Category Archives: Israel

“Isra-Isle” by Nava Semel— Before Herzl

Semel, Nava. “Isra-Isle: A Novel”, (translated by Jessica Cohen), Mendel Vilar, 2016.

Before Herzl

Amos Lassen

Many consider Theodore Herzl to be the founder of modern Zionism and to a great extent he was. But history tells us that before Herzl there was Mordecai Manuel Noah, an American journalist, diplomat, playwright, and visionary. In September 1825 he bought Grand Island that is downriver from Niagara Falls. He paid the local Native Americans their price so that he could create a place of refuge for the Jewish people that came to be called “Ararat.” However, no Jews came. We can only wonder how different the world might have been had they come. This book is alternate history in which Jews from throughout the world fled persecution and came to Ararat. Isra Isle became— there was no Israel and there was no Holocaust. In exploring this what-if scenario, Nava Semel gives us new ways to think about “memory, Jewish/Israeli identity, attitudes toward minorities, women in top political positions, and the place of cultural heritage”.

Semel has divided her novel into three parts. Part one is set in September, 2001 when Liam Emanuel, an Israeli descendant of Mordecai Noah, learns about and inherits this island. He leaves Israel intending to claim this “Promised Land” in America. However, shortly after he comes to America, he disappears. A Native American police investigator Simon T. Lenox, tries to find Liam. In part 2 we go back in time to the events surrounding Mordecai Noah’s purchase of the island from the local Native Americans. In part three we get the alternate history with the rise of a successful modern Jewish city-state, Isra Isle, on the northern New York and Canadian border. It is a city that looks a lot like New York City both before and after 9/11 and there the Jewish female governor campaigns to become president of the United States.

“What If” is a fun game and Semel plays it well. “In this changed world, Israel never existed, Native American and Jewish customs have been merged, and the American Jewish state affects many issues in the world. Each of the main characters struggles with issues of religion, spirituality, and identity in streaming thoughts and discussions. Through those voices, Semel explores issues of global importance—such as terrorism, prejudice, and politics—in this singular, thought-provoking novel.”

Semel changes the Zionist narrative by considering whether it would have been possible to change the history of the Jewish people. She creates a world in which there is a prosperous Jewish state under American patronage.

The book crosses genre from detective novel to historical fantasy, and to alternate history making this an exploration of modern Jewish identity for a postmodern world. With swift pacing and a sly wit Semel looks at the very serious topics of Zionism, multicultural politics, the attacks of 9/11 and we can only imagine the world she gives us.

“SHALOM ITALIA”— The Anati Brothers

“Shalom Italia”

The Anati Brothers

Amos Lassen

In 2013, three Italian Jewish brothers set off on a journey through Tuscany, in search of a cave where they hid as children to escape the Nazis. For the Anati brothers, Bubi, 77; Andrea, 85; and Emmanuel, 88 wanted to reconnect with their past.

The Anatis were raised in an upper-class family in Florence. In 1942, just before the deportations of Florentine Jews to Auschwitz began, the family managed to escape the city. They fled from village to village and eventually settled in a forest near Villa a Sesta, a town some 50 miles from Florence. Their father dug a cave with the help of others and the family lived underground for several months during the winter of 1944 until the end of the war. The family then moved to Israel, where the brothers have lived ever since.

“Shalom Italia,” is a documentary directed by Tamar Tal Anati (Bubi’s daughter-in-law) that follows the brothers’ return to Italy in an attempt to find the cave and seek some closure about those years. The brothers hike through the forest, meet with members of a family that helped them survive and eat Italian food as they look for the cave. Here we see that the brothers are true friends and still maintain good feelings about Italian culture. Bubi, worked at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science for years, is the guiding force behind the trip because locating the cave was something he had wanted to do for years. Andrea is an oceanic physics researcher and a jokester is seen whistling, humming and introducing himself to strangers is still in great physical shape. Emmanuel or “Meme” as his brothers call him is an internationally renowned archaeologist is the most serious of the three and has no desire to relive his Holocaust memories agreed to the trip to satisfy Bubi.

The brothers’ enjoy bickering with each other and it is endearing to see and hear. However, we never lose sight of the real purpose of the trip. The film’s lighthearted tone goes hand in hand with the brothers’ ghosts from the war. They share interesting thoughts about the nature of memory as they enjoy the food of the country. Andrea reminds his brothers of living in the woods, collecting mushrooms and playing Robin Hood games and having fun during the darkest period in world history. The boys were forced to grow up quickly. The film is a “testament to how memories are filtered through our attitudes and experiences, even the desires of those around us”.

Even though Tal had been married to Bubi’s son for years, she was not aware that her father-in-law and his brothers were Holocaust survivors. When Bubi told her about the planned trip to the Italian countryside and she learned of the cave and the reason for the journey, she felt that she had to film the adventure. What she found fascinating was that each brother had a completely different memory of the same event and she was curious to see how they would deal with the physical and mental challenge of such a journey as this. The brothers did not even think of themselves as true Holocaust survivors but since the filming of “Shalom Italia,” they have dealt with the memories of time. We need never to forget that who we are and how we see life are the result of our memories and if memories change, so do we.

The journey itself is fascinating and we also get glimpses of people who helped them survive.

“CONVENTIONAL SINS”— Remembering

“Conventional Sins”

Remembering

Amos Lassen

Israeli directors Anat Yuta Zuria and Shira Clara Winther  take on a controversial issue in “Conventional Sins” as they tell the story of Meilech who was banished ten years earlier from the Hasidic community he grew up in, Meilech reopens the diary he wrote when he was 15 and in it he describes the abuse he went through at the hands of a network of ultraorthodox pedophiles. Together with a group of young actors who themselves grew up in the Hasidic community, Meilech attempts to reconstruct parts of the diary and tell his story, which the Hasidic community did everything to silence. This is one to be on the lookout for.

“TIKKUN”— An Atmospheric Netherworld

“Tikkun”

“An Atmospheric Netherworld”

Amos Lassen

The Hebrew word “tikkun” has many definitions and connotations. Its main use seems to embody the idea of rectification and is usually used in reference to personal and spiritual improvement or the desire to want to fix the world. There is also a religious meaning— a book of text from the Torah used for learning Jewish scripture and recitation on certain holidays is also known as a tikkun and it contains the writings of the Five Books of Moses but with vowels (unlike the Torah scroll) and is a good practice text for those who chant Torah directly from the scroll itself.

Avishai Sivan’s movie “Tikkun” plays with all of the meanings of this fundamental Jewish concept. The film is a modern religious parable set that is set within Jerusalem’s Hasidic community. It probes the rituals and taboos of this and as it does, it explores the intersection of faith, filial duty, and civic responsibility in contemporary Israel.

We see that an ultra-orthodox scholar is revived after being dead for 40 minutes. After coming back to life, he suddenly feels a strange awakening in his body and suspects that God is testing him. This is the story of a young orthodox Jewish man, Haim-Aharon (Aharon Traitel) who slowly loses his faith after a near-death experience. Shot in pristine black and white and with impressionistic visuals, director Sivan gives us Jerusalem at nighttime (reminiscent of David Lynch) –as a netherworld, shrouded in fog, where past and present exist side by side. The becomes a hallucinatory tale of urban alienation much like the films of Michelangelo Antonioni.

Haim-Aaron is a devout Yeshiva student who we see praying and fasting in the beginning. He is a quiet type who keeps things to himself. His father (Kalifa Natour) is a hard working kosher butcher. Bad plumbing in their cramped apartment causes Haim-Aaron to fall and suffer cardiac arrest while taking a shower and touching himself. EMTs arrive but are unable to resuscitate him and he is pronounced dead 40 minutes later. His father, however, is unable to let his first son go, continues on the CPR, and to everyone’s surprise, revives him.

This near-death experience is a both a blessing and a curse for father and son. The father struggles with the guilt of undoing god’s will by reviving his son. He falls into deep self-doubt and is shunned by many of his ultra orthodox community members.

 

For Haim-Aaron, being undead affords him a freedom to venture out of his community and confront his earthly desires for the first time in his life.  Unable to sleep, hewanders the streets at night, hitching rides to anywhere that strangers will take him. Outside his immediate surroundings, he is in a completely different world: Jerusalem, a cosmopolitan city with just under a million inhabitants, is a wondrous and scary place for him and he meets many strange people and has a sexual encounter with a prostitute. These activities put a strain on his studies, family and community.

This is an unsettling film and this is accentuated by Haim-Aaron’s father’s recurring  nightmares ofevil crocodiles in the toilet, putting a knife to the back of his son and dumping the body in a monster-infested ravine. Urban alienation and repressed sexuality figure prominently in the film and it unveils the ultra-orthodox Jewish community, which is seldom portrayed on film. This is not a flattering picture of a community that seems to be permanently stuck in the past.

Director Sivan and cinematographer Shai Goldman give us a Jerusalem that has the feel of a lonely, industrial town. With sparse dialog and strong visuals makes Tikkun an intense and moody film. The film feels like an ethnographic film movie shot by someone from the community it documents, managing simultaneously to keep a critical distance from the material while maintaining a certain credulity and wonder toward the proceedings. The world of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox is portrayed with empathy and insight, but some of the community’s cultural practices are called into question.

“Tikkun” is in part a lucid account of the bewilderment that the absence of a candid sexual education for members of young ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. It captures the perverse fascination provoked in this community by this taboo as the camera lingers on both male and female genitalia in graphic, almost scientific detail. Haim-Aaron is perplexed by his own erect penis, which he inspects with curiosity right before his near-death experience. This explicit link between sexuality and death is reemphasized later when he studies the genitalia of a recently deceased young woman. In a literal sense, these scenes are a commentary on the awkwardness of puberty and pre-marital sexuality in this community. There is no discussion of the body or desires and sets limits between the sexes. Instead of simply condemning the social practices of this insular community, Sivan shows us how mysterious the world must appear to one of its members. Haim-Aaron’s explorations of the body inevitably result in calamity, as if God were punishing him for his sins. He endures his transgressions of the community’s taboos by self-castigation. Having so firmly internalized God’s laws and what he perceives to be His commands, Haim-Aaron subconsciously wills this punishment, thereby physically manifesting God’s presence in the world. We are never sure if Haim-Aaron is simply mental, a pious man or some combination of the two. It is this ambiguity that makes it difficult to characterize the film as just a secular critique of a religious mindset.

Sivan captures a world where the miraculous and the mundane are separated by a blurred edge. Haim-Aaron’s father is a kosher butcher, and we see him inspecting ritually slaughtered animals with the same solemn curiosity with which his son inspects human genitalia. The father kills in accordance with God’s commandments, humanely and forever on the lookout for God’s approval. Haim-Aaron’s siblings treat bugs with the same profane reverence, carefully observing them before squashing them. These ongoing scenes of commingled investigation and slaughter emphasize the fine line between life and death in this world and we see that God is always silently present in the guise of human action.

One could read “Tikkun” as a commentary on the price of culturally ordained sexual repression, an idea that several startling instances of full-frontal nudity make difficult to dismiss. But there is so much potent ambiguity that such a straightforward interpretation does not fully work. I have no doubt that there will be many who will not find themselves charmed by this film while others will feel that it is a total experience. The fact that it has been winning prizes attests to that.

“HOLY AIR”— Remember When Water Was Free?

“Holy Air”

Remember When Water was Free?

Amos Lassen

Writer/director Shady Srour is Adam, a man who is thoroughly in love with his wife Lamia (Laëtitia Eïdo)but unfortunately he is just not a good businessman. He really needs money now more than ever as his wife is experiencing a difficult pregnancy and his father is gravely ill. Then are the small daily misfortunes he has as an Arab Christian in Nazareth. What Adam needs is a break. To his surprise, he finds one where he least expects it— on the biblical hilltop Mount Precipice. It is then that he sets out on a risky business venture—bottling the holy air and selling it to the city’s tourists.

Being an Arab Christian living in Israel already makes him a member of two minorities. Adam knows it will take a lot of work to get his new business going but he also has to deal with the complicated emotions that go into living as a modern, progressive family on the world’s most spiritual ground. There are challenging social crosscurrents that Adam will need to navigate to get his idea off the ground and these include Catholic capitalists, Jewish bureaucrats and Muslim gangsters. This quickly becomes a comedy about spirituality, ideology, and survival.

 

Arab Christians that live in Israel are a vanishing minority within a minority in Israel and the Middle East. Adam’s wife Lamia is a strong, beautiful and progressive Arab woman, who runs a foundation for women’s rights.

This is a very Israeli story that is told from the Arab point of view and it is a lot of fun. There is a lot of heart in the film. Adam tries to find his entrepreneurial calling but he has no luck until, he gets the idea to bottle the air and sell it to Israel’s tourists. Both the beginning and the ending of the movie are about traffic jams (and if you have ever been to Israel, you know what that means).

Lamia is a social worker and advocate who speaks on local TV about female sexuality with fervent, male-crew-flustering directness and she is successful while Adam seems to fail at everything he does. He feels no connection to the business he started with his go-getter partner, Mahmoud (Byan Anteer), who has long since left behind the leftist ideals of their student days. Without telling his wife or parents, Adam quits his job hoping to find something more fulfilling and inspiration in the form of bottled air soon hits him. He overheard the spiel of holy-site tour-meister Roberto (Shmulik Calderon) about Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary and Adam is soon busy climbing the rocky slope of Mount Precipice, where he “fills” handcrafted bottles from his father’s shuttered workshop with the blessed air.

With his facility for language, not to mention a consumer-friendly price point — “Only one euro!” — Adam finds his light-as-air answer to holy water selling like crazy and to the point where the local crime boss tries to squeeze him for protection money. Anticipating a surge in business during the pope’s upcoming visit, he sets out to forge a coalition with Nazareth’s Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders.

The idea of “selling air” reflects the lengths to which many go to earn a living. Throughout the film we sense a quest for balance and a sense of being caught between uncontrollable forces, in the characters’ predicaments.

George (Tarik Kopty), Adam’s father, is an old man with a beautiful face and a poet’s soul, and he burns brighter as a character the frailer he grows physically. Action with feeling come together as they do when, Adam and Lamia join forces with Adam’s mother, Widad (Dalia Okal), to quiet George’s squeak hospital bed, using cooking oil from Widad’s kitchen.

Quite basically this is memorable and confidently imagined human comedy.

“BORN IN DEIR YASSIN”— The Secrets/No Access

“Born in Deir Yassin”

The Secrets/No Access

Amos Lassen

Deir Yassin is the first Arab village to be conquered in 1948 right after the establishment of the State of Israel. It was then been fenced off when the Israeli government’s Kfar Shaul mental hospital was founded there on it in 1951. “Born in Deir Yassin,” tells the story of the metamorphosis of that piece of land. To receive his mother’s birth records, Dror goes to Kfar Shaul. As he tries to learn about the secrets of his past, the film lets us see and hear conversations with Israeli fighters, members of Lehi and the Irgun that occupied the village, Haganna spies that were sent after them and the Gadna youth that buried the corpses. Through their memories the complete Israeli narrative of the Deir Yassin conquest is exposed.

Director Neta Shoshani shows us the evolution of the village of Deir Yassin. This is not easy to watch— we see a young fellow tied to a tree and set on fire, a woman and an old man shot in back, girls lined up against a wall and shot with a submachine gun and we hear testimonies about the massacre in Deir Yassin. Even though it is now seventy years later, it is difficult to process what we see and hear here. There is a letter, a document in Israel’s archives that is meant to commemorate the heritage of Lehi who were the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel pre-state underground militia. It was written by a member of the underground about 70 years ago. Reading it could reopen the secret of Deir Yassin.

“Last Friday together with Etzel” – the acronym for the National Military Organization, also known as the Irgun, another pre-state underground militia, led by Menachem Begin – “our movement carried out a tremendous operation to occupy the Arab village on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road – Deir Yassin. I participated in this operation in the most active way,” wrote Yehuda Feder, whose nom de guerre in Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) was “Giora.” Giora wrote, “This was the first time in my life that at my hands and before my eyes Arabs fell. In the village I killed an armed Arab man and two Arab girls of 16 or 17 who were helping the Arab who was shooting. I stood them against a wall and blasted them with two rounds from the Tommy gun”. Along with that, he tells about looting in the village with his buddies after it was occupied. “We confiscated a lot of money and silver and gold jewelry fell into our hands,” he wrote. He concludes the letter with the words: “This was a really tremendous operation and it is with reason that the left is vilifying us again.”

This letter is one of the historical documents that we learn of in this film and in it is the story of what happened at Deir Yassin. Director Shoshani did extensive research to make this film and in interviewing last living participants in what took place there, the silence surrounding those events was broken for the first time in front of a camera.

The assault on the village of Deir Yassin began on the morning of April 9, 1948, as part of Operation Nachshon to break through the blockaded road to Jerusalem, with the participation of about 130 Lehi and Irgun fighters who received aid from the Haganna – the pre-independence army. The fighters encountered stiff resistance and sniper fire and advanced slowly through the village lanes while throwing grenades and blowing up houses. Four of the fighters were killed and dozens were wounded. The number of Arab inhabitants who were killed there and the circumstances of their deaths have been disputed for many years, but most researchers state that 110 inhabitants of the village, among them women, children and elderly people, were killed there.

 

Yehoshua Zettler, the Jerusalem commander of Lehi and of the Deir Yassin operation describes the Arabs who were fleeing from their homes as cats running to save their lives. He, however, denied that his people carried out a massacre in the village but he spared no words to describe the way its inhabitants were killed. Zettler also provided a harsh account of the burning of the bodies of those who were killed, after the village was occupied. Another harsh account comes from Prof. Mordechai Gichon, a lieutenant colonel in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, who was a Haganna intelligence officer sent to Deir Yassin when the battle ended. “Coming into a civilian locale and dead people are scattered around in it [– then] it looks like a pogrom. When the Cossacks burst into Jewish neighborhoods, then that should have looked something like this.” He further adds, “There was a feeling of considerable slaughter and it was hard for me to explain it to myself as having been done in self-defense. My impression was more of a massacre than anything else. If it is a matter of killing innocent civilians, then it can be called a massacre.”

Yair Tsaban, a former government minister, tells us that after the massacre, in which he did not participate, he was sent with fellow members of the Youth Brigades to bury the corpses of the dead. “The rationale was that the Red Cross was liable to show up at any moment and it was necessary to blur the traces [of the killings] because publication of pictures and testimonies about what had happened in the village would be very damaging to the image of our War of Independence”. In just a few hours of fighting, the town ceased to exist.

The massacre at Deir Yassin had many repercussions. The Jewish Agency, the chief rabbis and the heads of the Haganna condemned it. The left used it to denounce the right. Abroad, it was compared to the crimes of the Nazis. “Deir Yassin had a profound demographic and political effect: It was followed by mass flight of Arabs from their locales.”

Shraga Peled, 91, who at the time of the massacre was in the Haganna Information Service told Shoshani that after the battle he was sent to the village with a camera to document what he saw there. “When I got to Deir Yassin, the first thing I saw was a big tree to which a young Arab fellow was tied. And this tree was burnt in a fire. They had tied him to it and burned him. I photographed that,” he related. He also claims he photographed from afar what looked like a few dozen other corpses collected in a quarry adjacent to the village. He handed the film over to his superiors, he says, and since then he has not seen the photos. This is possibly because the photos are part of the visual material that is hidden to this day in the Archive of the IDF and the Defense Ministry, of which the state is prohibiting publication even 70 years after the fact. Shoshani petitioned the High Court of Justice about this a decade ago and the state explained that publication of the pictures was liable to damage the state’s foreign relations and the “respect for the dead.” In 2010, after viewing the pictures, the Supreme Court justices rejected the petition, leaving the material far from the public eye. In the meantime Shoshani managed to get hold of some other photos connected to the massacre, among them a series of pictures documenting orphaned children whose parents had been killed at Deir Yassin.

Deir Yassin massacre was not a battle against fighters but rather the sudden occupation of a village, in confrontation with inhabitants who defended their homes with meager means. There were also cases, apparently isolated, of mowing down inhabitants, ‘executions,’ after the fighting was over, for the purpose of deterrence and out of fear.

The Deir Yassin massacre was the first of a number of incidents in which Jewish fighters were involved in killing civilians in the War of Independence and after it was over.

West Bank murder: Leaders fail to address nature of settler violence

“GAZA SURF CLUB”— Surfing as an Escape

“Gaza Surf Club”

Surfing as an Escape

Amos Lassen

The youth of Gaza are drawn to their beaches nearby. They are tired of the daily ‘state of emergency’ and look for meaning and perspective in their lives through surfing. Gaza is a small strip of land that is home to 1.85 million people and sits precariously between Egypt and Israel. In Gaza there does not seem to be any hope and this is the view of many who live there. The Gaza Surf Club combats this cynicism by those who grab their surfboards and heading to the Mediterranean. There, against the backdrop of the dilapidated skyline of Gaza, they find quiet and peace.

Ibrahim is a 23-year-old avid surfer who is desperate to forge a new life. He plans to leave Gaza and head to Hawaii to work as a surfboard maker. However, before he can do that, he must overcome the obstacles of his home. Sabah, a 15-year-old girl, also struggles to exercise her passion for surfing. In Gaza, surfing is not considered an appropriate activity for a young girl.

Co-directors Philip Gnadt and Mickey Yamine capture Gaza beautifully by accentuating the dynamic faces of its people, its pink skies, and desert sands. We see Ibrahim surfing, hanging with friends, and at work.While the film features surfers in Gaza, surfing is not really the subject. It serves mainly as the prism through which life in the Palestinian territory is examined. What we ultimately find is young people who do not buy into the limitations of their situation. They are pushing to follow their passions; they believe in personal progress and are working to find a change.

We are introduced to three people who surf as an escape from the pressures of living in an occupied region and the film explores the lives of those, who against all odds, take to surfing. Abu Jayab is a local surfing pioneer, Sabah is a young girl on the verge of womanhood, and Ibrahim is a young man who wants to help local surf culture grow. The film follows them through their daily lives, offering a first-hand look at the obstacles impeding their modest desires.

For many coastal residents around the globe, surfing isn’t a sport or a hobby; it’s a way of life. For those living in the Gaza Strip, the region’s economic, political, and religious forces prevent the pastime from gaining followers. In the Gaza Strip, an actual surfboard is rare. Men scavenge doors from the bombed out rubble and then shave them down into “surf-able” boards.

Palestinian parents often stand in the way of their kids riding the waves, and as bad as young men have it, the region’s young women face an even steeper uphill battle. Sabah shares how her hijab strangled her as she swam in the ocean. Soaking wet hijabs won’t be an issue for her for much longer as the moment Sabah is considered a woman and swimming becomes an immodest act. Soon, all she will have to look forward to is sitting on the beach, watching her siblings frolic in the water.

The film spends the most time following Ibrahim but it is Sabah who is the film’s most compelling personality, the one with the most intriguing story. It would be far more interesting to explore how Sabah makes sense of a life where her passions are unattainable.

“Gaza Surf Club” is a visual feast. Cinematographer Niclas Reed Middleton loads the film with stunning shot after stunning shot and the film’s imagery is powerful, even when it’s not pleasing. Middleton’s camera often zooms in on people enjoying simple pleasures, like drinking small cups of tea. We feel as though we are looking over someone’s shoulder and peeking into a private space. The controversy surrounding religious freedom, women’s rights, and self-expression “resonates strongly within this portrait of aspiring surfers on the shores of the Gaza Strip”. Surfing might seem like a trivial matter when bombs are dropping all around Gaza yet there are enthusiastic surfers who know that great natural power is in the Mediterranean. Life continues during wartime, after all, and one can only spend so much time hiding in fear. The documentary doesn’t hide the other side of the country, either, as images in the film slowly and respectfully observe the bombed-out remains of a country hit by rockets and air strikes as explosives hurtle between Israel and Egypt. We hear from community that is tired of seeing so much war and see that surfing is just one way to deal with restlessness. Grabbing a board and riding a wave becomes a political act that offers hope for the future.

The opening sequence effectively juxtaposes the sounds of explosions likely caused by air strikes with images of crashing waves, which start to resemble clouds of debris. Yet since much of the carnage is left off-screen, we get little sense of the tension n the subjects’ everyday lives. The film’s overriding tone is one of melancholy, as we hear how surfing has become their last chance at maintaining sanity while living in a place devoid of hope.

“KOUDELKA: SHOOTING HOLY LAND”— A Creative Genius

“Koudelka: Shooting Holy Land”

A Creative Genius

Amos Lassen

Josef Koudelka is a Magnum genius photographer who journeyed all over Israel and Palestine looking for what would make a perfect photograph. Director Gilad Baram followed him on the search.

Septuagenarian Koudelka is known for unmerciful photographs and his ironic humor. His black and white photos have a real sense of loneliness, of desolation, of disconsolation. They are quite merciless and that mercilessness and ironic humor is what we see in Baram’s film, a documentary is which nothing really happens. For about an hour, nothing happens, hardly anything is discussed, scenes shift abruptly and, after about an hour, the film just sort of ends. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, however, “Shooting Holy Land” is immensely successful, enjoyable and instructive film.

Koudelka simply photographs Israel and the West Bank, with particular attention on the security wall. Despite the subject matter, “Shooting Holy Land” is not overtly political. Both Baram and Koudelka are clearly against the existence of the wall – Koudelka, at a couple points, even compares it to the “Iron Curtain” that he lived behind in communist Czechoslovakia and Baram’s editing choices clearly focus on the wall’s negative aspects, with particular attention paid to Hebron, one of Israel’s most obviously terrible situations.

The wall is concrete, imposing, foreboding, gray and ugly with all of the markers of authoritarian oppression. This ugliness seems to be Koudelka’s main objection to the wall. He really makes no comments on the political situation and instead has something to say the ecological problems of the wall and the violence done to the landscape. In “WALL”, the book that is made up of the pictures in “Shooting Holy Land,” the wall seems to be a wound upon the land. Many of the compositions show the wall splitting the landscape, the earth itself, in two. The focus, is on the land, not its people. It is about Koudelka and his process, about photography and about a way of seeing. The film follows a strict formula; static shots show Koudelka moving and fidgeting around a landscape looking for the perfect shot. We watch him, and wait for the sound of the camera’s shutter. Then, more often than not, we are given a look at the resulting image.

We are forced to be patient before the shot and to take everything in before we hear the click. Eventually, we start to look at the scenes from a photographer’s point of view, composing our own images and we see the scenes from yet another degree of remove – first, removed by the temporal and physical distance of film, and then again, the scenes on the film become potential photographs that they belong to us as much as the director who created them and the photographer who inhabits them. We are not given much insight into Koudelka’s method, we simply look at the care with which he takes his photographs. Missing are the contact sheets, the missed takes. The film shows us that, in addition to a good eye and good timing, photographers are totally dedicated to their craft.

Baram is also a photographer and we see this in the film’s photographic compositions and the static nature of the camera. Baram’s film is a collection of “moving photographs.” He sets up beautifully composed shots – which, due to the static nature of the camera, initially appear like photographs – and simply allows Koudelka to move around and become part of the process.

We come to see the wall as aesthetic violence and here political violence often takes the form of aesthetics. We see the relationship between Baram and Koudelka as well as the ecological destruction, the terrible blankness of the concrete that points to deeper issues that separate the land and its people, from each other and from themselves.

“The New American Zionism” by Theodore Sasson— Un-unified Voices

Sasson, Theodore. “The New American Zionism”, NYU Press, 2013.

Un-unified Voices

Amos Lassen

Theodore Sasson in his “The New American Zionism” shows us that American Jews are shifting their feelings for and support of Israel. It seems that they are moving from a “mobilization” approach, which began with the creation of the State of Israel and relied on centralized organizations to provide that support to an “engagement” approach that is made up by direct and personal relations with the Jewish state.  We see more and more American Jews traveling to Israel, reading news of the culture and politics of the country and now using their philanthropy and lobbying as it fits into their own politics. We especially see that now regarding the Israeli government’s decision on prayer at the Western Wall and conversion policies. While today many American Jews feel that Israel has become more meaningful, they do not have as much ability to impact the policies of the country and the unified voice that once distinguished support for the country is no longer there. The concept of support has certainly changed greatly and has become more personal. This is not necessarily a bad thing or critical as we see that more and more American Jews are supporting the country but they are doing so in their own diverse ways.

Certainly programs such as Birthright as well as other trends in the American Jewish community have something to do with this support. Writer Sasson provides the information we need to make our own decisions and there is no unified answer to any of the questions that we face here. However, we must look at the framework in which ideas and theories come about.

We are given the history of the American Jewish community’s relationship with Israel as well as supporting data and then are left to think it all out and see where we fit. Sasson’s analysis of American Jewish public opinions shows that this relationship is ever changing and evolving and we see that at times the relationship is uneasy (like in any other relationship). The present situation is complicated because of its almost constant change. While the recent Pew report shows that today there is

decreased religious affiliation among Jews giving to Israel has increased and we sense more engagement by Americans with Israel. Sasson says that we are not in a critical situation and that recent reports of distancing from the country are erroneous. Rather there is a new pluralism that distinguishes the current relationship between American Jewry and the Jewish state.

American Jewish engagement with Israel is not simply a matter of personal identities and feelings of attachment but an institutionalized collective behavior “has moved the debates from social psychology to sociology”. , shifting the terrain of the debate from social psychology to sociology.”

 

“About Economy and Sustenance: Judaism, Society and Economics” by Aharon Ariel Lavi— Economics and Society

Lavi, Aharon Ariel. “About Economy and Sustenance: Judaism, Society and Economics”, ContentoNow, 2016.

Economics and Society

Amos Lassen

It is impossible to look at society without looking at economics since it is one of the strongest forces of said society. There is commercial activity in every purchase, sale, and commercial and even reading a book is an economic activity. Economic activity is what shapes society and we are all aware that there are many ways to manage and examine the economy through ethical decisions on cultural, social and spiritual problems. Here we learn of the contribution of the Jewish cultural world to economic thought and to understanding the structure of society. We find new answers for the most basic questions that shape economic activity and society in general as we look at questions such as “what is property? What is efficiency? What is trade? How do human beings make economic decisions, and how do these concepts dictate the relations between man and material, man and man, and man and God?”

The book is composed of articles written by different authors, of which the majority are leaders in their respective fields. With the coming together of Judaism and reality, there is much to be learned.

This is an eclectic and intellectually engaging selection of essays on Jewish thought and economic life. These theologically constructive explorations have important contributions on both methodological and substantive levels. We live in n era of looking for practical and existential approaches that came to be due to extreme forms of capitalism and collectivism. We see how the Jewish way of life, laws, philosophy, and culture have contributed to economic thinking and the way the world works. The observations that we read here are astute with deep insight. Here is a

discussion on all things financial, and the thoughts within the world “of Jewish and rabbinic literature on creating a sound economy based on empirical evidence as well as moral, Torah-values”. We see how the history of Jewish thought influences the assessment of capitalism and its alternatives. The authors explore their own distinctive arguments and ideas and do not advance a single line of argument about how Jewish thought relates to capitalism. Instead, they leave us with questions to think about and to decide if capitalism is consistent with traditional morality. The basic question is if, “the capitalist economy also be a moral economy”.

Twenty articles regarding the ways in which traditional Jewish theology can deepen our understanding of economic reality are presented and they were collected between 2007 and 2008 in Israel and translated from the original Hebrew.

The first and second sections are the sabbatical year and the “internal structure of society in light of Jewish Mysticism.” The third and final sections are detailed discussions of Halachic approaches to the business world and include topics such as interest rates, welfare, charity, and inheritance laws. We see that on the one hand “extreme capitalism” has generated rapid development at the cost of alienation and devastation of the environment while, on the other hand, we see the contrasting system of “socialism-communism” has often come together with totalitarian methods that have brought about the collapse of entire countries.