Category Archives: Israel

“MANON”— Manon in Israel

“MANON”

After the Great War

Amos Lassen

This cinematic adaptation of Abbe Prévost’s 1731 novel “Manon Lescaut” was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, the French director lauded for his acclaimed thrillers “The Wages of Fear” and “Les Diaboliques.” It is a classical tragic romance moved to a World War II setting. It follows the travails of Manon (Cécile Aubry), a village girl accused of collaborating with the Nazis and is rescued from imminent execution by a former fighter for the French Resistance, Robert Desgrieux (Michel Auclair). The couple move to Paris, but their relationship becomes stormy as they struggle to survive. They turn to profiteering, prostitution and even murder. They eventually escape to Palestine where they face a treacherous desert crossing. They hope to find the happiness which seems to constantly elude them. Clouzot gives us an astute portrayal of doomed young lovers caught in post-war France and the film swept the jury of the 1949 Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion award. However, it has been unjustly overshadowed by the director’s suspense films. “Manon” now returns to screens in glorious High Definition and excellent extras.

Clouzot had worked in Nazi-occupied France as a screenwriter and director for the German-owned company Continental Films and, after the liberation of France, he was tried in court for collaborating with the Germans and sentenced to being banned from going on set of any film or from using a film camera for the rest of his life. However, his sentence was later shortened from life to two years, so he was only banned by the French Government from film making until 1947.

Clouzot re-tells the story of ambitious, gold-digging femme fatale Manon Lescaut whose insatiable lust for money destroys her relationship with lover Robert Desgrieux and finally her life. Robert is a French Resistance veteran who rescues Manon from villagers intent on lynching her for collaboration with the Nazis. They quickly relocate to Paris, where they become embroiled in crime.

Clouzot gets extraordinary performances from his cast and particularly from Aubry and Auclair, but also from Serge Regianni as Manon’s dirty brother Leon Lescaut, Gabrielle Dorziat as the bordello madam Mme. Agnès and Héléna Manson as a Normandy peasant, The Gossip. The screenplay by Clouzot and Jean Ferry is subtle and impeccable, and the depiction of the post-war Parisian underworld is vivid. The film was shot in black and white by Armand Thirard, produced by Paul-Edmond Decharme, scored by Paul Misraki, and designed by Max Douy.

Bonus Materials

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original 1.0 mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Bibliothèque de poche: H.G. Clouzot, an archival documentary from 1970 in which Clouzot talks of his love of literature and the relationship between the page and the screen
  • Woman in the Dunes, a newly filmed video appreciation by film critic Geoff Andrew
  • Image gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options

“UNCHAINED”— A New Israeli Series

“UNCHAINED”

A New Israeli Series

Amos Lassen

 A dramatic unveiling of the world of an ultra-orthodox Rabbi as he works to release women from the “anchors” of their marriage 

“Spectacular! An exhilarating and rewarding experience. Profoundly moving”  (Yedioth Aharonoth)

“Smart and wondrous direction of an intelligent script”  (Haaretz)

“Alive and kicking script; A smart, brash and thought-provoking series” (Maariv)

Agunah, a Hebrew word meaning “chained” or “anchored” woman, is a Jewish law principle in which a woman is bound in marriage by a husband who refuses to grant a divorce or who is missing and not proven dead.

A devout Rabbi-detective, whose job is to free the women whose husbands deny them a divorce and a new life, finds that in his own home lurks a secret  that threatens his world and marriage.

“Unchained” the story of Yossef Mourad and his wife Hannah, takes the viewer into the closed-off ultra-orthodox Haredi world, and touches on the most painful place where Jewish-law clashes with modern life – the status of women in society.

Created by:

Yossi Madmoni (“Restoration”, “Redemption”) 

Tamar Kay and David Ofek (“No.17”, “Ha’Mangalistim”)

Starring: 

Aviv Alush (“The Baker and the Beauty”, “The Women’s Balcony”)  Alma Dishi (“VIP”, “Your Honor”)

 

“I WAS NOT BORN A MISTAKE”— Meet Yiscah Smith

“I WAS NOT BORN A MISTAKE”

Meet Yiscah Smith

Amos Lassen

·Yiscah Smith was living as an ultra-Orthodox married man with six children and deep ties in the community before coming out as a gay man and leaving Israel. Once she was back in the United States, Yiscah come out as trans, underwent gender transition and took her current name. It took twenty years for Yiscah to return to Israel, where she became a religious educator and spiritual mentor. The film shows her incredible journey to self-acceptance, compassion, and, finally, to her home in Israel. It alternates between past and present, where she helps clients on their own paths of awareness and self-discovery.

This is probably one of the most intriguing transition stories we have ever seen.  Born in a devout Observant Jewish family in Brooklyn as Yakov Smith, he was picked on and bullied for being effeminate.  As he grew into a teenager and young man, he became increasing desperate to fit in with society.

By the time the he was 24 in 1971, he was  totally immersed in the Chabad Hasidic movement in Brooklyn, and was then married an Orthodox woman. They had three sons and three daughters, and in 1985 they decided  to immigrate to Israel.

Where Smith taught at a synagogue in Jerusalem, he was considered a rising star and was made chairman in the Chabad house where he was in charge of Shabbat and entertained guests from around the globe. Everything seemed great on the outside but all the while, Smith did not questioning their own identity.  But after a Shabbat dinner, a guest drew Smith to aside and told him that he could see through his act.

This is what brought Smith to take s good look at life and he decided to come out as gay with the result that  his wife started divorce proceedings.  This also led to Smith being fired and shunned by his community. This eventually caused him to return to New York alone.

In New York, Smith  led a secular life and ending up in California, working at Starbucks and living with a boyfriend.  The relationship ended when the boyfriend said that Smith was too much like a woman. This was an important moment.

Becoming Yiscah Smith did not men just undergoing gender reassignment surgery but also finding her faith again and  coming back to Orthodox Judaism. After having a brief relationship with a man from Texas man and coming to terms with her estranged mother, Smith returned to re-settle in Israel and has been successful as an educator, spiritual advisor  and speaker in the “post-denominational Jewish experience.  She is confident and happy and even while knowing and reluctantly accepting that only 2 of her 6 children will speak with her and then, occasionally.  We see Smith as a woman who usually overthinks things and some of her decisions are still surprising.

She does not  accept that she is a trans woman and demands that she has always been a straight woman who is attracted to men.  She firmly believes this and when questioned about she is quick to dismisses her involvement with any transgender community. With Smith, the real transition is finding her way back to Judaism and her religion is the one and only identity that accepts her with unquestioning faith.

“I Was Not Born A Mistake” is the directorial debut of Israeli filmmakers Eyal Ben Moshe and Rachel Rusinek. I would have liked a few more interviews/comments from people who had shared parts of Smith’s life.  Nonetheless, this is an important film that makes valuable contributions to the dialogue about the transgender community.

“AFTERWARD”— Confronting Demons

“AFTERWARD”

Confronting Demons

Amos Lassen

Jerusalem-born director and trauma expert Ofra Bloch forces herself to confront her demons in a journey that takes her to Germany, Israel and Palestine. Her documentary is set against the current wave of fascism and anti-Semitism that we are feeling globally today. “Afterward” explores the secret wounds carried by victims as well as victimizers through testimonies that are both horrifying and hopeful. We see Bloch as a victim in Germany and a perpetrator in Palestine. She faces those she was raised to hate and dismiss as “she searches to understand the identity-making narratives of the Holocaust and the Nakba, violent and non-violent resistance, and the possibility of forgiveness.”

The documentary deals with the lingering trauma that are suffered by Israelis, Palestinians and Germans as a result of such events as the Holocaust and the Nakba. The question we feel throughout is if it is possible to forgive.

This question is particularly relevant today in these politically charged times that are marked more than ever by hatred and resentments. We delve into the feelings of Germans, Israelis and Palestinians and the relevance will of this film will probably never abate.

We are made very aware of the continuing trauma of the Holocaust and the Nakba. The Nazi legacy is still deeply felt in Germany. Bloch interviews a former neo-Nazi who can’t quite believe he’s talking amiably to a Jew and the children of SS officers grappling with the horrors of their fathers’ pasts. She goes to an exhibit at Berlin’s Jewish Museum that lives up to its provocative title “Jew in a Box.” Bloch was introduced to memories of the Holocaust at an early age since she grew up in Jerusalem across from the building where Adolf Eichmann was tried for war crimes.

The legacy of the Holocaust is also felt by Palestinians, many of whom resent Israelis who label themselves victims even while oppressing them.  A woman describes how she refuses to stand when a siren blares each year to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. She explains that not standing up represents a political statement on her part. We see harrowing footage of an Israeli soldier cold-bloodedly shooting a wounded Palestinian terrorist in the head as he lays wounded on the ground.

Bloch also interviews a Palestinian professor who took his students on a field trip to Auschwitz to educate them about the horrors of the Holocaust. He was later accused of being a traitor and removed from his position.

The interviewees include historians, therapists and activists who articulately describe how past and current events shape their personal lives and careers. Bloch injects herself frequently into the proceedings, as she explores her own complicated feelings of victimization and resentment. This is a personal journey that proves as therapeutic for the filmmaker as it does for her subjects.

At its most powerful, the film illustrates the many ways in which the past haunts the present and the healing power of communication. As Bloch filmed her conversations with descendants of Nazis, she realized  that as an Israeli, she had to talk to another community that she’d taught to stay away from. We see that trauma and the hate are passed down to both victims and perpetrators of violence. Sometimes the victim and the perpetrator are the same person. Bloch admits that she recognized her own role in all of this.

Whenever the Palestinians want to discuss their difficulties with occupation, the history of the Holocaust is brought up to silence them and to make them understand that there is nothing comparable to the Holocaust. The history of the Holocaust silences the world. The Holocaust is actually being lived on a daily basis in Israeli society with the help of cynical politicians. This creates an outlook that everybody is the enemy and an attitude that the Holocaust is around the corner and is going to be waged by the Palestinians next door. It prevents people from listening to the experience of another group of people.

The Nakba is what the Israelis call the War of Independence in 1948. It’s called the catastrophe by the Palestinians. They referred to basically the destruction of their country so the idea that Bloch would mention those two historical events in the same breath is shocking.

“BACK TO THE FATHERLAND”— From Israel to Germany and Austria

“BACK TO THE FATHERLAND”

From Israel to Germany and Austria

Amos Lassen

Gil Levanon is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. He is an Israeli. Kat Rohrer is Austrian and her grandfather was a Nazi officer. They introduce us to other young men and women whose grandparents were persecuted and/or murdered during the Second World War or fled Germany and Austria. We meet people who have decided to move back to what is known as the Fatherland and their parents and grandparents are not in agreement with and do not understand why they made this decision to go back to. The land that destroyed so many members of their families. This documentary film looks at the challenges and chances for reconciliation and understanding between generations who stand on both sides of the Holocaust.

Hitler promised that Europe would be free of Jews, and in 1945 the only Jews that managed to remain in Germany were those who had managed to avoid being gassed, shot, worked to death, or were in hiding or passing for Christian. Most of us would think that the last people to a return to Germany or to Austria (which largely welcomed Nazi rule and murdered tens of thousands) would be Jews. The greater irony is that Israel was created to provide a safe homeland for the Jewish people, so why would some people born in Israel move to central Europe. They left relative safety and comfort in Israel and in the diaspora and become citizens of countries that still today are places with a rising renewal of antisemitism. This documentary narrows the statistics down to three families with individuals who left Israel for Germany and Austria.

The uniqueness of the film comes from the “seeming absurdity of this plunge back into the darkness of history, but also because grandparents of the individuals were aghast at the decision of the young people”. The young people that are determined to live in Germany and Austria are filled with guilt for going against the wishes of their grandparents.

Co-director Gil Levanon is an Israeli whose grandfather survived the Holocaust, and  co-director Kat Rohrer, who met Levanon while students at NYU, with a grandfather who was a Nazi officer and whose uniform has been kept in an attic for some seventy years. The film begins when Levanon tells her grandfather, Yochanan, that she intends to leave Israel for Germany. He is in shock, disbelief, and dismay. He tells her that the Germans, “were bad, they stayed bad, and they will always be bad.”

We the meet Dan, born in Israel but living in Berlin, where he intends to stay rather than return to Israel. He is politically to the left, having left Israel because of the government’s treatment of Palestinians, and considers Israel to be an apartheid state. He has taken a pregnant German wife who is about to give birth by the end of the movie. His Austrian grandmother, Lea, is an Israeli citizen and disappointed by her grandson’s warm feelings toward Vienna.

Guy Shahar is a man with his own philosophy toward Israel and Austria. He lives with an Austrian girlfriend and is not very excited about where he is. He says that if things get too hot in Central Europe, he will move back to Israel. Guy’s grandfather, Uri Ben Rehav, does not oppose Guy’s decision to remain in Austria. He has never forgotten that during the thirties in Germany he was arrested by the Gestapo for wearing his country’s colors. (This is interesting in that at first the Nazis said that Jews were not loyal to Germany; then they protested when a Jew proudly wore the colors of the flag).

This is a  fascinating film that could be  so much better if the directors had isolated each of the three stories, bringing everyone together at the end. The back-and-forth editing makes it a bit difficult to watch.

Not only did Austria and Germany give rise to Nazism, the people who lived there turned their backs on the Jewish community as they were being obliterated. The documentary is about conversations – some inter-generational with grandparents and their grandchildren, others are between the grandchildren. We get an interesting view of Israel that we in the States do not get. Some of the grandchildren lament the “culture of victimhood” that they see Israel has become. They feel that this culture, which relies on the concept that Jews are hated everywhere except in Israel has kept Israel from growing as a nation and made it impossible for them to move on. All of the conversations that we see and hear here are interesting. We get insight into how young Jews view modern Israel and the Holocaust.

More than 10,000 Israelis are estimated to have settled in Berlin during the last ten years and established Hebrew-speaking enclaves. The directors were interested in the specific personal ramifications of those who are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.

The most moving scenes are the Jewish grandparents’ return to their native lands and the interactions there with their grandchildren. Guy takes his grandfather on a tour of Vienna that includes a ride on a child-size train in a park where Jews were banned. This reminds Uri of when he removed his yellow star in order to see a public display of the German might that had just defeated France. While riding on a streetcar with his grandson, he recalls sitting across from a man who confronted him for being Jewish and wearing a plaid jacket that included the black, white, and red colors of the Nazi party that were forbidden to him. The man took out his Gestapo badge and arrested him. Uri covers his face and can’t speak.

Dan’s father, Gidi, is able to bring his 91-year-old mother to her former apartment in Vienna and the building that housed her school, where an anti-Semitic art teacher challenged her talent. She steps onto the school auditorium stage and recites all 16 stanzas she learned there of “The Minstrel’s Curse” by the early 19th century poet Ludwig Uhland, about a musician’s revenge on a murderous king. Her memory shows the fondness German-speaking Jews have for their prewar culture.

“Palestine Posts: An Eyewitness Account of the Birth of Israel: Based on the letters of Mordecai S. Chertoff” by Daniel S. Chertoff— Coming Home

Chertoff, Daniel S. “Palestine Posts: An Eyewitness Account of the Birth of Israel: Based on the letters of Mordecai S. Chertoff”, The Toby Press, 2010.

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Mordecai Chertoff came to Palestine in 1947 when he was twenty-five-years old and was determined to make his contribution to building the Jewish state. Through letters to his family, he describes the news of the UN vote for partition, the siege of Jerusalem, the bombing of the Palestine Post, the declaration of the State of Israel, his travels along the dangerous Jerusalem-Tel-Aviv highway, and, inevitably, the loss of friends. The letters are filled with love for the land and love for his family and are filled with details of everyday life in Jerusalem including meetings with famous and soon-to-be-famous people. We also have historical information that has never before been disclosed. Since the books is composed of letters, it is written in first-person allowing us to feel turning points in Jewish history. Chertoff’s son Daniel, leads us on his father’s journey letting us penetrate the heart and mind of his father. We forget that when Israel was a new nation, there was not such a distance between the founders of the state and people on the street and  this is what I was so beautifully reminded of. In my own life, I was lucky to live about a block away from Golda Meir’s house in Tel Aviv and seeing her on the street and saying “Boker Tov” was a common experience.

This is a gripping factual story of the birth of the State of Israel, as seen through letters and journalistic observations of the author’s father. Chertoff’s remembrances of the events of this time in the nation’s history are fascinating and historically enlightening, especially  regarding the dynamics of American Jews’ ideological identification and emotional involvement with the Israel’s struggles and challenges as it had to deal with “existential onslaughts.”

The book is also the story of a son’s attempts  to rediscover a father. Daniel’s father who something of a stranger to him, as well as to himself. Daniel looks at the complexities and the contradictions in his father’s character and is finally able to deal with his feelings. This is adds to the story of Israel.The annotated compilation of letters is filled with unique and emotionally powerful insights into Israel’s 1947-1949 War of Independence. It was so interesting to learn that when the Arab nations launched the War of Independence, many wondered whether resident Jews from the United States would stay in what was called the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-Israel) or return to the safety of America. The American born population had the choice to leave while others did not. no longer had any European communities to rejoin. If a mass flight of the US contingent would have  then those who remained  would be short of manpower and other support. Most of the Americans stayed. Chertoff was one of those Americans.

The letters give us a first-hand account of the War and explain the political and social realities of the time in a personal way allowing us to feel what it was like to live at the time.

 

Daniel Chertoff balances the integration of his father’s letters and articles with his own well written ways of connecting the material (historical and personal). There are also very interesting footnotes.

“Disengagement: Leaving Home, Finding Home & Encounters Along the Way” by Daniella Levy— Leaving Preconceptions Behind

Levy, Daniella. “Disengagement: Leaving Home, Finding Home & Encounters Along the Way”, Kasva Press, 2020.

Leaving Preconceptions Behind

Amos Lassen

How often do we ask ourselves if the place where we live is home? Can we really define “home” and do we know when we are there? Years ago I went “home” to Israel and was sure that I was indeed in the place where I was supposed to be? Is home a physical place or is it a state of mind? Daniella Levy faces these questions in “Disengagement” by having us step outside our regular lifestyle and listen to what others have to say. The Key word here is “other”. It is important for us to know and experience others in order to understand how we live today. Against the backdrop of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, we meet characters as they deal with each other and themselves.

In “Disengagement” we meet characters whose lives are changed when on August 18, 2005, the settlement of Neve Adva was evacuated by Israeli forces. This was a polarizing event and we see in it a microcosm of the politics of today. People were forced to leave the place that they considered to be their home. Among the characters that we meet here are a rabbi who searches how to understand his own sacrifices, a formerly religious soldier who is forced to evict the first girl he ever loved, a Holocaust survivor who can escape the memories of the past, a widow who is the process of moving her husband’s corpse to a new grave and a young Palestinian female who seeks hope and she deals with the destruction that surrounds her. Taken as a whole, we have a group of people who might never have met each other had times been different.

“They come from different corners of Israeli society, rooted in their own beliefs, busy with their own troubles. Farmers and fishermen, skeptics and believers, immigrants and natives, children and grandparents struggle with faith, loss, jealousy, hope—and the turmoil around them only deepens the rifts that divide them.” Some of them live in Neve Adva, the place whose destruction brought all their lives together and changed them forever. In reading about them, we have to leave our preconceptions behind and forget what we have thought about the “other”.

Neve Adva, while a fictional place, becomes very real as we realize the meaning of the word “disengagement” especially for those of us who have never been forced to disengage from something we love. Here this is not just physical disengagement; our characters disengage from their material surroundings but also from the people they know and love, from their opinions and from their beliefs.

I remember all too well watching on television in Israel when the first disengagement came after the visit of Sadat to Israel in 1977. We watched as Israelis at the settlement of Yamit in 1982 were forced out of their homes by other Israelis and their settlement leveled to the ground. It was a numbing and heartbreaking experience. With “Disengagement”, I was taken back to those memories.

This is a beautiful book and a wonderful read and it just might challenge you to see the “other” differently. I deliberately have not named the characters or go into much detail because I want you to have the same experience I had as I read. Each character (and poet Maayan Tzurim) opens new doors and new ways to think. Now it is up to you to open those doors and walk through. You just have to wait until March 23, 2020 to do so.

“UNKEPT SECRETS” (“Moisserim”)— Abuse

“UNKEPT SECRETS” (“Moisserim”)

Abuse

Amos Lassen

Dalit Kimor’s “Unkept Secrets” shows what happens to a Jewish Orthodox woman and mother of eight who leads a quiet life, finds out one day, the admired rabbi, teacher of her sons, has been sexually abusing them since their Bar-Mitzvah.

Ornit, a 42 year-old ultra-Orthodox woman, had to face this and against her will and became a hero overnight. She and her children, Yankie and Mandy, sued the offender, and endured grueling legal proceedings. They also had to cope their community that defended the Rabbi, and they were proclaimed “Moisserim” (informers). The victim, who dared to air the dirty laundry in public faced shunning.


Genendi, (42), is married and a mother of three. 18 years ago she spoke out loud about being raped by her father, a famous rabbi, when she was a little girl. Since then, none of her 11 siblings or mother have spoken to her. She was shunned by her extended family for the secrets she did not keep.

Ornit and Genendi are assisted by Shana, a 29 year-old ultra-Orthodox woman, who works in a global Jewish organization. These victims become empowerment for other Orthodox people in the battle against sexual offenses in the community. They will no longer remain silent.

“Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon “ by Eric H. Cline— The Early Years of Biblical Archeology

Cline, Eric H. “Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon “, Princeton University Press, 2020.

The Early Years of Biblical Archaeology

Amos Lassen

In 1925, James Henry Breasted, famed Egyptologist and director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and a team of archaeologists went to the Holy Land to excavate the ancient site of Megiddo (Armageddon) in the Christian Bible which the Bible says was fortified by King Solomon. Their excavations made headlines around the world and we learned about one of the most legendary cities of biblical times. However, until now, we have not heard  what happened behind the scenes. “Digging Up Armageddon” changes that and we learn  about  the site and what was found there, including discoveries of gold and ivory. Writer Eric H. Cline gives us an up-close look at the internal workings of a dig in the early years of biblical archaeology.

The members of the team left behind writings and correspondence spanning more than three decades including letters and cablegrams, cards, notes, and diaries. Cline uses these materials to give us a fascinating and in-depth look at biblical archeology. The expedition is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and tensions in British Mandate Palestine. We read about the debates over what was uncovered at Megiddo from an insider perspective and the infighting that took place during as well as the discoveries that changed our understanding of the ancient world.

Cline looks at the interpersonal relationships among the archaeologists including the scandals and gossip that affected the participants. This is something we do not hear about usually and through this we get the human side to the expedition. We also see how how little archaeology has changed in a hundred years.

Megiddo is the cradle of biblical archaeology. Historically it is  a place that is related to great figures including Thutmose III, Solomon, and Josiah. The excavations there were “the largest and most romantic in the history of Near Eastern archaeology.” Because of them we have relics and monuments from biblical times. Yet Megiddo has also become the focus of problems in the archaeology of the region (questions about the beginning of cities to the “historicity of a united monarchy of David and Solomon.” Eric Cline has done great research and though what he says here, he explains  the history of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the that part of the world.

“FORGIVENESS”— Friends

“FORGIVENESS”

Friends

Amos Lassen

Set in the south of Israel near the Gaza border, in a place where the beleaguered citizens live with incoming rocket fire, longtime pals Shaul (Amir)  and Nissan (Savyon) attempt to rob a postal bank. But the mismanaged job results in Shaul being arrested and sent to prison.

 Years later, upon his release from prison, Shaul is less than pleased to be greeted by the newly religious Nissan who seeks his forgiveness. Shaul has served his sentence but his skill set hasn’t expanded in any way that will enable him to support his family, so he needs Nissan to remember where he buried their loot. This is a very funny and modern take on traditional  comedies and comes from the rapport between the guys despite their love-hate relationship.