Rabbi Poupko’s Oscar Nominated Film Reviews


Despite his busy schedule of travelling between Israel and other places, Rabbi Poupko found time to watch three Oscar-nominated films—Oppenheimer, Maestro, and The Zone of Interest—while on his flights. He offered us these reviews during a Sabbath afternoon gathering at the synagogue.

Speaking about Oppenheimer, isn’t it interesting that it was a group of Jews who managed to create the atom bomb which won the war for the Western powers? Isn’t it interesting that it was a group of Jews who created Hollywood in the nowhere land of California? Isn’t it interesting that it was a group of Jews that created Broadway? Isn’t it interesting that since the Nobel prize has been awarded, Jews have comprised 40% of all Nobel prize recipients in all fields? Isn’t it remarkable what Jews have contributed to the US, to Canada, to Germany?

“By the way,” he asked the crowd, “Does anybody know how many Nobel prizes Muslims have won?” After a hushed silence, someone remembered Yasser Arafat. This drew a laugh!

Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for their collective efforts to foster peace in the Middle East. However, subsequent events underscore that the envisioned peace did not materialize. Arafat’s refusal to sign a cooperation agreement with Israel on the White House Lawn marked a pivotal moment. Following this, he instigated the “Second Intifada” characterized by a series of terrorist attacks on buses and cafes, resulting in the loss of over 1000 innocent Israeli lives. In response to this escalation of violence, Israel implemented border walls and checkpoints along its borders with the West Bank and Gaza. It is worth noting that among Nobel laureates, Muslims, to date, have received sixteen, nine have received the Nobel Peace Prize, four for scientific achievements, and three for contributions to literature. (*2)

Rabbi Poupko continues, “Has anyone read the book The Pity of It All? (*3) It’s a great read, a detailed description of Jewish involvement and integration in every facet of German life—the arts, government, and the universities! Germany prior to 1933. Prior to 1933 Germany was admired worldwide as a center of culture and science. Germany was thriving, and Jews also were thriving there.”


As Jews in Germany listened to Hitler’s tirades against the Jews, they decided to publish an eleven-hundred-page book detailing Jewish contributions to Germany, thinking that this would bring Germans to their senses!

Incidentally, the Jewish community in Hungary pursued a similar course of action. During my visit to Tokay, my friend Gabor Gluck, who represents the last surviving Jewish family in the town where my late mother grew up, shared a substantial volume compiled by Hungarian Jews in the 1930s. These individuals, who had served in the military during World War One, also believed that if others were aware of their contributions, the Hungarians would ‘come to their senses’! This book reflects their hope that recognizing Jewish accomplishments would foster greater understanding and acceptance.

Rabbi Poupko continued: “Wasn’t it Churchill who reminded his compatriots that ‘those who oppress Jews are simply destroying themselves?”

And indeed Rabbi Poupko reminded us that,  Spain never recovered her glory after introducing the Inquisition and the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and neither has Germany regained its cultural ascendance since her unprovoked attack on all Jews everywhere that she initiated in 1933, when Hitler came to power.

Sadly, antisemitism is not confined to Europe but exists also in countries like the UK, Canada, and the USA, despite the significant contributions of the Jewish community to these nations.

In the past five months, starting from October 7, there has been a disturbing resurgence of this hateful ideology. We have witnessed widespread incidents of Jews and Israel being openly vilified in public spaces worldwide. There have even been articles like Is Antisemitism Becoming Socially Acceptable Again?  There have been attacks targeting Jews in their businesses and institutions, including here in Montreal. Jewish students at McGill and Concordia have faced harassment as pro-Palestinian groups have gained dominance on campus with minimal resistance.

Rabbi Poupko shared that “as a result of campus antisemitism, Jewish enrollment at schools like Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania is now less than it was prior to the sixties when there were quotas on Jewish enrollment. Jews are now choosing to attend less illustrious universities. In the nineties, the University of Pennsylvania had a beit midrash because there were so many Orthodox Jews attending… Not anymore; Tulane University is now known as ‘Jewlane’!” (*7) Over the last five months, we have discovered an amazing resurgence of these evil ideas. Apparently, these irrational ideas, for whatever reason, continue to fester close to the surface, and people seem to be eager to find the State of Israel ‘guilty as charged.’ And sadly, I have to reflect that of the Imams and Pastors that we had friendly relations with over the years, not one has reached out to me since October 7.  On the other hand, amidst these challenges, the resilience and valour displayed by Israeli forces over the past five months has been extraordinary. Witnessing their unwavering dedication to defending our people, whether on the battlefield or on the homefront, has fostered a sense of unity and solidarity like never before.


I only bring this up because, during these difficult times, all of us Jews need to know who we are, what we have accomplished, and what we have contributed to the world over millennia. Am Yisrael Chai…”

Rabbi Poupko’s reflections highlight Jewish communities’ resilience and invaluable contributions throughout history. Despite facing adversity, Jews have significantly shaped cultures and advanced human knowledge. His insights remind us to celebrate our collective heritage and to unite against prejudice. Let us move forward with pride in our identity, fostering unity and understanding in a world often plagued by bigotry.

Additionally, I share here my own exploration of Oscar-nominated films through a Jewish lens,

Oppenheimer: What is His Story and

Barbie: Who is She?

I am also sharing two movie reviews that, in my opinion, would have deserved Oscar recognition:

Golda: A Reckoning and


Happy viewing!



  1. Mandel, Seth. “Glazer’s Partners Refure Glazer.” Commentary, vol. 123, no. 5, 2017, pp. 45-52.  
  2. “Second Intifada.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Feb. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Intifada.
  3. Elon, Amos. The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch 1743-1933. Metropolitan Books, 2002. Rabbi Poupko explored the origins of anti-Semitism, proposing that a factor driving it may be a sense of bewilderment surrounding the perceived accomplishments of Jewish communities. Instead of appreciating Jewish contributions Nazi ideology chose to blame the Jews for all economic and social problems, Germany’s failures were attributed to Jews, and the idea that eliminating them would bring freedom and success to Germans was promoted through state-sanctioned literature, cinema, and broadcasting, ultimately instilling fear of Jews within the general populace.
  4. “Antisemitism: The Jewish Question.” Encyclopedia Britannicawww.britannica.com/topic/antisemitism/The-rise-of-modern-antisemitism. Accessed 18 Mar. 2024.
  5. “Myth and Reality – What Did Churchill Really Think About the Jews?” The Churchill Centre,  Winston Churchill acknowledged the significant contributions of Jews to society and strongly advocated for their rights. He also warned that those who oppressed the Jewish community would ultimately be causing harm to themselves. Targeting specific groups for oppression is an abuse of human rights and results in everyone becoming poorer for it. This is a Jewish idea that has become generally accepted.
  6. “PBS American Experience: Henry Ford’s Antisemitism.” PBSwww.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/henryford/#part01. Accessed 18 Mar. 2024.
  7. There’s a genuine source supporting Rabbi Poupko’s claim regarding the systematic exclusion of Jews from prominent positions in US elite universities, corporations, and government. Read ‘The Vanishing: The Erasure of Jews from American Life‘ by Jacob Savage, published by Tablet magazine. Does this presage the downfall of America’s elite universities?
  8. The Zone of Interest: You might be aware of Jonathan Glazer’s controversial statement upon receiving the Best Foreign Feature Award for The Zone of Interest. While the film itself is hailed as a masterpiece, his acceptance speech, equating the situation in Gaza with the atrocities of Auschwitz, has drawn widespread condemnation. His collaborators on the film have strenuously refuted his remarks. (*1)


SHTTL is a film that has yet to be released to the public, but it has already garnered widespread acclaim and accolades at various film festivals. During a recent screening at the Montreal Holocaust Museum, I watched this cinematic masterpiece that stands out among the rest.

The film’s narrative is set in a Ukrainian forest, where two young men embark on a journey while a Hasidic folk story weaves around them. Upon their arrival at a bustling market, the stage is set for a complex tale amidst a backdrop of a Soviet manager, overlapping conversations, and references to the protagonist’s former girlfriend – the Rabbi’s daughter, engaged to be married that weekend. The film ventures into dreamy sequences with the protagonist’s deceased mother’s encounters with his father and surreal moments in a synagogue with the Rebbe and the congregation. The audience is immersed in a 24-hour snapshot of life in an obscure Ukrainian village near the Polish border.

SHTTL is a powerful film that immerses viewers in the pre-Nazi invasion era of Ukraine, portraying the intricacies of village life as an engaged observer. The film adeptly hints at the dynamics between religious and secular Jews, Russian occupiers, and other neighbours, showcasing the complexities of their relationships.

The Nazis’ invasion of the Soviet Union extended their grip over numerous Jewish communities from the Baltics through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea *1, and SHTTL serves as a poignant representation of one such village. It functions as a memorial that focuses on celebrating the vibrant lives of its inhabitants rather than dwelling solely on the tragic fate that ultimately befell them.

What’s remarkable about this film is that it was entirely filmed in the native languages of the villagers, predominantly Yiddish, interspersed with Ukrainian, Russian, and German. The English subtitles make it easy for the audience to follow the storyline, immersing them in the village’s culture and traditions.

Adding to its significance, SHTTL has a solid connection to Montreal, where two of the producers are esteemed entertainment professionals from the city: Eric Gozlan, recognized for his work on films like Beautiful Boy, Stand Off, A Score to Settle, and Bandit, and Joe Sisto, a well-known Montreal-based entertainment lawyer associated with projects such as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Upside Down, Brick Mansions, and Erased.

Word has it that the producers plan to submit this film to the Oscars in the foreign film category. Filmed in Ukraine with a local crew, it’s a testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in creating this 21st-century masterpiece. Kudos to the entire team!


On the 22nd of June 1941, German troops launched Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union. From the point of view of the Nazis, this was not an ordinary military conflict but a battle against the chief ideological and racial enemies of the German nation.

At the rear of the German army were four Einsatzgruppen special units whose task was to fight against ideological opponents. They were required to kill all Communist functionaries, Jews holding party and state functions, and other radical elements. In reality, however, the main role of these units was to massacre Jewish communities.

To begin with, only Jewish men were murdered, but soon women and children were also being killed. The largest single massacre was the execution of over 30,000 Kievan Jews in Babi Yar at the end of September 1941. It is estimated that these units, aided by local militia and in coordination with the army, slaughtered approximately 1.25 million Jews in all, as well as hundreds of thousands of other Soviet citizens. (Written by  Producer Eric Gozlan)



  1. Terezín Initiative Institute

Oppenheimer: What is his story?

The film “Oppenheimer” is a historical drama that chronicles the life of Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who oversaw the development of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. The movie provides an in-depth look at the complex world of scientific inquiry and the challenges of creating such powerful weapons. Additionally, it delves into the political influences that shaped Oppenheimer’s life after 1954.

Political Intrigues and Allegations

As I watched the movie, Oppenheimer’s character became increasingly mysterious. The film raised questions about his political affiliations and whether he shared atomic secrets with the USSR. It also explored his extramarital affair and the tragic passing of his mistress, adding layers of complexity to his character. Throughout the film, Oppenheimer’s demeanour remained unreadable, making it challenging for viewers to understand his true nature. Struggling to grasp the movie, I searched online for more insights.

In an enlightening interview, JNS editor-in-chief Jonathan Tobin spoke with historian Harvey Klehr, an expert on Soviet spies in the U.S. during that period. Klehr’s insights revealed the Soviet interest in espionage, particularly regarding the Manhattan Project since the 1930s. This background shed light on the historical events and personal choices that shaped Oppenheimer’s legacy.

Before World War II, many Americans, including Oppenheimer’s students at Berkeley University and his friends and relatives, were attracted to the ideals of the Soviet International Communist Party and its utopian Marxist ideology. Notably, Oppenheimer’s wife’s second husband fought and died in the Spanish Civil War to support the communist cause. Furthermore, there were suspicions surrounding Oppenheimer himself, who was believed to be affiliated with the communist party, and information that was likely in the FBI’s possession when he assumed leadership of the Manhattan Project.

Soviet archives indicate a persistent interest in obtaining information about the atomic bomb project dating back to the 1930s. Reports from Klehr suggest that individuals within the United States, spying for the Russians, had successfully infiltrated the U.S. federal government both before and after the war—a concern paralleling contemporary worries about Chinese communist infiltration.

Despite these associations, FBI wiretaps released from that era reveal Oppenheimer’s deliberate distancing from communist ties once he assumed control of the project, thwarting Soviet attempts to secure his cooperation. Understanding this historical backdrop is crucial given that, in 1941, many were oblivious to Stalin’s true nature as a communist leader. *1

Espionage and Betrayal

Recognizing the depth of communist influence and espionage during that period offers valuable insights into the intricate geopolitical dynamics of the time. It is a cautionary tale, underscoring the potential consequences of communist ideologies and covert activities.

The film also uncovers the presence of not one but two scientist spies embedded within the Manhattan Project. Ted Hall, a remarkably talented graduate student, was recruited at eighteen through his Harvard professors. Surrounded by card-carrying communists as roommates, he independently chose to divulge atomic secrets to the Soviets. Hall believed that a shared possession of the nuclear bomb would contribute to a “safer world.” A recent documentary titled “The Compassionate Spy” delves into Hall’s story, defending his decision to share crucial atomic information with the Soviets. His apology, featured in The New York Times Magazine under “The Boy Who Gave Away The Bomb,” provides further insight.

The second spy, Klaus Fuchs, assumed leadership in the British atomic lab post-World War II. Operating as a double agent, Fuchs was eventually apprehended and served time in jail.

In the third hour of the movie, Oppenheimer’s alleged spying and the loss of his security clearance in 1954 are portrayed. However, an article from September 1977 in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists provides a more nuanced perspective. According to an eyewitness, the motives behind Oppenheimer’s security clearance revocation were more complex than previously thought. The article suggests that Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked because he had opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb, which put him at odds with the military establishment.
The film “Oppenheimer” offers a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most controversial figures in modern history. It highlights the intricate geopolitical dynamics of the time and the potential consequences of political ideologies and covert activities.


Sadly, Oppenheimer’s life story is relevant to our current political predicaments. Oppenheimer was destroyed by a political movement characterized by rank know-nothing, anti-intellectual, xenophobic demagogues. The witch-hunters of that season are the direct ancestors of our current political actors of a specific paranoid style… Oppenheimer did not regret what he did at Los Alamos; he understood that you cannot stop curious human beings from discovering the physical world around them. One cannot halt the scientific quest, nor can one un-invent the atomic bomb but it is up to each and every one of us to ensure that our current technologies are integrated by our leaders into a sustainable and humane civilization. (Kai Bird *1)

Contemporary Relevance

The underlying message about the importance of responsible governance and ethical technology stewardship remains relevant. Similar dynamics are at play in current politics, including the tactics employed by the Chinese Communist Party and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to maintain control over their populations, including the establishment of concentration camps for dissenters and those who hold independent beliefs or affiliations. Additionally, American historian Timothy Snyder, who focuses on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, has pointed out the similarities between Putin’s actions and Stalin’s methods during an interview in 2023.

Despite the evidence of human rights abuses and political repression committed by these governments, some Western academics continue to downplay the brutality of these regimes and defend their actions. This is particularly true of those who lean left and admire a particular political party. But there are those like Harold P. Green, who discusses “The Oppenheimer Case,” published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which examines the Oppenheimer case as an example of the abuse of law. The article highlights the dangers of ignoring human rights abuses and downplaying the motives behind political repression.

Yishai Rebo’s latest chant, “Ata Zocher,” reflects the themes explored in the film “Oppenheimer.” In it, he offers a poignant reflection on the complexity of human endeavours, the weight of responsibility, and the enduring quest for understanding. As we unravel Oppenheimer’s story, we confront the spectre of espionage, navigating a landscape fraught with ambiguity and intrigue. Yet amidst the shadow of suspicion, Oppenheimer emerges as a figure emblematic of ethical quandaries and the enduring struggle for ethical stewardship of technology. Through the lens of Yishai Rebo’s transcendent chant, we find solace in the pursuit of understanding, redemption, and the enduring quest for truth.

“You (G-d) remember all the workings of the universe
And you note all the creatures of this world
All events and mysteries are revealed to you
Because there is nothing forgotten before Your Holy Throne
Or hidden from your gaze.”



  1. “Holodomor.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2024, www.britannica.com/event/Holodomor.
  2. Bird, Kai. “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.” The New York Times, 2023, July 17. www.nytimes.com

Barbie: Who is she?

The movie “Barbie” was a genuinely enchanting cinematic experience that weaves elements of music, humour, and a profound message. The film takes the beloved Barbie and Ken dolls. It transforms them into animated characters with human traits, which enables the story to unfold as a joyous celebration until the disruptive notion of ‘death’ intrudes upon their magical world. What follows is a captivating exploration of self-discovery and personal growth as individuals from various walks of life, encompassing genders, generations, and roles, undergo a thorough introspective journey to unearth their ‘true selves.’

A Connection to Yom Kippur

What is particularly impressive about this movie is how it evokes reflections reminiscent of Yom Kippur, the sacred Jewish Holy Day dedicated to contemplating life’s tribulations. Barbie’s narrative delves into the universal human condition, similar to the ritualized Yom Kippur service, which prompts contemplation on personal missteps and the mending of fences. The film is a powerful reminder to self-reflect and consider if we’ve strayed from our values or hurt others.

The movie also connects with communal ideas, similar to the midnight Selichot services before Yom Kippur. These gatherings, often featuring public concerts, mirror a collective effort for self-improvement. I experienced this firsthand at a Beit Avichai, Jerusalem show, where communal spirit and personal reflection came together.

At its core, the movie echoes the timeless message embedded in our tradition: the constant potential for human growth and improvement. The concept of ‘teshuvah,’ or returning to one’s pure soul, is a testament to our inherent capacity for development. Just as the High Holidays stress, the film emphasizes that, like Barbie and Ken’s evolving story, we all can grow personally and together, discovering moments of peace and connection in a fast-paced world.

GOLDA: A Reckoning

On August 24th, the Federation CJA in Montreal launched its annual fundraising campaign with an extraordinary event. They managed to secure all eight screens of the newly renovated CineStarz Deluxe Cavendish movie theatre in Montreal to host two screenings of “Golda,” featuring the talented Helen Mirren as the iconic Israeli political figure Golda Meir.

The CJA is a central Jewish community organization in Montreal that actively follows the philanthropic tradition from Moses’ Torah, which stresses the duty to “feed the hungry and clothe the poor.” Their website features a powerful video for this year’s #StandUpCampaign, supporting the vulnerable and tackling concerns about antisemitism and Jewish identity.

Golda Meir’s Unyielding Leadership

“Golda” is an enthralling movie that reveals the harrowing narrative of Israeli citizens and soldiers thrust into the midst of a war initiated by Egypt and Syria, quietly backed by Jordan, on the sacred day of Yom Kippur in 1973. The film depicts Israel’s unpreparedness and the existential crisis it faced, with the lives of six million Israelis hanging in the balance. *1

The movie meticulously portrays Meir’s leadership during this critical period. Serving as the Prime Minister of Israel and the designated commander-in-chief, Meir navigated the challenges with unwavering determination. Recently released archival footage from the battlefield provides a haunting glimpse into the atrocities of that historical event. *2

After the war, Golda resigned and faced personal blame for an extended period. Questions lingered about whether her gender or age affected the inadequate preparedness and significant losses.

Golda’s Secret Battles and Sacrifices

The movie reveals new aspects of Golda’s life, including her secret battle with cancer, taking charge of media responses from General Moshe Dayan to uplift public spirits, and grappling with U.S. reluctance to provide arms to Israel. It showcases Meir’s compassion, intelligence, and steadfast leadership in confronting significant challenges.

The film highlights Golda’s true essence, exhibiting her empathy for those around her and her steadfast determination during tough times almost single-handedly. Her leadership style, which emphasizes putting the needs of the state and the people above her own, is a valuable lesson. She guided her nation through a tumultuous period, earning our profound gratitude.

Helen Mirren’s portrayal of the complexities of this character is genuinely compelling. From the opening scenes, her expressive face communicates volumes without words. Her performance deserves an Oscar, making the movie worth the ticket price.

High Holidays: A Deepened Connection

Currently in Israel for the Jewish High Holidays, where our traditions began, the high holiday season deepens our connection to this historic land. From the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul to the concluding moments of the Sukkot holiday, Shmini Atzeret, the “High Holidays” mark an annual reenactment of the pivotal events that unfolded in the desert.

For example, after Moses’ prolonged absence, the Israelites grew anxious and created a Golden Calf to worship, violating the commandments. Upon returning, Moses pleaded with God for forgiveness. God outlined a path to atonement through repentance and prayer, renewing His covenant with the Israelites. *3

This narrative is echoed annually throughout our Yom Kippur prayer services and has fortified our people against adversities such as the Crusaders, the Inquisition, and the Nazi onslaught.

Within the Yom Kippur service, a poignant moment arises during the Yizkor prayer, where we reflect on our departed parents and ancestors. This year, a member of our congregation shared a vivid account of his experiences during the Yom Kippur War, a testament to the profound impact of this historical event.

Yom Kippur War: A Miraculous Tale

Yom Kippur War: From the Beit Midrash to the Battlefield,” a video about the miraculous rescue story, reminds us how our unwavering traditions support us in tough times, emphasizing our national identity as servants of our one God, whom we crown as our only King on Yom Kippur.

In this footage, despite the enemy’s perception that attacking Yom Kippur would confer an advantage, it becomes evident that the day itself may have bolstered our triumph.

A Lesson in Leadership

“Golda” is a poignant reminder of the resilience and strength of the Jewish people as they faced immense challenges during this difficult time. Reflecting on this period of history during the Jewish High Holidays, we are reminded of our enduring connection to our traditions and the importance of unity in the face of adversity. The film portrays Meir’s leadership through a deeply personal lens, highlighting the sacrifices she made and the difficult decisions she had to make to ensure the survival of her people. It is a testament to the power of leadership, sacrifice, and the indomitable spirit of the Jewish people.



  1. “The Yom Kippur War: Background & Overview.” Jewish Virtual Library, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org.
  2. Ynet News: Israel declassifies massive archive to mark 50th anniversary of Yom Kippur War.” Ynetnews, www.ynetnews.com.
  3. Isaacs, Jacob. “The Golden Calf.” Chabad.org, Kehot Publication Society