Finally, Israel can only be nominated so many times without winning before someone begins to cry foul.

This category is notoriously hard to predict, especially with traditional cinema powerhouses like Germany and France present. Ajami is also a difficult film to appreciate with a non-linear story-line, a host of characters to keep track of, and an ending that doesn’t send you out of the theater smiling.  But it is great for Israel to have it in the Oscar mix, and another reminder of what a filmmaking dynamo the state has become.

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Lit Fest ’09 Update: It is Upon Us

After slaving away in our offices for the last number of months, the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival is finally upon us. This coming Sunday, October 18, we kick off 10 days of the best and brightest of this year’s Jewish-related book releases. And in case you have missed our numerous blog updates, our official website and our Twitter feed (@DCJewishLitFest), here are some of my personal top choices (that is, if you can only attend a few out of our 10+ programs):

10/18 – local blogger Melissa Ford (yes, that’s right, the wife of CPO Josh Ford) joins us to discuss her new book Navigating the Land of IF: Understanding Infertility and Exploring Your Options. Visit her blog Stirrup-Queens for a little taste and then buy your tickets.

10/22 – Past Imperfect: New Jewish Fiction truly captures what this Festival is all about. Showcasing great writing, interesting personalities and Jewish tradition. Three authors (yes, THREE) come together from the West Coast, the Midwest and the East Coast to talk about their individual books. Moderator Professor Sheila Jelen will help tie all the books together with her questions and insight. Buy Tickets.

10/24 – LitFest breaks out of the 16th Street J and moves to Hillyer Art Space for a night of spoken word poetry performances by featured artist Jake Marmer and then locals. Looking for an activity to fill your 9pm slot? Buy tickets to this program and bring your friends!

10/27 – Dara Horn. I have no words. Not only does her personal biography (award-winning, published author at the age of 25) make me want to cry, but her writing is just beautiful. All of her books are well-researched, well-written and just good stories! She is a Jewish writer who is completely content being part of that category – and we love and thank her for  that. Buy your tickets to hear her talk about her latest book, a piece of historical fiction about a Jewish soldier during the Civil War.

And how can we even mention the Festival without talking about our Closing Night author? Historian and GWU Professor Emeritus Howard M. Sachar graces our stage on 10/28 to speak about “Current Israeli Myths and Realities: The Way to Peace.” What exactly does that mean? Well I guess you’ll just have to buy your  tickets and find out!

Why the Jewish Federation’s Super Sunday Doesn’t Suck

button-supersundayAt the risk of losing whatever credibility I might have established for this blog’s attempt to walk the line between adhering to organizationally approved messaging and an authentic, opinionated voice engaged in a dialogue on the interwebs; I rise in defense of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Super Sunday. It takes place this Sunday (duh), February 22.

That’s right. I rise in defense of the annual ritual which many active and semi-active members of the Jewish community deride for combining the subtlety of a flim-flam phone solicitor with the charm of a maternal guilt trip. For many this day alone justifies the annual expense of caller i.d. For others, it is a chore dutifully awaited with the dread approximating that of a colonoscopy–somewhat uncomfortable, mildly humiliating, easily (natch) ridiculed, but ultimately good for you and your family.

And I’m here to say, “Get over it.”

Let’s deal with a few of the standard objections:

I don’t like being asked to give money to Israel.
However you feel about Israel and its government (if they have one yet), you’re not paying for F-16s or tear gas. Rather the money is distributed through partner agencies which include the Jewish Agency for Israel and is generally used for such devious purposes as aiding new immigrants, the poor and disadvantaged.  Although the reality is that a great deal of the money is used to support local agencies (including my employer) that probably have affected your life for the better at some point or another. If you got something against JCCs, Jewish day schools, summer camps, group homes for the disabled and hot nutrition programs for the elderly, then by all means hang up.

I don’t like giving money over the phone.
Fine you can give online. Do it soon enough and we won’t call you. Although I better not catch you ordering from a catalog over the phone or prepaying for that Chinese delivery.

I don’t like calling and asking strangers for money.
That’s fine, there are other ways to help. But, really, unless you have extreme phone-anxiety, that reason is a little bit of a cop-out. If you want a Jewish community you have to step up and help make it happen. When you make a call, succeed or fail, you’re helping to make it happen. There’s a script you can follow, and not everyone you call is going to be a jerk to you. In fact, on many calls I’ve made, there’s a tacit agreement that the caller and the called are to perform the ritual of asking for a pledge and then giving it in some increment of $18.  It is perfunctory, but oddly satisfying.

Come on, doesn’t the Red Cross or Amnesty International need the money more?
I bet you give your money somewhere. Okay. How well do they spend it? Do you give to the Red Cross? Human Rights Campaign? Amnesty International? Local public radio or tv? The Boys and Girls Club? According to Charity Navigator, an online watchdog of non-profit efficiency (or lack thereof), the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has a higher overall rating than any of those (JFGW’s 65.84 vs. 49.2, 56.62, 47.3 and 50.87 and 48.98 respectively). Don’t even get me started on the Boy Scouts (bunch of degenerates).

Aren’t you trying a little too hard? Can there really be anything cool about Super Sunday?
I don’t know, is this girl cool? Finally, tell me this girl isn’t cool AND raising money for the Jewish community? [UPDATE: The embedding doesn’t work, but double click on the image or follow this link to YouTube. Believe me, it is worth it.]

See you Sunday.

Bernard-Henri Lévy coming to DC via Tblisi and Gori

UPDATED: This event has sold-out, but you can submit a question for BHL and have it answered online.

This year’s Gerald L. Bernstein Memorial Lecture will be delivered Saturday, September 20 by Bernard-Henri Lévy at La Maison Française at the Embassy of France. His new book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, “scrutinizes the totalitarianisms of the past as well as those on the horizon, and argues powerfully for a new political and moral vision for our times.”

Although BHL (as he is known in France) came to greater American attention only in 2003 for his investigative book, Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, he has for decades been a leading philosopher/journalist in France who cut his teeth covering the 1971 Bangladeshi War of Independence from Pakistan. So perhaps it is not surprising that he was recently in Georgia to observe the situation on the ground in Tblisi and Gori which he recounts in the Huffington Post:

As we approach Gori, the situation is different, the tension is suddenly palpable. Georgian jeeps are sprawled in the ditches on the sides of the road. Farther along is a burnt-out tank. Even farther along is a more important check point which completely blocks the group of journalists we have joined. And it is here that we are clearly told that we are no longer welcome, “You are in Russian territory now,” barks an officer puffed up with importance. “Only those with Russian accreditation may go farther.”

The post ranges from the war-torn streets of Gori and Kaspi to the inner-sanctum of besieged Georgian President Saakashvili to a suprising admission from a Russian General regarding Israel’s support for the Georgian army, “We summoned the Israeli Foreign Minister to Moscow. And he was told that if he continues to supply arms to the Georgians we would continue to supply Hezbollah and Hamas.” BHL concludes his essay with a moral charge sure to resonate with the themes of his talk on September 20, “Either we are capable of raising our voice and saying STOP to Putin in Georgia. Or the man who went, in his own words, “down into the toilets” to kill the civilians in Chechnya will feel he has the right to do the same thing to any one of his neighbors. Is this how we will build Europe, peace and the world of tomorrow?”

Shabbat Surfing–Go Nats!

NationalsJeremy Burton, writing at J.Spot overreacts to Bush’s “christening” of the new National’s ballpark. Trust us. President Bush notwithstanding, the opening of the ballpark was a giant Bar Mitzvah for the District. The Lerner family, owners of our beloved Nats, have even included a special column dedicated to Jewish slugger Hank Greenberg (a Detroit Tiger) in the new ballpark, plenty of Kosher food options and davening during the seventh inning stretch. This is not to say that there is not a susbtantial evangelical Christian presence in baseball, but not every example of religion in the public sphere need be interpreted as hostile to other religions.

DC’s LGBTQ magazine Metro Weekly has an issue entirely dedicated to queer Jewish life around the coming holiday of Passover. Highlighted in the issue is a feature article about GLOE’s Stonewall Seder which was held this past Sunday at  the HRC. Also given substantial ink is Congregation Bet Mishpachah which meets for services regularly at the 16th Street J.

Have you been over on the Theater J blog? Ari Roth has been at the forefront of reaction to a poll question put out by American Theater Magazine regarding a proposed cultural boycott of Israel (although it’s not clear anyone is currently advocating for one). Ari’s strong response to the ridiculousness of the exercise and the dozens of responses he received in return grabbed the attention of The Forward. The weekly newspaper is featuring the kerfuffle on the front page this week.

We seem to be all over the press this week, with a great write up of the Rapid Responsa in the Washington Jewish Week.

Briefly noted: Virtual Talmud shuts down at beliefnet.com.  The British chief of Formula One auto racing makes Eliot Spitzer look wholesome. Organic Bacon lollipops–both treyf and disgusting. Heeb presents its own zombie film with a NSFW Night of the Living Jews.

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