| Avi Nesher’s “The Other Story” is a family drama from Israel that is tense and filled with intrigue. Anat has recently become an ultra-Orthodox Jew, is about to get married. Her father returns to Israel to try to stop the wedding and family disputes and conspiracies arise. Meanwhile, her grandfather, Shlomo (Sasson Gabai), a marriage counselor, has a client who has chosen to reject Orthodoxy and embrace spiritual freedom. When the women cross paths, the consequences are unexpected. While the film is grounded through a father-daughter relationship, it also touches on the struggles between Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and secular lifestyles. There are two major plots going on in the film. One is the relationship between Anat Abadi (Joy Rieger) and Shachar Elkayam (Nathan Goshen). The other deals with patients of Dr. Shlomo Abadi (Sasson Gabai), Rami (Maayan Bloom) and Sari (Avigail Harari). |
When Shlomo brings in his son, Yonatan (Yuval Segal), to help these two, it somehow enables Yonatan to become closer with his daughter. Anat and Sari are rebels in their own way. Where Anat has found herself becoming more religious, Sari is driven further away from Judaism. When the film begins, Tali (Maya Dagan) didn’t have the best relationship with her daughter, Anat. Neither did her ex-husband, Yonatan. He escaped a damaging scandal to be there for his daughter but only after Shlomo buys a plane ticket. Their relationship hasn’t been the best but he wants to be there for her now. Of course, he will try to manipulate her so that Tali wins but love can be strange. None of them are happy that she followed her boyfriend Shachar into the Ultra-Orthodox Judaism lifestyle. They’ll do anything if it meets getting her to forget that way of life. While Anat rebels against her parents by becoming religious, it’s interesting to see how her parents react to these decisions. Based on a true story, the film will shows us a lot about these two different worldviews–Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and the secular world. The film is more entertaining than one might’ve expected but because it is all-over-the-place, it becomes tiresome and uninvolving.
The screenplay (which won the so-called Israeli Oscar, the Ophir award) is alittle like a detective story. A father’s inquiries about the dead son he nevermet reveal surprise after. Certainly the father develops a “longing” forhis son.
The novel is written in the form of letters and messages among family members and others. It is set in the spring of 200 and the idea of a pig farm in the Holy Land, where many people won’t eat pork or ham sets the backdrop. Harry receives many letters from a local rabbi concerning the pigs, the morality of having the pig farm, and so on. Then there is Harry’s son David who is gay and there is some confusion, particularly on Harry’s part about accepting David as he is. This is a family that does nothing together and cannot seem to do anything together.
“THE OTHER STORY”
Label, Judge, Condemn
In “The Other Story”, Anat (Joy Rieger) suddenly decides to marry Shahar (Nathan Goshen) a member of Jerusalem’s insular orthodox community. Her divorced secular parents (Yuval Segal and Maya Dagan) and grandfather (Sasson Gabai) formulate a plot to thwart the upcoming nuptial, with unforeseen results.
Avi Nesher’s warm hearted drama explores an age that is all too quick to label, judge and condemn what it doesn’t understand. Nesher and co-writer Noam Shpancer effectively build the layers of the story and tighten the tensions. Nesher has stated that some of the inspiration for the film came from the growing phenomenon of ‘hazara betshuva’ (returning to faith) where young secular Jews are turning to orthodox Judaism. That is certainly true of Anat who has renounced her hedonistic youth in Jerusalem to devote herself to the study of the Torah and to live a pure life. Unfortunately, for her, this is a decision deeply resented by her mother Tali and grandfather Shlomo.
Her family sees the forthcoming wedding to singer Shahar as the final straw. Shahar was once a raunchy pop star but is now strictly orthodox and who instead of rock ballads, croons soulful songs to the wisdom of the Torah. In a desperate attempt to win back Anat, the family call upon her estranged father Jonatan who returns from America charged with finding some flaws in the too-good-to-be-true Shahar.
We see that nothing is quite as simple as it appears on the surface. Anat is committed to her choices and feels that nobody, least of all her unreliable father, has the right to challenge her. (Jonatan’s visit allows him to escape a bruising lawsuit in America). Tali clearly still has some feelings for her ex-husband even if she greets him by throwing a glass of red wine in his face. Her proud father-in-law Shlomo is happy to have Jonatan sharing his house once again and believes that he might actually put a stop to Anat’s marriage.
The dialogue contains some wonderful one-liners and effectively build the layers of the story and tighten the tensions. Shlomo, a psychiatrist by profession, convinces his son-in-law to join him in providing counselling sessions for a couple in crisis. The wife has involved herself in a quasi-feminist cult dedicated to breaking the chains of patriarchy.
The wider themes of the film become more evident when no one is prepared to listen to the other side of the story or try to understand a different point of view. “The Other Story” becomes a reflection on how interfering parents must face the consequences of their actions and how nobody has a monopoly on virtue. This is a gripping, touching and unpredictable story about a troubled father-daughter relationship that weaves in the conflicts between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis, a struggle that is so central to Israeli life.
Tali has tried talking Anat out of the wedding, but with no success. It isn’t just that Tali, a successful Tel Aviv businesswoman, doesn’t like the idea of having a religious daughter; she has reason to distrust Shahar. He is a musician who got their daughter into drugs, and Anat followed along when he became ultra-Orthodox.
Yonatan arrives and is repentant that he has been away so long and determined to get through to Anat. But he has his own “other story” that he has been involved in some shady business dealings in America – a biotech start-up that used fake data – and law enforcement is closing on this company in the US.
Yonatan stays with his father in a cluttered Jerusalem apartment. While Yonatan is prepared for and endures Anat’s hostility, it still hurts. He realizes that even if he discovers that her groom-to-be is untrustworthy, this won’t win him back his daughter’s love. As Yonatan searches for a way to reach her, he learns about a couple Shlomo is treating who are in the midst of a bitter child custody battle.
The bone of contention is that the wife (Avigail Harari) is part of a women’s cult which engages in pagan rituals that involve blood, and the husband (Maayan Bloom) fears for their son’s safety. (This is actually based on a true story). Jerusalem is filled with true believers, but their beliefs often go in wild directions. Yonatan sees this case as a way to engage his daughter, whom he believes can win the wife’s trust and will share his concern for their young son. This strange story takes Yonatan and Anat on a strange journey through their past and through Jerusalem. There’s too much damage done and all the characters are too flawed for anything important to happen quickly or easily, but it is fascinating to watch the story unfold.
The acting is excellent all around. Yuval Segal gives a low-key, nuanced performance as a broken man who is trying get back some of what he’s let go of. Joy Rieger is intense but charming as a young woman who thinks she has found the truth. Sasson Gabai does wonderful work here in the key role of the grandfather. Maya Dagan manages to make Tali into a full-fledged character, rather than just a resentful ex-wife.
Avi Nesher’s “The Other Story “is a complex drama about family, spirituality and love. Its narrative reflects the uniqueness and complexity of Jerusalem, but the emotions that we see and feel are universal.
Dowty, Alan. “Israel / Palestine”, (Hot Spots in Global Politics), 4th Edition, Polity, 2018.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is so intense that we really do not know what to call it or how to talk about it.
In this fully revised and expanded fourth edition of his highly respected introductory text, Alan Dowty looks at and attempts to define the conflict by putting it in broad historical perspective, identifying its roots, and tracing its evolution up to today. We gain a clear analytic framework for understanding transformations over time, and in doing so, the myths of an “age-old” conflict fall away. This is not just a recitation of historical detail; it is a clear overview that serves as a road map through the conflicting claims. It has now been updated to include recent developments, such as the clashes in the Gaza Strip and the latest diplomatic initiatives. It presents the opposed perspectives of the two sides in full, leaving readers to make their own evaluations of the issues. “The book thus expresses fairly and objectively the concerns, hopes, fears, and passions of both sides, making it clear why this conflict is waged with such vehemence – and how, for all that, the gap between the two sides has narrowed over time.”
Alan Dowty illuminates history with this book. “Israel/Palestine” is an authoritative text on the Arab/Israeli conflict. It combines balance and examination of the responsibilities of all sides as well an opportunity to evaluate critically their differences and the commonalities out of which the conflict could be resolved.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most emotionally charged conflict in the world and both the passion and emotion of it is often appears many of the books written on the conflict. Alan Dowty has done something that I thought was impossible to in writing a book about the conflict. He remains balanced between the two sides.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 Introduction: Two Worlds Collide
Defining the Conflict
The Setting: Ottoman Palestine
2 The Jewish Story
A Fossilized Relic?
The Theme of Persecution
“Come, Let Us Go”
Herzl and the Second Aliya
3 The Arab Story
The Glory of Islam
The Rise of the West
Palestine and Palestinism
The Debut of Arab Nationalism
4 The Emergence of Israel
The British Mandate
A Mischievous Pretense?
Holocaust and Partition
The War of Independence/An-Naqba:
The Second Stage of the Conflict
Nasser and Nationalism
5 The Re-emergence of the Palestinians
The War that No One Wanted?
The Peculiar Legacy of 1967
The Decade of Sadat: Entering the Third Stage of the Conflict
The Lebanese Tangle
Shaking Things Up: The First Intifada
6 The First Pass at Peace
The Oslo Breakthrough
The Rocky Road to Peace
What Went Wrong?
The Roof Falls In
7 The Fourth Stage of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict
The End of the Arafat Era
Israel Turns to Unilateralism
A Turning Point: Ideology Prevails
8 The Impasse that Remains
The End of the Two-State Solution?
Territory and Settlements
A General Prognosis
9 The Perfect Conflict
Right against Right?
A Practical Solution
Building Foundations: Extremists and Illusions
In Two Worlds
Seventeen-year-old Asher has always been something of a troublemaker at school. He has difficulty concentrating in class, and he is compelled by a lot of rage and violence. Surprisingly, he also possesses charm and street smarts. His father is quite strict yet he is preparing him to take over the family’s scaffolding business. However, Asher has a different masculine role model in his gentle literature teacher Rami and forges a special connection with him. Asher is torn between the two worlds and looks for a chance for a new life and identity. When a sudden tragedy occurs, he has to take the ultimate test of maturity.
Director Matan Yair taught literature in Israel for almost a decade before he switched to film-making. I did the same but for a longer period and instead of turning to filmmaking, I turned to film reviewing. Israeli society is a true melting pot with individuals from various backgrounds including challenging youngsters. Both Yair and I believed that we could inspire his pupils by letting them follow their own path of self-discovery. Yair had a special student, the aforementioned Asher who was the inspiration for this film.
We start with a question—how much does it take for a person to achieve their full potential? Asher (Asher Lax) is a 17-year old student, short-tempered, yet sensitive. He doesn’t care much for education and makes little effort to prepare for his final exams. Besides being a student, he helps his father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) with his scaffolding business. Since the old man expects that his son will take over the company one day, the boy doesn’t believe that he has any options for a different life available. But everything changes when Rami (Ami Smolartchik), a literature teacher, becomes both his mentor and a role model. He helps Asher with his studies and shows Asher that he has other options in life apart from his father’s business. Although the teacher gives it his all, he himself is also lost. One day, Rami suddenly disappears from the students’ lives and leaves them with anger and sadness. With a new professor on board, Asher might not be able to carry on with what he has already set out to do.
This is a sincere and compelling portrait of a young man’s self-discovery. Asher has dreams of becoming a student of literature and history – but his temper and circumstances often get in the way. Only Rami has a chance at changing his life for the better. “Scaffolding” is largely the story of the relationship between the teacher and his student; as well as that between a domineering father and his son. Asher is not a likeable character: even if we feel sorry for him a lot of the time, he keeps making aggressive mistakes and never learns from his actions.
The performances are excellent all around. Asher, as a real-life student of the director and a first-time actor, is brilliant in the leading role. His vulnerability, anger, and internal conflict are all visible just by looking into his eyes Ami Smolartchik is also incredible as the polar opposite: the sensitive teacher. Again, there’s a lot of internal conflict in this character, and the understated way with which Smolarchik carries himself in all his scenes, complete with the physical display of vulnerability, is remarkable. Yaacov Cohen is impressive as the domineering yet weak father – by turns supportive and kind; but then tragically oppressive the next sentence. What goes on between Rami and Milo for Asher’s heart is the heart of the film.
There’s something that is fascinating about watching Israeli films. I have remarked in the past that there was a time when you could not pay an Israeli to go to a movie made in Israel but that has changed greatly.
Oz, Amos. “Dear Zealots: Letters from a Divided Land Hardcover”, translated by Jessica Cohen, Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
Israeli writer Amos Oz has written an urgent and deeply necessary work with “Dear Zealots”, three powerful essays that speak directly to our present age, on the rise of zealotry in Israel and around the world. This is “a depiction of one man’s struggle, who for decades has insisted on keeping a sharp, strident and lucid perspective in the face of chaos and at times of madness.” The essays are on the universal nature of fanaticism and its possible cures, on the Jewish roots of humanism and the need for a secular pride in Israel, and on the geopolitical standing of Israel in the wider Middle East and internationally. The language is rich and knowing (we would not expect less from Oz) and the essays are perfectly timed for our world where extremism and polarization has taken hold (something I never thought I would live to see). Oz says that he wrote these for his grandchildren and in them he retells history, religion and politics in a way that they are to be studied and possessed. Our future seems to be more uncertain every day.
The three essays,“Dear Zealots,” “Many Lights, Not One Light,” and “Dreams Israel Should Let Go of Soon,” share a common theme and that is to think as an individual and do not let blind devotion overtake our views. It is easy to be a zealot; we must listen to our opponents; learn nuance and learn to live with your neighbors. Growing fanaticism is manifested today in the illiberal democracy in the age of Trump and Putin. The characteristic here has become extreme hatred. We forget how disgusted we were with fascism and Hitler and Stalin
One of Oz’s most compelling points is that we were so disgusted by the fascism of Hitler and Stalin but as history fades and complacency rises, we are letting fascism spread.
Oz says that “Jesus regards all of humanity as morally infantile individuals who commit evil because they do not know that it is evil.” But Oz will have none of this. Even children, he says, are aware of the pain they inflict on other sentient beings. Is not the banality of evil facing us once again? It is indeed time to study Hannah Arendt again.
Oz sees “the essence of Judaism as rebellion against unfairness, presenting doubt against the complacency of certainty, questioning God when God’s actions appear tyrannical, fighting for justice, fighting against fanaticism, using persuasion and counterargument, negotiating compromise, and finding peace through tireless struggle.” I do not see that as far from my own philosophy.
Oz explains that fanatics are living in a black and white world with a simplistic view of good and evil. They are the people who try to save us from ourselves; the people who can never seem to hear anyone’s voice but their own. They are a people with no sense of humor. The disagreement over the differing views of the Messiah has brought hatred and anger to the world along with persecutions of the Jews, inquisitions, pogroms, mass murders. Why can we not wait patiently and see what happens?
This view of fanaticism informs Oz’s view of Judaism. Using the Torah and the Talmud, Oz argues that Judaism is passed down not through genes, but through books. At the heart of what it means to be Jewish is how we treat each other. It is actually very simple.
The third essay gives Oz’s views on the Israel Palestinian divide which lies somewhere between the right and left, though supportive of a two state solution; yet critical. These are Oz’s thoughts and ideas as he shows the intellectual and moral decay behind simplistic appeal of authoritarianism, absolutism, and religious dogma towards the observance and manner of practices of others. The discussion focuses on the dysfunction between Jewish religious fanaticism and the moral and humanistic intellectual foundation of Zionism. We also get interesting insight to the conflict between two thousand years of Jewish existence and tradition without independence, and the conflict between the humanist-Zionist approach and the messianic-Hasidic approach to the qualification of Israel as ‘Jewish’. There is so much here but I do not want to spoil one’s adventure of reading this very important work so I will stop and urge you to get a copy of “Dear Zealots”.
Shalvi, Alice. “Never a Native”, Halban Publishers, 2019.
An Unforgettable Person
With the publication of her autobiography, Alice Shalvi is 92 years old. I met her sometime in the late 1970s when I would grade Israel’s National Matriculation Exams in Jerusalem during the summer. She was already legendary and I never cease to be amazed at how she becomes more and more legendary with every passing day.
“Alice Shalvi is the most famous Israeli whom the average American Jew has never heard of. Revered Hebrew University English professor, principal of the Pelech school, founder of the Israel Women’s Network, rector of the Schechter Institutes, intrepid feminist activist, prominent advocate for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and winner of multiple honors—among them, the Israel Prize, the country’s Nobel—Shalvi nonetheless remains virtually anonymous in the mainstream Jewish world.”
Alice Shalvi possessed a wide-ranging expertise and coherent in-depth analyses of women’s issues. She is a living denial of feminist stereotypes. Alice was married for more than 60 years and religiously, she practices what is regarded as modern Orthodoxy. She was born in 1926 in Essen, Germany and then went to England where her family took refuge in 1934.
Alice’s memories of the war years are sketchy. She remembers being afraid when the Gestapo raided her house and when her brother came home beaten by Nazi street thugs. In London, she remembers taping the windows, the sirens and gas masks and running to the shelter.
She also remembers growing up with “a gramophone, records of Gigli, Jan Kiepura, famous cantors; opera, cinema, theatre.” She heard the child prodigy Yehudi Menuhin play at the Royal Albert Hall. During the blitz, her family left London for Buckinghamshire. Her mother provided meals for anyone who came to their door and even hosted a Seder for more than 30 Jewish soldiers stationed in the neighborhood.
Her Zionism was nourished by her father, an active Zionist and co-founder of both a publishing company of Hebrew books and a weekly newspaper whose back page featured Yiddish writing. As a child, Alice had a Hebrew grammar tutor. After the war, her family kept a chauffeur, daily household help, and a nanny.
Shalvi was a bright child who had taught herself to read German before turning 4 and often read aloud to other children. She invented imaginary alter egos to amuse her friends and amused adults with plots of movies she’d never seen but whose stories she’d imagined. She had been denied a formal Jewish education, she eavesdropped on a friend’s father’s Hebrew drills.
When she came to England, her classmates called her “a little refugee” but by the end of the school year, she was at the top of her class. She fell madly in love with English literature and was an ardent monarchist. When King George died, she wore a black armband.
She was determined to eliminate suffering and this began one rainy day while she saw a hungry old man in rags, soaked to the skin, shivering in the doorway, and felt powerless to help him.
She entered Cambridge a year earlier than her age group and spent her free time with the Jewish Society and joined a Zionist study group and discussed Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, Leo Pinsker and was elected its president. In 1946, she attended the World Zionist Congress as a junior delegate. After Cambridge, she went to the London School of Economics and got a degree in social work You get the idea; she was a star.
It was not all happiness, however. She felt like an alien in England “not only Jewish but a foreigner, and though my flawless accent did not betray my foreign birth, my ignorance of … upper-class British traditions and mores would.” At Cambridge, she felt ill-prepared. Physically, “I did not meet ideal standards. My bust was too small, my hips too broad.” She was ashamed of being “plump.” Before she had a boyfriend, she retreated into one of her fantasy alter egos, “a witty, physically more attractive person far more successful than me in winning the attentions of the opposite sex.”
When anti-Semitic remarks became unbearable, she detached from her “Jewish self” except in the privacy of her home. At the same time, she felt immense guilt for her ignorance of the Holocaust and became aware of “a startling paradox: while the extermination of European Jewry was in progress, I was enjoying what were undoubtedly the happiest years of my adolescence, safe and secure amidst the natural beauties of rural England.”
Her first visit to Palestine was in 1947, a month after the U.N. voted in favor of partition and two years later, she made aliyah. Her achievements as an educator, public speaker, social justice activist, and public intellectual are well known and her life paralleled Israel’s growing pains. However, Israel did nothing to relieve her self-doubt and shame. She had hoped to do social work with Holocaust survivors but discovered her “qualifications were inappropriate” and by accident, she found a job teaching English at the Hebrew University (her former students include Hebrew poets Yehuda Amichai, Dalia Ravikovitch, and Dan Pagis). Her confessions here are a testament to the durability of the female impostor syndrome and the emotional fortitude required for a woman to function in a judgmental patriarchal world.
We read of the unspoken and the unspeakable as Shalvi revisits episodes that sensitized her to gender inequity: The sexist pushback she got from higher-ups when she was the founding chair of the English department at the Institute of Higher Education in the Negev, the misogynistic humiliations that doomed her application for the position of dean of Ben-Gurion University, her service on the Namir Commission shich had been tasked by the Knesset with proposing legislation and other changes to improve the social, economic, and political status of women, her tenure as principal of Pelech, a high school that aims to provide Orthodox girls with both a secular and religious education, where she faced conflicts between Orthodoxy and modernity, her role as co-founder and chair of the Israel Women’s Network, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing women’s status through advocacy, consciousness-raising, litigation and legislation. She initiated new projects, like Nashim, the journal of Jewish feminist studies, created a Centre for Women in Jewish Law, and ended up as the institute’s president. This is a book about a little refugee who, despite suffering self-doubts lived a very large life.