Category Archives: Israel

“ADVENTURES OF A MATHEMATICIAN”—A New Film from Israel

“ADVENTURES OF A MATHEMATICIAN”

A New Film from Israel

Amos Lassen 

A thought-provoking account of Jewish-Polish immigrant and mathematician Stan Ulam, who fled to the USA in the 1930s. Stan deals with the difficult losses of family and friends all while helping to create the hydrogen bomb.
                         *****                          
     San Francisco JFF                               Atlanta JFF            
    *****
Stan Ulam is a 30-year-old talented Polish Jewish mathematician, a good-looking bon vivant who is quick with a joke. Stan’s life becomes complicated when he loses his fellowship at Harvard but his best friend, the Hungarian genius Johnny von Neumann quickly offers him a mysterious job which takes him to New Mexico.

Stan moves to Los Alamos with Françoise, a French woman he meets and marries after a whirlwind romance. Surrounded by young, eccentric, charismatic immigrant scientists Stan begins top secret work on a nuclear bomb that could potentially blow up the entire world.

While desperately trying to help his sister flee Nazi occupied Poland, Stan teams up with Johnny to create the first computer giving birth to the digital age as Europe bursts into flames.

‘ “TIL KINGDOM COME” — Jews and Evangelical Christians

“TIL KINGDOM COME”

Jews and Evangelical Christians

Amos Lassen

Associate Pastor William Boyd Bingham IV, is a reflective soft spoken man, the third generation of preachers to serve in the Binghamtown Baptist Church, an Evangelical congregation in Middlesboro county, one of the poorest in this yet it manages to be a major contributor to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. This organization, founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and now headed by his daughter Yael, is now the largest welfare charity in Israel with a budget of $118m in 2018. In addition to helping the needy, it encourages Jewish immigration into Israel and rallies Churches abroad to support the country. American Evangelists now rival Jewish organizations like AIPAC in their fundraising for Israel.

The Evangelists believe in the Rapture, a prophecy that foretells the return of the Jews to Israel will be followed by a period of violent tribulations and will culminate with Armageddon, a terrible final war that will mark the beginning of the return of Christ. Most Jews will perish and those that survive will convert to Christianity. The protests following the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem led to 58 deaths and thousands injured. Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and cutting UNWRA funding for Palestinian welfare are part of the plan. Because two key members of Trump’s cabinet were evangelical– Pence and Pompeo— this agenda was being vigorously advanced.

Bingham leads a group of evangelist pilgrims to Israel where they visit and volunteer at a food distribution center. He takes time, alone and away from his group, to politely listen to a Palestinian Catholic cleric complain about the negative influence of evangelists on the prospects for peaceful co-existence between Arabs and Jews. He claims to be unconvinced, but is he secretly rooting for more confrontation and bloodshed? The Ecksteins go on fundraising trips to the United States. Yael visits the Binghamtown church and then pledges $5m of her charity’s money at an IDF fundraiser. We witness the efforts of Israeli settlers who are now engaging directly with evangelist US congressmen to advance their cause.

On WMIK, a radio station owned by the Binghamtown Baptist Church, a news presenter seems to be overjoyed by reports of bombings in Israel, and this gives her hope that redemption is closer. Director Maya Zinshtein allows her protagonists to do the talking and relies on Israeli television presenters to explain the Rapture prophecy for the benefit of Israeli audiences. The film is haunting, beautifully shot by cinematographer Abraham Troen. It is an explosive blend of fanaticism, hypocrisy and cynicism and it shook me to my core.

“Til Kingdom Come” is a documentary that shows why evangelicals and right-wing are sleeping with each other.Spotlighting rural communities in Kentucky it makes you uncomfortable and so it does what it sets out to do.  There are a number of Orthodox Jews in America and Israel that welcome evangelical support for Israel.  However, we see that evangelicals are not supporting Israel for the same reason as Jews.  They want to bring about the end of days.

Part of the film looks at moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Even though there is Jewish support for having the embassy in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, many presidents held off because of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  For something that is supposed to be a secular event, we can only wonder why were there so many Christian clergy on hand?  At the opening of the embassy, John Hagee spoke with rhetoric that makes Jews feel uncomfortable and evangelicals looked at the move as a Christian prophecy.  Palestinians looked at it as an act of war.  As a matter of fact, there were 58 Palestinians killed and over 2,700 injured during mass protests over the move.

Evangelicals don’t even bother to look at the overall conflict.  They focus on getting all Jews back to Israel than have any discussion about human rights. It gets even worse when we realize  that hardline extremist settlers are meeting with members of Congress. 

When asked about Pastor William Bingham’s comments in a church, Yael Eckstein mentions being triggered whenever Jesus  is intertwined into Hebrew Bible teachings.  William Bingham is asked about what will happen to Jews when the end times come and we clearly see that evangelicals and Jews have two very different viewpoints.  There is really no way to reconcile these views and so we should be really ill at-ease here.

Bingham speaks of Trump’s appeal in his community.  He mentions feeling looked down upon by people in larger cities and affluent areas.

Right before the film’s end,it becomes completely uncomfortable. Bingham is asked, off-camera, if there is a degree of hypocrisy between  Jews and evangelical Christians has a certain level of hypocrisy and he replies with “you blind stupid Jewish people.” After that statement, it no longer matters what he says, he clearly is an anti-Semite.

Jews must reject evangelical support because of their obsession with prophecy.  After watching this film, it’s very scary knowing that there are Jews who accept evangelical support.  The film examines how this powerful coalition came together and how its apocalyptic theology poses a lasting threat to the region in its design.

The International Fellowship for Christians and Jews was founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who is interviewed in this film, along with his daughter and successor. He was mocked and dismissed by Jewish Israelis, and when his ideas became a tremendous multi-million dollar success, he was scorned for inviting his Christian partners to the table.

What Zinshtein shows us is a matrix of interest groups in an uneasy alliance for a common cause. Evangelicals welcome the vision of Armageddon that welcomes death, wars, pestilence and natural disaster in Israel as signs of prophecy. By its nature this is antisemitic and is counter to peace, the former Trump administration which prided itself on its evangelical base, and Netanyahu’s own government, relying on the votes of the settler movement yet its terms have been accepted. Not only am I uncomfortable after seeing “Til Kingdom Come”, I am very, very angry.

 “FORGIVENESS”— A Love-Hate Relationship

 “FORGIVENESS”

A Love-Hate Relationship

Amos Lassen

Israeli  and actors and directors Guy Amir and Hannan Savyon bring us a comedy set in the south of Israel near the Gaza border, in  a place where the beleaguered citizens live with incoming rocket fire. Longtime pals Shaul (Amir) and Nissan (Savyon) attempt to rob a postal bank but the mismanaged job results in Shaul being  arrested and sent to prison.

     Years later, upon his release from prison, Shaul is less than pleased to be greeted by the newly religious Nissan who seeks his forgiveness. Shaul has served  his sentence but his skill set hasn’t expanded in any way that will enable him to support his family, so he needs Nissan to remember where he buried their loot. 

This is a modern take on old-style Israeli comedies.

“GOD OF THE PIANO”— To Raise a Prodigy

“GOD OF THE PIANO”

To Raise a Prodigy

Amos Lassen

For concert pianist, Anat (Naama Preis), music is all she has but she never has  been able to reach her father’s musical standards. She has hopes that her  unborn child will be able to so. However, she gives birth to a boy who is born deaf. Now, Anat’s will to raise a musical genius becomes stronger, and she takes drastic measures to make sure her son becomes the composer her father always wanted. Her son, however, is indifferent to destiny as a  great pianist and Anat will have to stand up to her father  and her own actions.

“God of the Piano” from director Itay Tal explores  the uncertain nature of prodigy and the price one pays for being labeled a genius. It is filled with twists and turn and totally unpredictable. There is wonderful music and adoration of a gifted young pianist, but it is basically a study of a woman who lives through her genius son, pushing him relentlessly and nurturing his talent while at the same time being guilty of inflicting psychological abuse on him.

Anat is a concert pianist from a family that’s all about music, so much so that when a pregnant Anat breaks water during a concert, she continues her performance, and when riding in the back seat of a car on the way to the hospital, she sees that her brother and father do not talk about her or ask how she’s doing but discuss the technique of the pianist who performs for them on the radio.

When she learns that her newborn son is deaf and has a defect that would prevent him from getting anywhere near what Anat is hoping for him, she switches wrist bands in the hospital and takes home a normal, healthy child. Anat had never reached the heights that her teacher, Arieh (Ze’ev Shimshoni) had hoped for her and this is the reason that devotesher life to her “son” Idan (Omer Migram as a baby, Itay Zipor at a 5-year-old, and Andy Levy at the age of 12).

We are all aware of parents who, like Anat, live through their children.  Anat is so wrapped up in her misguided devotion to Idan that she refuses to let the 12-year-old go on a school outing because that would take two days away from his rehearsing for an audition. Yet she has no problem seducing Raphael (Shimon Mimran), a great composer, to get from him corrections to her boy’s composition.

“MAYOR”— The Mayor of Ramallah

“MAYOR”

The Mayor of Ramallah

Amos Lassen

 

 

In “Mayor” filmmaker David Osit,  gives us a real-life political saga following Musa Hadid, the liberal Christian mayor of Ramallah, during his second term in office. Ramallah is surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements and soldiers (I did my basic training there when I was in the Israel Defense Forces) and most people in Ramallah will never have the chance to travel more than a few miles outside their home. This is why Mayor Hadid is determined to make the city a beautiful and dignified place to live. His immediate goals include repaving the sidewalks, planning the town’s neon-bright Christmas celebrations, boosting tourism and avoiding gunfire from Israeli army activity. His ultimate mission is  to end the occupation of Palestine. The film is “a portrait of dignity amidst the madness and absurdity of endless occupation while posing a question: how do you run a city when you don’t have a country?”

Being a mayor is not easy and when one is the mayor of one of the most contested pieces of geography in modern history, the job is that much more difficult. Yet, Musa Hadid, who has presided over the de facto Palestinian capital of Ramallah since 2012 and has calmly and pragmatically gone about his business, concerned as much about park benches, sewage treatment and other routine municipal details as he is about the very future of his people.

The film was shot during the 2017 holiday season, when Ramallah, which has a minority Christian population was preparing for the festivities just as the Trump administration controversially announced it would be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What we see  is a study in politics both micro and macro, showing what happens when the two collide.

 “Every year, same chaos, same story,” the fifty-something Hadid admits at one particularly tough moment, when soldiers from the IDF have swarmed his city, going door-to-door to root out protesters and surveillance cameras in a sweeping demonstration of their occupational might. And yet, Until the point in the documentary when Israeli soldiers go door to door to root out protestors Ramallah resembles the any other mid-sized capital, with civic issues, Christmas tree lighting plans, cafés, fast-food restaurants and other things we don’t usually think about life in the Palestinian territories that have been occupied by Israel since 1967.

Ramallah wants to be like other cities but cannot. It is surrounded by Israeli settlements and is dependent on Israeli approval for anything it undertakes. It is very close to Jerusalem, it has become one of the major places of the Middle Eastern crisis. There is major urban unrest whenever the conflict flares up.

The mayor somehow manages to maintain quite a level of composure and has had a great deal of energy. He really wants to make Ramallah a nice place to live. He seems to worry about the smallest things such as the quality of doors at a local elementary school celebrating the Christmas the tree-lighting ceremony.

This portrait of Hadid can be seen as a bit one-sided but we see him as he tries to stay in power. We might say that this more of a look at his position as mayor that it is of him as a person. Although Hadid needs to constantly wheel and deal to get the job done, in terms of the conflict he says that is about dignity.

 

He is steady so it seems reliable leadership is underrated. We see him at a staff meeting about the new marketing slogan that is part of a re-branding attempt for the city where the idea is beyond him. He’s much more comfortable discussing the Christmas celebration and more run-of-the-mill problems, like replacing old doors at a public school.

Larger forces are at work that will have profound effects on Palestine and, subsequently, Hadid. Following President Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of nearby Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, tensions with the Israeli soldiers around Ramallah increased. When asked by international rights organizations about hosting talks between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, he loses his cool and lists the abuses Ramallah has suffered under the occupation. Some of the film’s most satisfying moments happen when he pushes back against the West, asking European visitors as to whether anyone in their home countries knows what has been happening here.

Ultimately, the film isn’t too biographical as we never learn anything about Hadid’s political career before he became mayor, and both he remains a distant figure. We do see his leadership style and today when there are so many leaders that are driven by their egos, this is refreshing.  

BONUS FEATURES

 

·       Commentary by Director David Osit

·       Deleted Scenes

 

About Film Movement

 

Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

 

“THE NEW BLACK” (“Shababnikim”)— Four Students

“THE NEW BLACK” (“Shababnikim”)

Four Students

Amos Lassen

In many cases in Israel, the religious and the secular do not go to school together. We meet four students in Jerusalem who study at a Yeshiva, a place where religious studies and taught. Gedalya, is on the straight and narrow, while the other three prefer to study and play in the park or go to a mall.

They are known as  Shababnikim,  a Hebrew slang word for religious youth who stray. However Shababnikim don’t leave the community and instead stretch the limits of appropriate behavior and while forgoing intense study. While we are too suppose that none of the four have not yet experience having sex, they all want to and it is here that the comedy begins. Watch for this new comedy to be screened on American television. I have known guys like this and so many memories came back to me while watching it.

“ASIA”— An Intimate Drama

“ASIA”

An Intimate Drama

Amos Lassen

In “Asia”, Israeli director gives us a  wrenching portrait of maternal love.  Asia (Alena Yiv) is aRussian immigrant mother who is lonely and exhausted  with her daughter Vika (Shira Haas). Sheworks long hours as a nurse at a Jerusalem hospital and is still young and attractive despite her careworn manner. She spends her free time getting drunk at singles bars or having occasional sex with a married doctor colleague (Gera Sandler) in his car

Seventeen–year-old Vika hangs out at a local skate park with her friend Natali (Eden Halili), smoking pot, drinking and flirting with Roy (Or Barak).The first indication of Vika’s health issues come after Natali has taken her to the hospital when alcohol causes a bad reaction with her medication. Her mother has warned her about this but Vika’s natural curiosity about sex and her desire to fit in with her peers causes her to ignore that warning. While Asia is at work one day, Vika is at home with Roy, chugging cognac and making out, until her mood suddenly changes with what could be simple nerves or a physical warning that her body is shutting down.

A doctor’s visit reveals that Vika suffers from a degenerative disorder that already is compromising her motor skills and will eventually affect her breathing,

Where at first there seems almost no communication between Asia and Vika, things begin to change and there are short exchanges. Asia seems understand her daughter’s future when she helps the home-care worker of an elderly neighbor with dementia. Her anxiety over Vika’s condition is influenced by her impatience with the teenager’s disposition.

Vika’s illness gives her very limited mobility. Asia is unable to maintain her hospital workload while caring for her daughter, who refuses to allow her friends to see her, She gets help from young male trainee nurse Gabi (Tamir Mula) whose kindness toward Vika prompts Asia to make an unusual request of him: “There are things I can’t give her that you can.”

Dignity and compassionate humanism in an inescapably bleak scenario comes to the fore and there is a divinely  delicate understatement here,  Asia is fully in touch with her desires whereas Vika’s physical connection may stay unknown. This unspoken communication between a mother and her daughter about the needs of their bodies is something we rarely see on screen.

There are tender moments between the two and we get a somber snapshot of a bond in which the ultimate trust and love are shown where previously there seemed only distance and mutual incomprehension.

There’s an air of something slightly desperate about Asia, accumulated, presumably, down the years as she imagined everything others were doing that she has missed out on while being a young mother to Vika. This is coupled with a sense of longing, a desire for connection, not just in terms of romance, but also with her daughter, with whom she has had only short interactions.

This is a loose and intimate approach to the relationship, that unfolds in moments with a sense of uncertainty about the progression of the illness as it also begins to make its presence felt in the mother/daughter relationship.

Vika begins to need increasing amounts of help but it is the emotional connection between her and her mother does not want to let this happen.  Vika\is never shown as a victim as director Pribar explores how difficult it can be to sustain your own personal rebellion when your body is undertaking a mutiny of its own. This is a kind of coming-of-age for Vika and  a coming-of-maturity for Asia and a reconciliation with loss for both women.

“The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity” by Micah Goodman— Bridging the Divide

Goodman, Micah. “The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity”, Yale University Press, 2020.

Bridging the Divide

Amos Lassen

Israeli author Micah Goodman looks at the roots of the divide between religion and secularism in Israel today and presents a way to bridge the divide. One of my great pleasures is reading philosophical approaches to Judaism and Goodman here adds both political and social approaches to the religion as well as he examines the
place of religion in the modern world.

Zionism which began as an ideological movement full of contradictions looked to the past while at the same time harbored desire to bring about a new future. As a result, Israel has become fragmented between those who rely upon religious tradition and those who break with that tradition. Today, however, there seems to be a new middle between religious and secular Jews who want to engage with but not be restricted by heritage.

 Goodman explores Israeli Judaism and the conflict that exists between religion and secularism which has become one of the major causes of political polarization all over the world. By referring to and examining traditional religious sources and exemplary works of secularism, he shows us that each has an openness to learn from the other. He challenges both orthodoxies and proposes a new approach to bring religion and secularism together and provide a way to heal society that has been torn apart by extremism on both sides.

Before reading this, I read Goodman’s “Catch 67” and was amazed by his scholarship and sense of reason in looking at a situation (Israel/Palestine) where no solution was in sight. Yet he managed to propose ideas to, at least, begin working toward some kind of agreement. The gap between tradition and secularism is another situation of the same kind and is an important read for those who care about the future of the Jewish religion, of the Jewish people and of Israel. Through analyzing the situation, we are better able to understand why Goodman’s work is so highly respected. He dares to go where others do not.

In trying to understand any situation, we must examine all sides and the pluses and minuses that they present. Through his originality and deep insight, we are guided to do the same. Not only are we better able to see the culture and religion of Israel differently, we are able to place ourselves into it.

“FULL GAS”— Changing the Odds

“FULL GAS”

Changing the Odds

Amos Lassen

“Full Gas” is a new film from Israel— the story of Tomer, 17,  who moves with his mother to a small village at the edge of the desert. Everyone is preparing for the under-18 Motocross National championship due to take place a month later, with arrogant Nimrod,17, – the village’s alpha male – the clear favorite to win. Tomer’s arrival changes the rules of the game. At first Tomer is harassed by Nimrod and his gang while battling over the heart of beautiful Amalia,17, but soon enough the story hits high octane when Tomer meets Albert, 50, – an aging, lonely Motorcross ex-champion, who hasn’t stepped out of his house for the past 20 years.

Meeting by chance, the two become true friends: Tomer peels off Albert’s dark secrets, while Albert becomes Tomer’s bike master – preparing him for the race of his life against Nimrod. Will the ugly duckling shock everyone, including himself, by winning the championship?

“Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War” by Micah Goodman— The Internal Debate Over the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Goodman, Micah. “Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War”, Yale University Press, 2019.

The Internal Israeli Debate \Over the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Amos Lassen

Since the Six-Day War, Israelis have had an ongoing national debate over whether to keep the land they conquered or to return some, if not all, of the territories to Palestinians. In 2017, Israeli author Micah Goodman published a balanced and insightful analysis of the situation that became one of Israel’s most debated books of the year. Available now in English translation with a new preface by the author, “Catch-67” looks at the ideas that have shaped Israelis’ thinking on both sides of the debate as well as among secular and religious Jews about the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.

We read of the paradox of Israeli political discourse that both sides are right in what they claim and wrong in what they deny. Goodman concludes that the conflict cannot be solved but he is not a pessimist and looks at how it can be reduced through limited, practical steps. Using philosophical critique and political analysis, Goodman presents a creative, compelling case for pragmatism in a dispute where a solution seems impossible.

Goodman gives usa strong foundation of historical and religious research, solid organizational principles.  His vision is that  Israel can’t go back but that Israelis can still pull themselves from the situation and think clearly about peace with the Palestinians. Goodman presents his ideas by empathetically listening to different viewpoints and being guided by the spirit of the Talmud, to try to change the conversation.  He knows that he won’t bring an end  to the debate but he does show to participate in it. He moves the debate towards concrete solutions and provides a way out of the situation.

Whether or not the author’s proposals will move the peace process forward is, of course, not known. They have been rejected by Israelis on all sides. The ideas about the Zionist Right has left its original liberal stance and has become a messianic movement and the Left gave up the fight for social justice believing that peace was near. The disengagement from Gaza breaking down the certainties of the Religious Zionist camp.

Goodman explains that Israel is politically stuck and that the main reason for this is Palestinian rejectionism— the unwillingness of the non-elected Palestinian leaders to accept any Jewish presence in what they consider immutably Muslim land.
Goodman suggests some pragmatic, possible, solutions, none of them that will end the conflict but could make co-existence easier to deal with. He looks at the need for security of the Israelis and how the Palestinians and the international community do not consider them.