Posted by Tom Tugend
Why did Israel’s “Waltz With Bashir,” the presumed frontrunner in the Oscar race for best foreign-language film, lose out to the Japanese film “Departures”?
Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan has one theory.
“Given all that pre-Oscar prognostication, the awards themselves were remarkably free of surprises, except for the best foreign language victory of the Japan’s “Departures” over the more highly regarded ‘Waltz With Bashir’ and France’s ‘The Class,’ and that win, though hard to predict, is easily explainable,” Turan wrote.
“To vote in that category, you must be willing to put in the time and effort to see all five nominees, and the people who have that ability (a) skew older than the academy as a whole and (b) have a historic bias toward softer, rather than tougher films.
“Of the five films nominated, only one film fit into that softer category. The tougher films canceled each other out and the soft votes all went to ‘Departures.’ End of story.”
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February 23, 2009 | 6:53 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
USC Hillel is canceling some of its Shabbat dinners, scaling back a weekly barbecue event and looking at other ways to reduce expenses in response to growing budget pressure due to the recession.
“We don’t see it getting better economically in the near future. We’re being conscientious and economically responsible,” said Shira Moldoff, assistant director of development and outreach for USC Hillel.
Moldoff says the USC chapter has cancelled its catered Shabbat dinners on three-day weekends, because they draw few students. And a Wednesday barbecue social that cost USC Hillel $700 each week has been reduced to once per month, she said.
Regular Friday night meals, which draw roughly 50 students each week at a cost of about $650, have not yet been affected. But the chapter’s leadership is hoping to cut that expense in half by handing responsibility for some Shabbat meal preparation over to the students, Moldoff says.
One of the options under consideration includes having students and student leadership prepare meals in USC Hillel’s fleishig kitchen, just as UCLA Hillel does each week to reduce its expenses.
The USC chapter’s student board plans to take over the Shabbat kitchen duties on March 6 as part of a trial run.
Another approach being considered is a Shabbat-in-a-box program, which would provide a boxed meal with challah and wine to students, who would be encouraged to organize and host satellite Shabbat dinners.
USC Hillel leaders say the fiscal cuts are pre-emptive in advance of the coming budget year, which begins July 1, and could help offset any potential shortfalls for this year.
Lee Rosenblum, USC Hillel’s acting director, says the problems confronting his chapter are not unique. “Every Hillel in the country is facing the same basic economic issues,” he said.
Rosenblum said he has not had to lay off anyone from his staff, adding that the topic had yet to be raised by USC Hillel’s leadership.
“We’re going to do everything we can to forestall that,” Rosenblum said.
February 17, 2009 | 6:10 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
Whether as an individual or a group, you get a handful of chances to
stand for something in this life. It’s easy to say or write what you
believe, a lot harder to stick by it in the crunch. When the
government of Dubai denied Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer a visa to
play in the Women’s Tennis Association tournament there, the WTA had
one of those rare chances to show the world what it stands for.
Peer is Israel’s top woman’s tennis player, ranked 48 in the world.
She has fought hard and earned the right to play in Barclays Dubai
Tennis Championships, which run from Feb. 15-21 in the United Arab
But a week before the first match, Dubai notified Peer that it refused
to grant her a visa. “They really stopped my momentum because now I’m
not going to play for two weeks and because they waited for the last
minute I couldn’t go to another tournament either,” Peer, who is 21,
told Sports Illustrated from Tel Aviv. “So it’s very disappointing,
and I think it’s not fair.”
The only clue of an excuse was a statement issued to CNN via Dubai’s
government-owned press agency.
““The tournament is sponsored by several national organizations and
they all care to be part of a successful tournament, considering the
developments that the region had been through.”
When it became clear that Dubai banned Peer because she is Israeli,
the WTA had a very clear choice. It could follow its own rules and
stick by its atheletes, or it could cave in to the boycott.
Within hours the leadership of the WTA made its decision: the games
would go on. They capitulated.
WTA chief executive Larry Scott said the tour was “deeply
disappointed” by the decision.
“Ms. Peer has earned the right to play in the tournament and it’s
regrettable that the UAE is denying her this right,” Scott said in a
“The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour believes very strongly, and has a clear
rule and policy, that no host country should deny a player the right
to compete at a tournament for which she has qualified by ranking.”
Next year, he said, WTA would reconsider its participation in the
To mix metaphors, Scott, a Harvard University grad and a former pro
tennis player himself, punted. Choked. Or, to stay true to tennis,
On the one hand, this has nothing to do with Israel. According to the
WTA’s own by-laws, the right thing to do was to cancel the
competition right then and there. At that instant Scott and the
members of the board of the WTA and the organization itself had the
chance to stand for something. Their own rules, for one. What
message does it send to players when their own organization doesn’t
abide by the rules it sets? Are they as flexible on drug-testing? On
betting? On foot-faults?
To capitulate is also to weaken tennis as a sport, to inject it with
the most cowardly and base form of politics. It is a form of political
expression that weakens, rather than strengthens the forces of
“Bridging political gulfs - rather than widening them further apart -
between nations and individuals thus becomes an educational duty as
well as a functional necessity, requiring exchange and dialogue rather
than confrontation and antagonism,” wrote the presidents of Hebrew
University of Jerusalem and Sari Nusseibeh, the president of the
Palestinian al-Quds University, in a 2005 joint statement against
Punishing Peer is also not very classy. She is a soft-spoken young
woman who, like all great young athletes, is focused 100 percent on
her sport. Her quiet dedication has led to remarkable results.
In the 2007 Australian Open, she was just two points away from
eliminating Serena Williams in the quarterfinals before losing in a
tight third set. At the time she had advanced to be number 15 in the
Is her toughness an example of the Israeli in her?
“There are many Israeli tennis players who don’t play like me,” she
told Hillel Abrams for a 2007 Jewish Journal profile. “I don’t think it is because I’m Israeli or Jewish. That is just how I am. That is
just how I play on the court.”
The WTA is supposed to shield its players from the world so they can
focus on their game and their fans. In this case, it let one of its
players take the fall.
Worse, by capitulating to Dubai the WTA didn’t just punish one of its
own, it sloughed the moral burden off its own shoulders and put it on
the other players. Now the press is asking Serena and Venus Williams
and other top seeds if they will walk away from the games since
their league didn’t. And because Larry Scott and the WTA failed to do
the right thing, his players do have a choice to make. Will they
stand by their fellow player? Would they want Peer to do the same for
them? Would they be just as angry if a country denied them a chance
at a title because of where they come from? Will they dishonor their
sport by bowing to Dubai?
Since I wrote this, the highest profile player to have refused to go to Dubai because of the Pe’er boycott was Andy Roddick. With Rafael Nadal already out, Roddick’s refusal to play had to hurt the organizers. Good. That’s the definition of a mensch.
I hope other players now and in the future find it within themselves to step up, somehow, some way, before the tournament is over.
For more on Shahar Peer, click here.
February 16, 2009 | 4:14 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
YULA (Yeshiva of Los Angeles) boys school’s basketball team forfeited two games this season against Oakwood rather than face the North Hollywood prep school’s lineup—which features a pink-haired punk rock girl. The forfeitures, which have been upheld by the CIF Liberty League, have place YULA third in the standings as its Panthers head into playoffs this week, the Daily News reported.
Emma Levine, a 17-year-old senior, joined the Oakwood Gorillas boys basketball team this year because the school didn’t have enough players. Levine, a Reform Jew, says she knew her presence on the team was going to be an issue for YULA since Orthodox boys can’t play sports with girls after b’nai mitzvah age. But Levine says her coach and the school wanted to defend its Title IX right to have a girl on the court, rather than have her sit out two games.
“I knew that early in the season, but my administration was going to stand by me 100 percent. I came in this saying, `I’ll do whatever you want.’ I didn’t want to cause any more attention than was needed. But the school said absolutely not. `We’re not backing down. You’re not going to not be part of the team for two games,’” Levine told the Daily News.
YULA decided not to press the issue. Two days before the first game, the Orthodox high school officially forfeited the games it was scheduled to play against Oakwood on Jan. 17 and Feb. 3.
But after a Jan. 27 upset of league power Buckley of Sherman Oaks, 18-2 at the time, YULA found itself in contention for the playoffs and asked league officials to revisit the issue, to strike the two forfeit losses against Oakwood from the record, to essentially cut its season to 18 games.
After nearly two weeks of back-and-forth, the league decided to uphold the forfeits.
Yeshiva officials declined comment on the forfeits or the league’s decision to uphold the losses.
Yeshiva finished the regular season with a 13-8 overall record, 5-5 in the Liberty League, and will go into next week’s Southern Section playoffs as the league’s third-place team.
Oakwood (6-14, 2-8) finished last in the league, its only two victories being the forfeits by Yeshiva.
February 11, 2009 | 3:03 pm
Posted by Adam Wills
Several buildings in Shanghai’s historic Jewish quarter, known as Little Vienna, are being marked for demolition as part of a road-widening project, NPR reports. The area, once a safe haven for 20,000 Jews feeling Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s, is once again yielding its Eastern European character as demolition crews tear down facades, revealing signs that have been covered for decades, like the one for the Wuerstel Tenor sandwich shop.
They will pull down other fading shop fronts at the heart of Little Vienna, as well — those of Cafe Atlantic and Horn’s Imbiss-stube (Horn’s Snack Bar).
“The existing refugee coffee shops [and] restaurants were a shining light in the lives of the refugees, who did not know how long their isolation and misery would last, should they survive,” says Rena Krasno, who has written about her experiences living through World War II in Shanghai.
“In these eateries, they felt they were back in Europe … and for a short time eliminated their painful fate from their minds,” she says.
Dvir Bar-Gal is an Israeli journalist who is writing a book about Shanghai’s Jewish past. He also leads tours around the Jewish quarter. For him, the question is how important it is for a society to keep its past. If the demolitions go ahead, he fears there will be less and less to show visitors, and he fears the little-known story of Shanghai’s Jewish past will be in danger of being completely forgotten.
“People will stop coming. There will be no interest in the almost forgotten story of the 1940s, the people who were saved here from the Nazis,” he says.
While the Chinese government declared 70 acres of the Jewish ghetto a conservation zone in 2005, the buildings slated for demolition within the zone aren’t designated protected buildings. Officials say they’re trying to balance urban growth with historical conservation, but fear of “catastrophic” traffic seems to be winning out over the preservation of Jewish history in China. The area’s famous Ohel Moshe Synagogue, which has become the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, is being spared, said Chen Jian from the Hongkou district government, but he isn’t optimistic about the future of the former restaurants, cafes and clubs of Little Vienna.
“We’ll do our best to remove and save some of the most valuable artifacts, if feasible,” he says. “But that’s not to say that we won’t demolish these buildings.”
February 10, 2009 | 8:04 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
CAJE, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, will close its doors at the end of this month, a victim of the economic downturn that is reshaping Jewish organizational life.
CAJE attracted thousands of educators every year to its conference, where Jewish educators, primarily from preschools and supplemental (aka religious, Sunday, Hebrew, or congregational) schools, networked and schmoozed and shared ideas about how to make Jewish education better.
But with schools and synagogues unable to pay for its teachers to attend the conference, and with donors down, in January CAJE canceled its 34th annual conference. Today, the group announced that with $500,000 still owed on past conferences, the organization is shutting down. It launched a legacy campaign to clean up the debt and close the chapter with dignity.
From the CAJE Homepage:
We very much regret to inform you that CAJE will close its doors at the end of February. This may be a shocking statement, but it is part and parcel of today’s excruciatingly difficult economic environment. The mind-boggling part for CAJE is that we have just held one of our most successful conferences. CAJE 33 was well attended and inspiring. But even after accounting for the revenue from CAJE 33, the combination of past debt and the fragile economy forced us to take the unprecedented and painful step of cancelling CAJE 34, then letting most of our staff go and preparing to close our doors.
Aside from its conference, CAJE offered advocacy and resources for Jewish educators and schools.
The first CAJE conference – then the “a” stood for “alternatives,” not “advancement” – in 1976 was put together by Jewish students who wanted something other than the ruler-wielding rabbi or school marm telling kids how to be Jewish. 350 educators gathered at Brown University in Rhode Island that year with an anti-establishment spirit.
Prior to the 1976 conference, no Jewish conference had managed to gather such a diverse group of American Jews—teachers, principals, lay leaders, college students, professors, camp counselors, part-timers, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Hasid, Yiddishist, secularist, humanist, Zionist—even Jews with multiple personalities. The ages of the participants at the first conference ranged from 13 to 70!
By year three 1000 people participated, and when times caught up and CAJE was a full-fledged organization and no longer alternative, CAJE changed its middle name to “Advancement” in 1987 (it kept Alternative for the conferences). At its heights, CAJE attracted 2,500 people to its conferences.
CAJE was there for the Soviet Jewry movement, developed partnerships around the world and in Israel, credits itself with spawning similar conferences like Limmud, and updated itself with a robust website and blog.
But the hits have been hard lately, and CAJE faced reality. Although its 33rd annual conference in Vermont last August was a success, it wasn’t enough to save CAJE. CAJE is working with Jewish Educational Services of North America (JESNA) to preserve and disseminate its materials, explore the possibilty of a conference, and handle member needs, especially Early Childhood educators.
But there are many, many Jewish educators who will miss the camaraderie, professional development and spirit they could only get at CAJE conference.
February 10, 2009 | 6:42 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
With a possible merger between the Jewish Community Library and the library at the American Jewish University on the horizon, Abigail Yasgur resigned from her post as director of the community library.
Yasgur, who has held her position for 12 years, says she did not want to shepherd the library through a potential transition she feels will harm the institution and the community.
“I am disappointed in the direction,” said Yasgur. “What I would really like to see instead is people thinking about something bold and ambitious, that is concerned with the community and providing them with the resources they need.”
The library, housed at headquarters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard, is currently operated by the Bureau of Jewish Education with funding from Federation. The collection has 30,000 volumes, including films, music recording, community archives and modern and ancient books in English, Hebrew and many other languages.
But with Federation funding for the library dwindling and the Bureau facing its own budget crunch, professional and lay leaders have been exploring the possibility of moving the library to the American Jewish University on Mulholland in the Sepulveda Pass. plans to expand its library facilities in the next three years and open the collection to the public. In the current negotiations between AJU, Federation and the Bureau, the children’s library would remain at its current location at 6505 Wilshire Blvd.
A group of library supporters and lay leaders have created a committee (www.savethejewishlibrary.com) to explore spinning the library off into an independent non-profit that could occupy a street-level storefront, which they maintain can spike library visibility, patronage and community support.
The president of the Association of Jewish Libraries and of its Southern California branch are advocating against the merger with AJU, which they say will undermine the library’s mission as an easily accessible, community institution.
“Libraries like this need to be integrated into daily, community life, because books and literacy are a part of daily life. It can’t be so set apart that you have to travel 20 minutes on the freeway to get there,” Yasgur said.
Under Yasgur’s leadership, the library established an online catalog and strong Web presence, increased programming, raised the library’s profile in the community, and grew the client base.
Yasgur will bid farewell to the community at a tea Feb. 26, where she will reveal her top ten favorite books, and promote “Max Said Yes!”, her own children’s book on the 1969 Woodstock Festival, held on the farm of her cousin, Max Yasgur.
“Being able to connect people with books or information that they are looking for, and seeing them glow or smile as a result, is remarkable work,” Yasgur said.
February 4, 2009 | 7:29 pm
Posted by Julie Gruenbaum Fax
The potential merger between the the Jewish Community Library at American Jewish University, which I reported on in last week’s Jewish Journal (click here for story), has many people worked up, chief among them a passionate network of librarians. While reporting the story, I interviewed several librarians who spoke with eloquence and conviction about the need to maintain an easily accessible, complete collection where entire families could enjoy the books, videos, music and archives. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include most of those interviews in the printed story, due to space considerations.
One of the librarians I interviewed was Barbara Leff, a past president of the Southern California Branch of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She wrote to me after the story was published:
My only disappointment is that you interviewed 3 of us (Suzi, Ellen, and myself - library professionals in the community and Suzi as our national president of the Association of Jewish Libraries) - but you didn’t reference it. I was not looking for name inclusion but rather a simple statement that the national and local professional library communities were not in favor of the merger - so the community will know that JCLLA has our support.
It’s a point well taken, and I learned a lot about libraries from talking to these women. Some of what I learned:
• Librarians get regular notices of new publications from which they order their books. Librarians at Jewish libraries get different and more specific catalogs, which is why their collection can be more complete than say a public library’s Jewish collection.
• The County Library system has cultural and ethnic collections at each branch. The Culver City Branch of the Los Angeles County Library houses the Jewish collection.
• Libraries are generally most successful when they are a convenient stop in a person’s daily agenda. Picking up a book, and especially returning books, has to fit in as stops on other errands. That is why some librarians fear that the AJU, on a hilltop campus off Mullholland, might not work for a community library, even though it is geographically a midpoint between Valley and City Jewish communities.