Rabbi Poupko’s Oscar-Nominated Film Reviews

During his flights, despite his busy travels between Israel and other places, Rabbi Poupko found time to watch three Oscar-nominated films: OppenheimerMaestro, and The Zone of Interest. He shared his reviews during a Sabbath afternoon gathering at the synagogue.

Speaking about Oppenheimer, isn’t it interesting that a group of Jews managed to create the atom bomb, which won the war for the Western powers? Isn’t it interesting that Jews created Hollywood in the middle of nowhere in California? Isn’t it interesting that Jews created Broadway? Isn’t it remarkable that since the Nobel Prize has been awarded, Jews have comprised 40% of all recipients in all fields? Jews have made significant contributions to the US, Canada, and Germany.

‘By the way,’ he asked the crowd, ‘Does anybody know how many Nobel Prizes Muslims have won?’ After a hushed silence, someone mentioned Yasser Arafat. This drew a laugh!

Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for their 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 at the White House marked a pivotal moment. Following this, he instigated the Second Intifada, characterized by terrorist attacks on buses and cafes, resulting in the loss of over 1,000 innocent Israeli lives. In response, Israel implemented border walls and checkpoints along its borders with the West Bank and Gaza. Among Nobel laureates, Muslims have received sixteen: nine for peace, four for science, and three for literature. (*2)

Rabbi Poupko continued, ‘Has anyone read 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 universities—prior to 1933. Germany was admired worldwide as a center of culture and science, and Jews were thriving there too.

As Jews in Germany listened to Hitler’s tirades against them, they decided to publish an eleven-hundred-page book detailing Jewish contributions to Germany, hoping it 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 I, believed that if others were aware of their contributions, the Hungarians would “come to their senses.” The 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’?”

Indeed, Spain never recovered its glory after introducing the Inquisition and expelling the Jews in 1492. Germany has not regained its cultural ascendance since its unprovoked attack on Jews initiated in 1933 when Hitler came to power.

Sadly, antisemitism is not confined to Europe but exists 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 before the 1960s when there were quotas on Jewish enrollment. Jews are now choosing to attend less prestigious universities. In the 1990s, 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.’ Over the last five months, we have discovered an alarming resurgence of these evil ideas. These irrational notions, for whatever reason, continue to fester close to the surface, and people seem eager to find the State of Israel’ guilty as charged.’ Sadly, I have to reflect that of the Imams and Pastors 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 have 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 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 my 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 deserved Oscar recognition: Golda: A Reckoning and SHTTL.

And here is Barbra Streisand, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award and delivered a powerful address confronting antisemitism and bigotry.

 

Happy viewing!

 

Footnotes:

  1. Mandel, Seth. “Glazer’s Partners Refute 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 Britannica, www.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.” PBS, www.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)

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