Golda’s Balcony: The Film, 2019

“I begin with the redemption of the human race, and I end up in the munitions business… We intend to live. Our neighbours intend us to die.” Quotes from Golda’s Balcony

Yesterday, LAJ film festival screened, on line, Golda’s Balcony, the one-woman play, which has now become a film. There was also a 90-minute interview by Hilary Helstein with Tovah Feldshuh, the actress who plays Golda.

The play is a tour-de-force exposing Golda Meir’s character as a mother, a wife, and a passionate Zionist, who also happened to be the Prime Minister of Israel during the devastating Yom Kippur war (1973). The crux of the play is the Yom Kippur War and the choices that Golda herself, had to make.

The play exposes the travails of leadership and brings history to life. Will she or won’t she use the secret weapon? What goes through her mind as she faces these agonizing moments? In the interview, Tovah shares her personal history, research, and active participation in the creation of this work of art – the tweaking of the play and the development of the character. Tovah brings it off brilliantly.

This film deserves all of the many awards it has recently garnered. It shares history, not from a linear and intellectual standpoint but as if from the visceral connection of personal memory – the first person singular – memory itself.

Although the film referred to events up to Golda’ Meir’s death in 1973, it is sadly relevant today as it reveals both the birth of the state of Israel and the constant agonizing struggle for its survival, which continues to the present day.

Check out Tovah’s website for purchases, such as a study guide to Golda’s balcony or a DVD The Journey to Golda’s Balcony.

Two must-see documentaries featured at this year Israel Film Festival in Montreal

Two must-see documentaries featured at this year Israel Film Festival in Montreal

I watched two documentaries recently; both screened at the Israel Film Festival in Montreal. Mrs. G., directed by Dalit Kimor, is a documentary about the life and work of Lea Gottlieb, a Hungarian survivor. The latter emigrated to Israel after the war and created a family-run business that became the internationally revered Gottex swimsuit empire.

I identified with this story since it echoed that of my parents. Hungarian Jews, who immigrated to Montreal with two young children, and no money to speak of, but managed to create a successful leather coat factory that sold high-quality products across Canada and the US for many years. It is the story of many immigrant Jewish families who brought their craft and business skills and rebuilt their lives after the devastation of the Shoah/Holocaust. However, although these immigrant families may have achieved financial success, the shoah’s scars could not be so readily overcome. Mrs. G’s children complained that although she was an excellent designer, she had no motherly instinct.

The other documentary I watched is Aulcie by director Dani Menkin. The documentary tells the life of Aulcie Perry, a black man from New Jersey, who was drafted to play for Maccabi, the Israeli national basketball league, and became a much-beloved hero in Israel, taking the team to international championship status more than once.

Mrs. G. and Aulcie each had incredible challenges to overcome, which I will not share not to spoil the film.

What I loved about both of these films is the opportunity to peek into the lives of real people, living in Israel, addressing real challenges over many years.

Two must-see films featured at this year’s Israel Film Festival in Montreal

Apples From the Desert by Directors Matti Harari and Arik Lubetzki is an older Israeli version of the current Netflix series Unorthodox, a story about a young girl who grows up in the Satmar Hassidic sect in Brooklyn and runs away from her marriage. Apples From the Desert tells a similar story, an Israeli daughter, raised in an orthodox community in Jerusalem, who runs away to a boyfriend in a secular kibbutz in the desert, the Negev of Israel.

In both films, an adolescent chafes at the restrictions imposed by the Orthodox community norms. In Apples From the Desert, the father takes on the controlling role – worried about his daughter’s budding sexuality.

Chained by director Yaron Shani, tackles the same theme of the male ego dealing with adolescent sexuality but this time in a secular context. A policeman deals with his teenage stepdaughter’s budding sexuality while being investigated for “sexual harassment”.

What I liked about these two movies was the opportunity to explore the male characters and their conflicts in attempting to live “a good life,” each within his sphere of influence.

The Journey of Redemption: Bogdan and Kielce

Yesterday, I saw a fantastic documentary film about the journey of teshuva – Hebrew for repentance or redemption – of an entire community, Kielce, led by a Polish-born non-Jewish Prophet, named Bogdan Bialek.

 

This last week in synagogue, we read the chapters that speak about Abraham’s encounters with G-d. One of them is how Abraham bargains with G-d to save Sodom and Gomorrah – two cities that have become the symbol of evil that, according to G-d, require destruction which was carried out in the Bible.

What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? There are several backstories in the Jewish books we call “midrash,” which many of the commentaries to the Bible base their ideas. I came across this interpretation in Tablet magazine yesterday.

“In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah — recounted in the Torah in Parshat Vayera, read this Shabbat — the Bible addresses the question of ethics head-on. These towns represent a human society so thoroughly corrupt that it is beyond the possibility of repair. There are other stories in which God finds human behaviour abhorrent, but there is usually some redemption (as in the story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah), or a remnant remains that holds the potential to rebuild (like the living things in Noah’s ark). Only here does an entire place get annihilated with fire and brimstone.”

What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? The prophet Ezekiel brings it up in one of his warnings to the kingdom of Judah in the sixth century BCE:

“Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity, yet she did not support the poor and the needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)

Centuries later, the ancient rabbis fleshed out Ezekiel’s charge in a midrash — a snippet of biblical interpretation. Here is a passage from Genesis Rabbah, a collection of commentaries compiled in the third century CE:

There was an incident concerning two young girls who went down to fill pitchers with water from the spring.

One of them said to her friend, “Why is your face so sickly?”
The other said to her, “Our food is all gone, and we are about to die.”
What did the first one do? She filled her pitcher with flour and switched the two, each girl taking what was in the hand of the other.
When [the people of Sodom] became aware of this, they took her and burned her.

The Holy Blessed One said, “Even if I wanted to keep silent, the judgment in the young girl’s case does not permit me to keep silent.”

This midrash paints a terrible picture – a young woman burned to death as punishment for an act of compassion. And her burning was not the work of hooligans. God uses legal terminology — “judgment” and “case” — implying that the people of Sodom took the compassionate girl to court for sneaking food to a starving neighbour. She was tried and convicted under the law of the land. In Sodom, feeding a hungry person was a criminal act that carried the death penalty. The action that forced God’s interference was a legal one.

Does this account of the midrash remind you of the reign of Nazi Germany – when offering any compassionate help to Jews, was a legally criminal act liable for instant death?

The crimes of the Nazi State continue to be an open wound to both Jews and non-Jews. However, in this film, we see Bogdan and the town of Kielce attempting to come to terms with a massacre of Jews on Polish soil (in Kielce) in 1946. Despite almost total denial and resistance by nearly everyone living in Kielce, Bogdan Bialek, a resident of Kielce, initiates and continues his crusade for the townspeople to begin to acknowledge the 1946 massacre. Bogdan successfully shows that a group can come to repent, address these issues voluntarily, and transform itself into a self-aware and caring, empathetic entity.

It is a must-see film for anyone who has had any connection to the Shoah or to any horrible uncontrollable traumatic events, whether personal or collective. To watch the movie for an institutional or private screening, go to Bogdan’s Journey.

Postscript: After the screening, the producer, director, and several guests from Poland, including Bogdan himself, met at a Tel Aviv restaurant across the street from the Sherman Oaks Laemmle movie theatre. After I wrote this blog, I sent him the link, and here is what he wrote to me:

Dear Abigail,

Thank you very much for your beautiful and touched text on your blog. If you agree, I would like to use it on the Jan Karski Society site. The meeting in Sherman Oaks was fascinating. For the first time, I was in so a great home and thus an excellent company. I hope that we will have other possibilities to meet each other. Of course, if you will be in Poland, remember about my warmest invitation to Kielce. I will try to buy a book which you recommend.

Best regards

Bogdan

 

The 37th Annual Montreal International Film Festival, 2013

Over Labor Day week, Montreal hosted the 37th edition of the Montreal World Film Festival.

This Year, my documentary film “Yiddish: A Tale of Survival” will be screened.

From August 22 – September 2, the festival managed to screen over 400 films, most more than once. There were student film shorts, documentaries on every subject, and from all over the world. The topics included the sequelae of war, failed relationships and ordinary relationships, epic stories of morality and immorality.

Based on a true story, “Life Feels Good,” a Polish film, by a new director Pierprzyca, captured three prizes at the festival: the grand prize awarded by judges, the public award as the most popular of the festival, and the ecumenical award, based on artistic merit and Christian values. Based on a true story about a disabled boy diagnosed at birth as a “vegetable with no potential,” but at almost thirty years old, it is discovered that he is quite intelligent and aware of the world around him.

Another film that captured the audience’s fancy, L’autre Maison/Another House, was about two brothers involved with the care of their father, who has Alzheimer’s. The film tries to capture the two brothers’ inner world as they grapple with their own lives, their relationship to each other, and their father. Here too, the filmmakers, who were present, shared that they brought their personal experience to bear on the script.

In a secular age, it appears that the cinema, whether documentary or fiction, remains the pulpit of the people, sharing their joys and their woes, by using the intimate knowledge of the filmmaker to tell moving and compelling stories.