Category Archives: Israel

“Working Woman”— A #MeToo Film from Israel

“Working Woman”

A #MeToo Film from Israel

Amos Lassen

“Working Woman”, a new Israeli film explores the problems surrounding a grey area of sexual harassment at work. Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) recently started working in the real estate business.  The work place seems to be good at first.  Unfortunately there’s more than meets the eye with her married realtor boss, Benny (Menashe Noy).  Instead of being a respectful person, Benny soon starts pressuring Orna into having sex. Like so many other men, he can’t see to keep his hands to himself.

As for Orna, her husband, (Ofer), has been working hard to start a restaurant business.  They have three children so they badly need the money if they want to live comfortably.  The restaurant struggles over the course of several months so Orna feels pressure to continue working for Benny.  It is because of the struggles, it’s Orna who must bring home the check.  All the while, she continues to pay the unwanted price in emotional

We see the film through Orna’s eyes and we see that director Michal  Aviad is not afraid to take a risk in telling this story.

There’s a few things going on for “Working Woman”.  One of which is the aforementioned issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The other of which are these young families who are struggling to live financially.  If one does not have the money to afford a family, should they wait?  This seems to be another understated angle that director seeks to explore in the film.  It’s surely an issue affecting religious families more so than secular.

It was only a matter of time before we started to see the serious effects of the #MeToo movement be reflected on the big screen.  Female filmmakers are no longer afraid of having to keep their voices silent.  It’s in the best interest of the filmmaking industry, both Hollywood and foreign alike, to have this stories be told.  We are reminded that sexual harassment happens in the workplace, too.

With the current climate surrounding the #MeToo movement and women bravely telling their stories of harassment and assault, this fictionalized account (which feels all too real) is more than topical.  In fact, it could easily have been headlines.

Lead actor Shlush is well cast in her role as Orna and she is able to easily portray her character’s clear discomfort in her body language or even just a tense facial expression.  In contrast, Noy is introduced as a charismatic individual, likeable and charming until he begins to abuse his power.  Together this dynamic helps to bring this story to realistic life, and the seriousness of Orna’s emotional journey is well handled.

Orna becomes so traumatized and falls apart leaving her job,  eventually confessing to her husband why she is so distraught. The only weak part of this very compelling story comes now as  Orna fails to explain the circumstances properly to her husband and he therefore directs his anger at her and not Benny.

“The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World” by Ran Abramitzky— Thriving and Declining

Abramitzky, Ran. “ The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World”, (“The Princeton Economic History of the Western World), Princeton University Press, 2018.

Thriving and Declining

Amos Lassen

Ran Abramitzky’s “The Mystery of the Kibbutz” is a very special book for me in that a good part of my life was spent living on a kibbutz in Israel. Let’s look at Abramitzky’s definition of kibbutz— “The kibbutz is a social experiment in collective living that challenges traditional economic theory. By sharing all income and resources equally among its members, the kibbutz system created strong incentives to free ride or―as in the case of the most educated and skilled―to depart for the city. Yet for much of the twentieth century kibbutzim thrived, and kibbutz life was perceived as idyllic both by members and the outside world.” Abramitzky blends economic perspectives with personal insights to examine how kibbutzim successfully maintained equal sharing for so long despite their inherent incentive problems.

Abramitzky uses his own family’s experiences as kibbutz members with extensive economic and historical data, We look at the idealism and historic circumstances that helped kibbutzim overcome their economic contradictions. We see how the design of kibbutzim met the challenges of thriving as enclaves in a capitalist world and then evaluates kibbutzim’s success at sustaining economic equality. Through looking at extensive historical data and the stories of his pioneering grandmother who founded a kibbutz, his uncle who remained in a kibbutz his entire adult life, and his mother who was raised in and left the kibbutz, we see  the rise and fall of the kibbutz movement. The kibbutz as a unique social experiment extends far beyond the kibbutz itself and  serves as a guide to societies that strive to foster economic and social equality.

Extensive statistical data is used to analyze this paradox, along with many stories of the author’s relatives who forged, embraced and sometimes rejected the kibbutz way of life. We look at whether egalitarian and voluntary communities can thrive within a capitalist society. This is a fascinating, important book that was written with deep personal insight and incisive economic analysis. That analysis of how individuals’ equality in income and consumption in a collective-production society could survive but eventually collapse. We see economics come to life through the lens of a unique social experiment in communal living, teaching us how economic incentives and social contracts shape our society today.

We saw how individuals’ equality in income and consumption in a collective-production society could survive but eventually collapse. Ran Abramitzky uses unique data on almost the entire population of the kibbutzim from 1910 to 2000/

Enriching socio-economic theory combined with reader-friendly professional discourse and statistical analysis, along with personal reminiscence all come together here. The overall frame is economic, but other important factors such as identity, culture, politics, and social structure” are considered as well.

These Israeli collective settlements were built on idealistic commitment to Zionism combined with the Communist egalitarian principle “from each according to ability, to each according to his needs.” Also supplying members with many internal public goods, kibbutzim have successfully coped with brain drain, free-riding, and the tendency of less-productive individuals to join for many years. When Israeli political and economic transformations endangered their existence kibbutzim were able to adjust. Most provided more privacy and differential wages, thus contradicting their foundational values but still supplying a substantive safety net and significant public goods. And some of the richer Kibbutzim succeeded to maintain full equality while expanding their economic bases.

“Kibbutzim stood for many years as ‘proof’ that socialism and income equality can actually work,” but “opponents of socialism look at the shift away from income sharing and communal ownership of property is proof that any socialist society is doomed to fail”. Not taking a clear stand on the issue is fully justified: It depends on many dynamic variables that change non-linearly.

Writer Abramitzky’s grandparents left their homes in Poland to help found one of the first kibbutzim. The story here looks at the pros and cons of kibbutz life and a well-told story about determination, courage and just plain hard work. Even with all of the charts, graphs and research, this is a wonderfully written story that is readable for all. For today (the  21st century) this is both a cautionary tale and an optimistic look what a society based on cooperation and concern for fellow humans might look like. I do not personally like charts but those included here are totally explained and honestly so.

“Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine” by Little Levy— Finding a Common Tongue

Levy, Lital. “Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine”, Princeton University Press, 2014.

Finding a Common Tongue

Amos Lassen

Israel has always been and will always be problematic in terms of language. Much of that comes from the resurrection of Hebrew, a language that had been dead for thousands of years. In “Poetic Trespass”, Lital Levy brings us the first in-depth study of the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic in the literature and culture of Israel/Palestine. She gives us a captivating portrait of the literary imagination’s power to transgress political boundaries and transform ideas about language and belonging. For example, we meet a Palestinian-Israeli poet who declares a new state whose language, “Homelandic,” is a combination of Arabic and Hebrew. Then there is a Jewish-Israeli author who imagines a “language plague” that infects young Hebrew speakers with old world accents and sends the narrator in search of his Arabic heritage.

In order to present a study of this kind, Levy brings together history and literature and then traces the interwoven life of Arabic and Hebrew in Israel/Palestine from the turn of the twentieth century to the present thus bringing to light the two languages’ intimate entanglements in contemporary works of prose, poetry, film, and visual art by both Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. This is done in a context where intense political and social pressures work to identify Jews with Hebrew and Palestinians with Arabic and she has found  writers who have boldly crossed over this divide to create literature in the language of their “other,” as well as writers who bring the two languages into dialogue to rewrite them from within. As she explores what she calls “poetic trespass”, she brings us new readings of canonical and lesser-known authors, including Emile Habiby, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Anton Shammas, Saul Tchernichowsky, Samir Naqqash, Ronit Matalon, Salman Masalha, A. B. Yehoshua, and Almog Behar. By revealing uncommon visions of what it means to write in Arabic and Hebrew, Levy’s findings will change the way we understand literature and culture in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The topic, as it stands is of relevance to scholars but it is written so that it can be read by everyone. We see what it is to write in two languages about a condition of life that is, at once, both shared and separate. Levy’s critical speculations are wise, deliberate and courageous as her own beautiful prose goes back and forth across the borderline of Israel/Palestine while creating a way  of moving toward a solidarity built of pain and survival, failure and hope. Here is a new way to look at ethical and poetic possibilities of a translational dialogue in a war-torn region. Levy writes with elegance and by rethinking the Hebrew-Arabic nexus and positioning Modern Hebrew literature as a field of the study of the ways in which entangled languages affect one another, the book gives a new and an important perspective on the power of literature to  reimagine bilingualism.

 

“SYNONYMS”— An Israeli in Paris

“Synonyms”

An Israeli in Paris

Amos Lassen

Nadav Lapid’s  “Synonyms” is a bold, unsubtle allegory that unsettles the audience’s understandings aggressively. He does the same with the political binaries of his young expat protagonist who has been made over in a supposedly cosmopolitan Europe. The film is built around a state of confusion and every character and every narrative development has a metaphorical function. These elements show a rebuke of Israel. “Synonyms” is filled with chutzpah backed up with the necessary aesthetic and philosophical rigor and eschewing black-and-white polemics to reach a nuanced, probing and productively confrontational engagement with the film’s contentious theme. Relax, this is a film that will both entertain and make us think. with its contentious central thematic.

Many things in the film do not add up and this is an essential part of Lapid’s anti-schematic strategy. He introduces  fundamental uncertainty in the first scenes. Yoav (Tom Mercier), an Israeli who recently completed his military service, arrives in Paris and lets himself into a stunning, gigantic and completely empty apartment with a key that was left under the doormat. As he takes a shower, his belongings are stolen. Naked and freezing (it is winter), he tries and fails to get help from the neighbors.

The next morning, Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and Caroline (Louise Chevilotte), a young couple who live upstairs, find him hypothermic in the bathtub. They take him back to their apartment, warm him up and when he comes to, give him an iPhone, expensive clothes and cash. Now with this y in a plastic bag, Yoav then leaves to move into another empty apartment, this one is tiny and dilapidated, located on “the other bank”. Emile is an aspiring writer, interested in Yoav’s bounty of stories from the Israeli army, and in his curious turns of phrases. Caroline is interested in Yoav for reasons that have more overtly to do with having seen him naked. Their rescue of him is the beginning of a passive-aggressive love triangle with a homoerotic subtext.

Yoav doesn’t know anyone in Paris, so how does he have access to these two apartments, which are such conspicuous opposites? Who would want to steal a ratty backpack and a sleeping bag? Why are Emile and Caroline so generous with a complete stranger they meet in suspect circumstances?

We never get answers to these questions and the film never dispels, nor confirms, the suspicion that Yoav might have died in the bathtub and that the rest of the film is a fantasy. What’s clear is that his naked and dispossessed awakening represents a rebirth that invites an allegorical reading of everything that follows, and it is amazing that the film does not die under its own weight.

Early on, Yoav buys himself a French dictionary and starts learning new words, reciting synonyms as he walks around Paris. The first one we hear is an attack against his homeland. His face framed in a tight close-up, he speaks straight into the camera: “Israel is nasty, obscene, odious, sordid, abominable…” The list goes on for a while. Whereas Yoav wants a complete break with his past and refuses to ever speak Hebrew again, another Israeli character, Yoron, wields his ethnicity with aggressive pride, getting in the face of strangers at bars or on the subway and shouting that he is Jewish, daring them to attack him and prove themselves to be anti-Semites.

Through such contrasts, Lapid presents differences in Israeli identity. By setting “Synonyms” outside of Israel, Lapid introduces an explicit international dimension elaborating his deceptively dialectical approach. Yoav imagines France as a utopia, whose core egalitarian values of liberty, equality and fraternity as well as strict separation of church and state are the opposite of Israel’s. At the same time, Emile and Camille personify his aspired-to French ideals: beautiful, rich, cultured, romantic, promiscuous.

Yoav conceives of everything in binary terms and when his experience fails to neatly corroborate these dichotomies, it brings about a breakdown. Late in the film, he attends an integration course and the teacher gets him to sing the Marseillaise. Taken aback by the militaristic and xenophobic content of the lyrics, Yoav sings each successive verse with increasing ferocity, giving expression to the violent extent of his disillusionment. As the reality checks accumulate and his fairy tale becomes scarred by exploitation and intolerance, Yoav is forced to confront the impracticability of escape as a solution to conflict, be it internal or external.

This film is  feature is an incendiary portrait of psychological trauma of a man on the run from himself. It also works as a migrant’s story and follows an exiled Israeli soldier who comes to Paris where he is determined to forget the past and forge a new future. There’s nothing new about the expat-in-Paris plot line but Lapid brings a refreshing physical energy to his drama making it absurdist and at times exasperating, but ultimately entertaining and watchable, even though the plot is thin and too long. 

Tom Mercier exudes energy that propels the film forward though its highs and lows. Some scenes are engaging, others ridiculous and banal. Mercier’s physical presence alone is a force to be reckoned with— he is muscled and lean and he conveys violent unrest and also a vulnerability, best in the scenes when he takes his clothes off, as he often does. In one burst of action, he jumps up on a table and does a striptease and in another he goes through a humiliating nude photo shoot for an off-the-wall artist, who pays him cash. 

Yoav is a mystery, both to Emile and Caroline and to the film’s audience. He professes his hatred of Israel and refuses to speak Hebrew with other Israelis he meets in Paris, but it’s unclear precisely what happened to make him leave Israel aside from his being after the army. At various times, Yoav shows himself to be fastidious, unorganized, controlled, childlike, learned, naïve, capable, and easily overwhelmed. He is more or less inscrutable from moment to moment.

The attraction Emile and Caroline feel to Yoav, and the tensions that drove Yoav away from Israel, will come full circle, but only after the film  takes a roundabout route through Yoav’s brief employment in security at the Israeli embassy (which ends when he spontaneously declares “no borders” and lets everyone in line enter); his friendship with a militant Zionist who tries to provoke fights  so that he can claim them as anti-Semitic attacks; and a required assimilation class he takes as he attempts to legitimately immigrate.  The audience feels that something is missing; we flash back to some of Yoav’s experiences in the army, but the events that drove him away are always just outside of the bounds of the scene. There is an inconsistency in style and pacing that makes the film feel elusive and estranging, but that’s probably the point. One theme of Lapid’s film is the irrational sickness that’s nationalism: At times it appears that Israeli nationalism has driven Yoav mad, given him his detached affect and his habit of obsessively reciting synonyms in the street. His seemingly unmotivated outbursts of eccentric behavior suggest a kind of madness. But perhaps he seems mad because he’s between identities, an Israeli who’s no longer an Israeli, and still only has “weird French”.  “Synonyms” is a bold film about the refusal to assimilate in one country, and the failure to assimilate in another.

“The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky” by Susie Linfield— Struggling with Zionism Philosophically 

Linfield Susie. “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky.” Yale University Press, 2019.

Struggling with Zionism Philosophically

Amos Lassen

Zionism is quite the hot topic today and I believe that many Jews have great problems trying to formulate personal definitions that are acceptable and politically correct at the same time. I know that I do and with my spending much of my life in Israel, I really have a rough time trying to figure out (on an hourly basis sometimes) where I stand Zionistically.

Cultural critic Susie Linfield looks at the issue and I was hoping that she would be able help me out and while she has many important things to say, she is not a philosopher. I do, however, appreciate her probe into how eight prominent midcentury public intellectuals struggled with the philosophy of Zionism, and then with Israel and its conflicts with the Arab world. I also appreciate that as she explored Zionism, she also dealt with modernism and how it affects how we think as seen through the minds that she focuses on. More specifically, I was interested in what she had to say about Hannah Arendt as I have been a student of her views for years now.

Linfield’s style is “lively” as the blurb tells us but liveliness is not what I look for when facing a difficult issue such as Zionism. We get something of an intellectual history of the political Left, through looking at twentieth-century intellectuals struggling with the philosophy of Zionism, and then with Israel and its conflicts with the Arab world. Linfield constructed this as a series of interrelated portraits that bring together the personal and the political and includes philosophers, historians, journalists, and activists— Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, Maxime Rodinson, Isaac Deutscher, Albert Memmi, Fred Halliday, I.F. Stone, and Noam Chomsky. As they considered Zionism, these thinkers also had to wrestle with many of the twentieth century’s most crucial political dilemmas including socialism, nationalism, democracy, colonialism, terrorism, and anti‑Semitism. In other words, as they thought about Zionism, they also confronted the very essence and nature of modernity and the often catastrophic histories of our time. Through examining these leftist intellectuals, Linfield also tries to understand how the contemporary Left has become focused on anti‑Zionism and how Israel itself has moved rightward. We are all certainly very aware of how the political hot bed of the Middle East has generated fierce responses from the left.

Linfield gives us an analysis of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through an examining how left-wing intellectuals came to their strong views on Zionism that Linfield sees as “support for a democratic state for the Jewish people.” We see here the debate which is filled with “fearless intellectual energy” and, the upsetting imposition of “fantasy, symbol, metaphor, and theory overtaking reality and history.” Her subjects, like Arendt, held an “ideological antipathy to sovereignty” that made them critical of Zionism (although Arendt remained a Zionist her entire life and certainly philosophized about it at every opportunity and unapologetically so). Some, like Koestler, who was an admitted  combative self-loathing Jew, “insisted that there was no Jewish history and culture” to merit statehood for “a chosen people.” Rodinson, who was a French scholar of Islam, believed that Palestinians, as victims of colonial oppression, were justified in their one unifying stance: hostility to Israel (and we certainly see where that has gone). That position has been repeated over and over again by Chomsky, whose hatred for Israel and championing of Palestine has cost him followers and support as well as consideration as a has-been. Linfield criticizes him as arrogant and ignorant, based on “manufactured history” and “staggering” misrepresentations. Here was a man who was loved by many but who now has few followers. On the other hand, Linfield lauds Memmi and Halliday for their principled, humane analyses. For Memmi, Zionism is “the national liberation movement of an oppressed people,” and worthy of being supported by the left. Halliday who is an activist, journalist, multilinguist, and scholar, condemned the “profound mistakes” and crimes committed by both Zionist and Palestinian movements. Memmi and Halliday agree that support for terrorism was indefensible and simply “a short circuit that substitutes immediate fear and panicky responses for long-term solutions.” Halliday (and Linfield) advocated the establishment of two democratic states of Israel and Palestine. In presenting an unusually clear and informed history of the Arab-Israeli struggle, Linfield sheds  light on the perils of fanaticism and insularity.

Now while Linfield sees her book as an incisive commentary on eight intellectuals who wrote about the Israel/Palestine conflict she seems to forget the ninth intellectual, Linfield, herself, Her position is strong and persuasive and I take back what I said earlier bout her not. Being a philosopher. Susie Linfield is herself the ninth intellectual in this book, with a strong and persuasive position of her own.

Wherever you stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book is a must read for devotees of exciting debates. I cannot often sit and read a philosophical text from cover to cover in one sitting. That happened here and I could not read quickly enough. If you have ever wondered why some of the brightest minds in the American and European Left been unable to understand Jewish nationalism, this is the book you need to read. You might not find the answer you are looking for, but you will enjoy the quest.

“The Art of Leaving” by Ayelet Tsabari— A Memoir in Essays

Tsabari, Ayelet. “The Art of Leaving: A Memoir”, Random House, 2019/

A Memoir in Essays

Amos Lassen

Ayelet Tsabari is an award-winning Israeli writer who has traveled the world in searc of love, belonging, and an escape from grief following the death of her father when she was a young girl. We begin with the death of her father when she was nine years old. His death left Ayelet feeling rootless, devastated, and driven to question her complex identity as an Israeli of Yemeni descent in a country that both suppressed and devalued her ancestors’ traditions. Having lived in Israel for many years and having had many Israeli/Yemenite friends. I immediately recognized Tsabari’s feelings.

Early on Tsabari writes of her early love of word and putting pen to paper and we move with her to her
rebellion during her mandatory service in the Israeli army. She begins to travel from Israel to New York, Canada, Thailand, and India, falling in and out of love with countries, men and women, drugs and alcohol. In effect, she was running away from/ She writes about her first marriage and her struggle to define herself as a writer in a new language, her decision to become a mother, and finally her rediscovery and embrace of her family history which was “a history marked by generations of headstrong women who struggled to choose between their hearts and their homes.” She ultimately realized that she must reconcile the memories of her father and the sadness of her past if she was ever going to come to terms with herself. Tsabari writes with emotion that she passes on to her readers and what we see here is basically a meditation about the lengths we go to while trying to escape our grief and the search to find the place where we belong, and the sense of home deep within ourselves.
Written as a collection of linked essays, this memoir is filled with passion and pain; the fear of adolescence and the army, the apprehensions about adulthood, the search for a sense of belonging, and the reconciliation of “the disparate parts of our lives and ultimately ourselves.” 
The memoir captures and transcends her journey of self-discovery as a Jewish Yemeni woman within and beyond the borders of Israel. Tsabari is tender and fearless as she digs into her memory and shares her nuanced, complex, and beautiful findings with us.

“Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel” by Matti Friedman— Israel’s First Modern Spies

Friedman, Matti. “Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel”, Algonquin Books, 2019.

Israel’s First Modern Spies

Amos Lassen

 The founding of both the State of Israel and Israeli identity are explored by Matti Friedman in his new book, “Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel”. This is the narrative that chronicles the exploits of a unit of Arabic speaking Jewish spies that were put together by the British spies and Jewish militia leaders in Palestine  during the Second World War. These spies  were known as the Arab Section and went undercover in the battle for the physical creation of the State of Israel. They were to collect intelligence, carry out sabotage missions and assassinations and even though they were Jews, they had come from the Arab world and therefore easily take on Arab identities. When the existence of Israel meant the War of Independence, these spies went undercover in Beirut, where they spent the next two years operating out of a kiosk as they collected intelligence and sent messages back to Israel via a radio whose antenna was disguised as a clothesline.

This was very dangerous and the spies did not always know to whom they were sending messages and reporting. There were some twelve spies in the Arab Section at the beginning of Israel’s War of Independence of which five were caught and executed. Eventually, the Arab Section emerged as the nucleus of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.
Friedman writes about the identities of the spies which is a reflection of Israel’s own complicated and fascinating identity. Israel sees itself and therefore presents itself as a Western nation, when in fact more than half the country has Middle Eastern roots and traditions, like the spies of this story. This helps to explain the life and politics of the country, and why it often puzzles the West. This true story of real-life spies and the paradoxes of the Middle East is every bit as good if not better than the fictional spy stories that fill the shelves of bookstores and libraries. While this is an intimate story, it has global significance. 

Israel was born with complicated identities and as you can well imagine, each story has stories about it. To hear these stories is to go on a journey through history. Matti Friedman is a wonderful storyteller and a wonderful writer so much so that I read this in one sitting. I knew something about the spy situation because a member of my family was involved in a very important sky ring in Israel at the time leading up to the nation’s independence. I did not know anything, however, about the Arab Section.

This is a very good spy story that has all the components of a thriller— we have a very high-stakes war, the birth of a new nation, people with double-identities, lots of suspense and betrayals. The four spies we read about here include Gamaliel Cohen, Isaac Shoshan, Havakuk Cohen and Yakuba Cohen grew up as Jews in Arab lands; came of age in British Palestine as dark-skinned Middle Easterners who were looked down on by their European counterparts; lived undercover as Arabs in hostile territory; and were never publicly acknowledged in Israel as the heroes they were. Finally their stories are told in this brilliant book that keeps you wanting to know more.  We see how a band of Jewish spies from Arab countries helps explain the political and cultural transformation of Israel from its European Jewish origins into the largely Middle Eastern country it is today. Israel is a true melting pot.

“THE GOLEM”—17th Century Lithuania

The Golem”

17th Century Lithuania

Amos Lassen

The golem of the new Israeli horror film “The Golem” looks nothing like the way he has traditionally been depicted; instead he resembles the young son who is still mourned by the woman (now presumed barren) who created him. This makes him especially dangerous when he turns against those he is supposed to protect.  This is Doron and Yoav Paz’s first English language film.

In the isolated 17th Century Lithuanian Jewish village where the film is set, there are not a lot of educational opportunities for women and the study of Kabballah and mystical texts is strictly prohibited. Nevertheless, Hanna eavesdrops on the Rabbi’s lectures and pours over the books her husband Benjamin reluctantly smuggles home for her. She is not nearly as intimidated by the subject matter as are the Rabbi’s properly male students. This means that only she will have the guts to create a golem to protect the village from a rampaging feudal lord, but she might not have the strength to destroy the creature when it brings out all her maternal instincts.

“Golem” taps into some deep Jewish folkloric themes and tropes. It is as much a dark fable as it is a horror film based on the Golem legend. Fate is a killer in this film, just like the Golem. Hanna (Hani Furstenberg) is impressive as Hanna, fully connecting with both the maternal and feminist elements of her character. Daniel Cohen makes quite a creepy kid playing “Hanna’s Son.” Frankly, none of the other male characters is as well-developed as Hanna, but they look and act era appropriate amid all the chaos and carnage.

The film shows the harsh realities of shtetl life in Old Europe. At a time when anti-Semitic narratives are once again gaining strength in Europe and academic debate is too often obscuring the brutal reality of how they affect people’s lives, the Paz brothers’ Faustian tale of power is timely. Steeped in ancient Jewish mysticism, it also provides an outlet for a cultural voice encountered in cinema all too rarely. The story itself is simple but the presentation makes this an unusual and intriguing piece of work.

Hanna a woman at odds with the role she has been given in life. She and husband Benjamin (Ishai Golan) have lost a child. She loves Benjamin intensely and is thrilled that he refuses to divorce her as his father suggests, but she is concealing from him her use of contraceptive vapors – she just can’t bear the thought of being at risk of such a loss again. Because of the fragile nature  of her community, her nervousness is perhaps more understandable— the plague is sweeping across Europe. Being isolated and following traditional practices to preserve hygiene, the Jewish village is not affected, which convinces the local gentiles that they must be the architects of their misfortune. When gentile leader Vladimir (Alex Tritenko) discovers that his daughter is ill, he tells the villagers in no uncertain terms that he will have them all killed if they don’t use their magic to save her.

The story centers on men discovering some mysterious inner strength and resolving things with violence. This film shows that untrained men can achieve much. Against so many skilled foes, the villagers’ best hope is intelligence and knowledge. Hannah has always resented presumed male authority over spiritual and intellectual matters and she has immersed herself in ancient law. She is certain that she knows how to create a golem and that such a creature could protect them. But she does not know if she can she control it  (even when it manifests in the guise of her lost little boy).

One older villager, who has seen a golem before, tries to warn Hanna. But the relationship between creator and monster is unexpectedly nuanced. There’s a sense that her awareness that she’s the only one who can kill it means she finally has the power to release her love.

The film explores Talmudic ideas around violence, contagion and contamination, but with a modern sensibility. In a curious way this might be seen as a science fiction film in that a problem caused or brought about by (medical) science is resolved by what was understood as science at the time. It’s a film that shifts genres as easily as its secondary antagonist shifts between dirt and flesh. Because of a tight budget, scope is limited, and the final conflict feels rather rushed, but there is something interesting here and the Paz brothers have clearly worked hard to bring their film to life.

“The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky” by Susie Linfield— “The Very Nature of Modernity”

Linfield, Susie. “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky”, Yale University Press, 2019. “The Very Nature of Modernity” Amos Lassen Susie Linfield’s “The Lion’s Den” is an intellectual history that explores how prominent midcentury public intellectuals approached Zionism and the State of Israel itself and its conflicts with the Arab world. It is an intense look at the political Left that investigates how eight prominent twentieth-century intellectuals struggled with the philosophy of Zionism, and then with Israel and its conflicts with the Arab world. It comes to us as a series of interrelated portraits that bring together the personal and the political and it includes includes philosophers, historians, journalists, and activists including Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, I. F. Stone, and Noam Chomsky. It. Does not shy from controversy or radicalism. In their engagement with Zionism, influential thinkers also wrestle with socialism, nationalism, democracy, colonialism, terrorism, and anti‑Semitism. In looking at Zionism, they confront the very nature of modernity and the often catastrophic histories of our time. By examining these leftist intellectuals, we begin to understand how the contemporary Left has become focused on anti‑Zionism and how Israel itself has moved rightward. Wherever one stands on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this is a fascinating read. If you are like me and change positions constantly, this is a must-read. Have you even wondered why some of the greatest minds in the American and European Left are unable to understand Jewish nationalism? You probably won’t find that answer here but you will find plenty to talk about.  The book comes to grips with “both the tragedy of Zionism and the way in which anti-Zionism became a touchstone for the global Left.” We get a commentary on eight intellectuals who wrote about the Israel/Palestine conflict. We find ways to deal with both the tragedy of Zionism and the way in which anti-Zionism became a touchstone for the global Left.

“THE OTHER STORY”— Tension and Intrigue from Israel


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.