Posted by Danielle Berrin
Today I had the pleasure and privilege of spending some time with Iddo Netanyahu, a radiologist and writer, and the younger brother of Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. I interviewed him for an upcoming story I’m writing on the documentary “Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story” about his older brother Yoni, an Israeli war hero and soi desant poet, who died during the 1976 raid on Entebbe airport in Uganda, while rescuing Jewish hostages from their terrorist captors.
Without Iddo, I’m not sure the film would have been made. For it was he and his mother, Cela, who decided to publish Yoni’s prolific letter-writing in what became the book, “Yoni’s Last Battle,” which Iddo co-wrote.
I’ve always thought one great gift of being a writer, or an artist of any kind really, is the possibility for making loss matter. The idea that pain can be made meaningful through response is also a central teaching of the Jewish tradition. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The things which hurt, instruct.” We learn from our losses; from pain there is growth.
I asked Iddo if the process of writing the book and publishing Yoni’s letters was therapeutic. He paused, looking at me slightly perplexed.
“There is no therapy,” he said. “That loss doesn’t heal.”
The sadness in his face made my question naive. Because when you truly love someone and lose them too soon, there is no getting over it. Instead you learn to live with the loss, the emptiness, the leftover wound that does not heal. Time doesn’t change this, it simply marches forward against your desires, in defiance of your beliefs and even your will.
In the book, “Playing for the Ashes” Elizabeth George writes, “A new relationship can develop. But the cicatrix of the old one remains. And nothing grows on a cicatrix. Nothing grows through it.”
Wounds stay, and the scars they leave behind mark their importance. This happened. This was once real.
When the wound is the only thing left of love, you cherish it.
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May 9, 2012 | 12:28 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Eve Annenberg’s “Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” is a film full of tricky contradictions.
As its title suggests, it is a celebratory showcase of Yiddish language, with about half its dialogue spoken in Yiddish, with English subtitles. A fact that also happens to fuel Anneberg’s big marketing ploy: “I’m coming to L.A. a week early to literally go around to Jewish senior centers and talk them into getting their people to the theater,” she said during a phone interview the week before the film’s Los Angeles premiere on May 11.
Who says pride is a sin?
“Other Yiddish films will come down the pike,” added Annenberg, who attended Julliard and Columbia University’s film school, “but I think people might say ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was the first to use this much colloquial Yiddish in modern narrative in more than 50 years.”
Efforts to revive the Yiddish language and culture have been on the increase in recent years, but usually not at the expense of other aspects of Jewish culture. “Romeo and Juliet” may be Annenberg’s “love song to Jewish culture,” but it is also a kind of angry lament at Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox community.
“For the longest time, I was a little bit anti-Orthodox. Sexist, racist, anti-Zionist; I was just like ‘they [stink]’,” Annenberg told Heeb magazine in January 2011. Her feelings are undisguised in her film. “Fraud,” one subtitle declares, is a “Hassidic family business.”
In one scene, a payot-sporting, black-hat wearing Yeshiva bocher fakes being crippled to beg for money. Later, he removes his fake peyot and is shown smoking a joint as a naked African American girl crawls out of his bed.
The celebration of one culture; the denigration of another.
The film’s milieu, which divides the reputed shadiness of the religious community from “normal Brooklyn,” where people do things like read Shakespeare, is bound to offend. But its edginess is all the more provocative, since much of it is based on truth.
Several years ago, Annenberg was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York one night and found herself bewitched by the sound of music emanating from the Millinery Synagogue on 6th Avenue and 39th Street. She was invited upstairs to a mysterious party called Chulent, organized by Yitzchak Schonfeld and designed to accommodate the “narrow margins where secular and [Ch]aredi, atheist and Chasidic, deepest depths and most foolish foolery, overlap,” according to the Web site neohasid.org. In simpler terms, the late-night party “basically is a drop-in lounge for folks that have traveled (or strayed) from the Chasidic world.”
For Annenberg, it was the only social activity in New York that ran late enough to allow her to first put her dying mother to bed. “That’s how I met them,” she said of the young, former Orthodox men and women who conversed mostly in Yiddish — though they also spoke Hebrew, Aramaic and English (“in that order”), which they had learned in their yeshiva studies. For various reasons, they had all broken away from the Orthodox community to try to make their way in the secular world; but for some, it was easier dreamed than done. With virtually no secular-world skills, many resorted to petty scams as the easiest way to make a living.
Then they met Annenberg.
The 40-something filmmaker was so taken with the young Yids, she hatched the idea to make a movie in Yiddish. “I’m a shallow girl,” she said. “I would look at these guys dressed in their Orthodox gear and think, ‘Ohmigod, look how beautiful they are.’ ” The most famous love story in Western culture seemed a natural fit, not to mention the uncanny cultural parallels — naive youth, rigid families, communal feuds and arranged marriages.
Annenberg recruited a small group to help her translate “Romeo and Juliet” into Yiddish (she deemed a translation from the 1930s too outdated). Then she hired them as actors. Their absolute inexperience with Shakespeare so fascinated her, she taped the translation sessions and made them a subplot in the film. “It was like something out of a Jewish version of ‘Hair,’ ” she said.
But when she posted the excerpts from the sessions on Vimeo, a local Orthodox blogger was so aggressively outraged, one of her actors dumped the tapes out of shame.
“They were so fascinating,” Annenberg said of the Shakespeare sessions. “Their excitement over the material and the fun of it. But in the ultra-Orthodox world, men and women don’t socialize the way we were socializing; we’d sit and talk and study together, and I think that was discomfiting.”
The actors who play Romeo and Juliet in the film even had a real-life romance — their first. The entire film was shot in 30 days for $175,000, and it won an audience award when it premiered at the Berlin Jewish Film Festival last year. Now, several of the formerly floundering ex-Orthodox are pursuing film careers.
But the journey wasn’t entirely blessed. In the middle of the shoot, Annenberg was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, had a double mastectomy on a Wednesday and returned to the editing suite the following Monday.
“I was really, really lucky,” she said.
Perhaps God liked her movie, I suggested.
“Or not,” she joked. “I can’t tell you how many Orthodox Jews told me, ‘If only you had kept the Sabbath’ ... if only you hadn’t played ‘Avinu Malkeinu’ during the love scene!’”
“Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish” opens May 11 in Los Angeles.
May 7, 2012 | 4:01 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Last week the British-born, Scottish-raised, Israeli-based biblical scholar Avivah Zornberg visited Los Angeles. She lectured twice, first at Sinai Temple in Westwood and then at UCLA Hillel. Both nights I weeped through her words.
I’m not going to attempt to encapsulate what she taught, because that would be like trying to unzip fog, but I wanted to say something about the sheer seductive power of her Torah. Because it is a Torah the world needs; a Torah of poetry and art, love and sexuality, psychology and fantasy. I’ll save some of the beautiful things I learned for another post.
There are two basic reasons why I find Zornberg’s biblical scholarship astounding. The first is that she draws upon an extraordinary amount of the most erudite secular literature. It is indicative of her approach, for example, that two of her books, while concerned with biblical subjects, make reference in their titles to the poetry of Wallace Stevens—“The Beginnings of Desire” and “The Particulars of Rapture.” Marrying sacred and secular literature is a foundational element of Zornberg’s style; it is how she writes, teaches and thinks. And it is a testament to her background in both religious and literary worlds, as she is a descendant of a long line of Eastern European rabbis and earned her PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University. These discrete but complimentary sensibilities infuse her style, and speak to the bible’s vitality as a living document. Last week, Freud, Lacan, Kafka, Henry James, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and even the Hollywood movie “Letter from an Unknown Woman” found expressions and reverberations in various Exodus stories.
Zornberg revels in paradoxes and contradictions. At the same time she celebrates the rabbinic tradition of adding to the original text (the Talmud after all are the words of rabbis interpreting the words of God), she also subverts the tradition by exposing its inadequacies, or what she calls, “gaps”.
In “The Particulars of Rapture,” she writes: “In my approach, the biblical text is not allowed to stand alone, but has its boundaries blurred by later commentaries and by a persistent intertextuality that makes it impossible to imagine that meaning is somehow transparently present in the isolated text,” adding, “it continues, in a sense, the rabbinic mode of reading, where ‘the rabbis imagined themselves as part of the whole, participating in Torah rather than operating on it at an analytic distance…”
The difference is that for Zornberg, revelation does not stop with the rabbis. The written biblical text is not a totality unto itself but a kind of core architecture that could be decorated different ways, by different designers. Additional modes of interpretation articulate gaps in the story which she considers “repressed”, which brings me to the second reason I adore her work.
Zornberg reads the Torah from a woman’s point of view (I dare say she wouldn’t call this “feminist” since she made a sort of haughty comment about feminist readings of the bible at UCLA). But it could be said that what defines Zornberg’s Torah is its attempt to unearth the “unconscious layers” of female experience in the bible. Acknowledging that women are mostly “absent” from the Exodus story, but with few transient exceptions, after which “women essentially disappear,” Zornberg turns to Midrash—and Rashi, in particular, whose commentary she refers to as biblical “second nature”—to retrieve or reconstruct what is hidden. “Women have a separate, hidden history, which is not conveyed on the surface of the text,” she writes in “Rapture”. And it is this “hidden sphere,” a phrase she borrows from Vaclav Havel, that most preoccupies her.
And it is her distinctly feminine reading of the bible that I find most enrapturing. Because it is investigating through these eyes that Zornberg illuminates desire, sensuality and love in the bible. And yet, those elements figure in only when there is a relationship in which to contextualize them. They symbolize being drawn, lured, attracted, compelled. For central to Zornberg’s teaching is discovery of the self, which is premised upon the engagement in relationships. Zornberg teaches that every human journey is defined by how the individual responds to the challenges of being in relationship—with oneself, with others and with God.
May 3, 2012 | 5:04 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I heard that the day you read for the part of “Dorfman,” screenwriter Wendy Kout had a rather animated freak-out over meeting you. Are you used to that by now?
Oy vesmir. Wendy is very enthusiastic.
I was also told that when recent USC graduate Brad Leong, the director of the film, asked you about what working processes have suited you in the past, you answered by discussing your experiences working with Ingmar Bergman, Paul Mazursky, Robert Altman and Steven Soderbergh. That must have been pretty intimidating to a 24-year-old first time director.
I completely believe in modesty and humility and being forthcoming and honest.
At 73, your film resume is extensive. Do you have any idea how many films you’ve actually appeared in?
I’m not in denial about it. When I accepted a presentation at the 25th Annual Haifa International Film Festival I said, ‘I’ve been in a great many films; some are better.’ The audience laughed and that made me feel good. I’ve lived through all of this and I’m still working.
You seem to have a very “Zen” attitude about life.
We are at war with ignorance, desperation and fear. I couldn’t have imagined nor believed that one like me, born Elliott Goldstein, 6801 Bay Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, PS 247, Seth Low Jr. High and the Professional Childrens’ School could get to the front and I’m there. I used to think it was about being talented and now I know that it’s more about character. And I want to invest this character wherever it could do some good.
You sound like a very spiritual person. What are the sources of your life philosophy? Therapy? Judaism?
This family is so deep, it’s deeper than can be measured. I don’t nor can I deny my roots. I know what I am and I know about our culture. Although I’m not as observant as some of us would have me be.
In “Dorfman” you play an overtly Jewish character.
I don’t see that so much. I didn’t think that was as fleshed out as it might have been.
In the film, a central relationship is the one between your character, Burt Dorfman, and his daughter, Deb. What have you learned from your own relationship with your daughter that you could draw upon for the role?
It’s never too late to change. It’s never too late to see our individual patterns and how we close ourselves off, how we protect ourselves, how we continue to perpetuate certain thoughts, even certain routines in life—and then to have an opportunity or to realize that it’s essential for us to evolve, that we don’t lose anything but we can gain something.
In the film, father is extremely dependent upon his daughter. Could you relate?
My daughter, Molly, I learn everything from her. She’s everything to me. She’s my daughter; she’s my mother; she’s life.
You wouldn’t say that about your sons?
The male is different. No one can be smarter than our daughters.
That’s nice to hear.
The mother comes from the daughter. And I believe that western culture is predicated on the child and his mother. I was not a very good parent to begin with; anyone can be a parent, that’s nature in life. [Parenting] is not just a matter of being responsible for another but to be able to take responsibility for yourself. And that has been a lifelong process and journey for me since I was so frightened. So frightened.
The character Burt Dorfman is suffering deep grief from the loss of his wife. After having been married several times, could you understand the loss of such an ultimate relationship?
He’s holding on. He’s crippled. He’s not functional. He’s not the way his late wife would want him to be, but he knew no other way. So we play roles.
Do you believe that at this point in your life you’ve figured out relationships?
I’m an idealist and I can be incredibly confused by people who would practice religion on all levels and not live it. Some of us are even atheists which really blows my mind. For me the concept of Gd is the ultimate ideal and I accept. It opens everything up. I don’t have an argument with anyone; it’s so beautiful to be alive.
You sound pretty accepting, but I read a comment you made about your former wife, Barbra Streisand, during an interview with AISH.com in which you talked about her becoming an icon and you said, “I had no understanding of why anybody would want to make themselves into something that isn’t real. Why would anybody want an identity that makes itself an illusion bigger than life? Nothing is bigger in life other than God. And none of us is God.” I found that edgy.
It is edgy! It’s all somewhat edgy! We’re conscious! I don’t lie. I don’t have to be so serious any longer; I know I’m honest. I don’t want politics to come into this. I need to calm myself down because it is essential for me to stay calm.
As a Jewish person, does playing a Jewish character feel any different than playing any other character?
Being that we have nearly 6,000 years of written history, it’s very deep and therefore there’s something more perhaps, to call on. Some people resent me and certain aspects of how I reflect and project. I was in a picture called American History X and I played a Jewish teacher in an environment of great anti-Semitism and the JDL [Jewish Defense League] attacked me for it, attacked me for changing my name from Goldstein to Gould.
In a 2007 profile of you in The Village Voice, J. Hoberman counted you as part of “Hollywood’s Jew Wave” and said you popularized the “leading man as schlemiel.” What did you make of that?
I thought that was cruel of him. He probably thought of himself as a schlemiel.
You’re about to turn 74. What has it been like to age in an industry that overly prizes youth?
It’s such a privilege. It’s part of evolving and I wouldn’t change anything. My spirit is.. oh the spirit is so breathtaking… ohmigod. How does it feel? It’s such a privilege to know, to know, you know? Just to know. It’s all so moving to me. At one point I let a great part of my career go. I had to give it back because I knew it wasn’t about being somebody. And I didn’t want to be beholden to this great success. And I didn’t want to have to be fearful that I would lose it. Because [life] is about seeing, it’s about being, it’s about living, it’s about sharing, it’s about not being afraid but accepting whatever reality is. So if that’s what it means to be a Jew, that makes it all the better.
May 2, 2012 | 2:56 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
“I would like to share the story of how ‘Dorfman’ came to be, in the very location where our mini-miracle occurred,” screenwriter Wendy Kout e-mailed last week. She insisted on meeting at the tiny block on Industrial Street, a revitalized strip in the Los Angeles Downtown Arts District that inspired her to write a movie.
Just a few blocks east of the Midnight Mission, where hundreds of homeless camp on the sidewalks, is a gentrified stretch that seems like another world. Between Mateo and Mill streets, where twisting train tracks serve as a kind of neighborhood border, lies a quiet, medium-scale block spotted with art galleries, chic restaurants and fashion boutiques, a little urban oasis in an otherwise industrial landscape.
“You know the old adage, ‘Let’s put on a play, my dad has a barn’?” Kout asked as she opened the door to a high-ceilinged, two-story condo owned by the film’s producer, Leonard Hill. “In my case, it’s, ‘Let’s make a movie, my friend has a loft.’ ”
Almost every scene of “Dorfman,” a romantic comedy starring Sara Rue and Elliott Gould, who plays Rue’s father, was shot in Hill’s Toy Factory loft, named for its history as a manufacturing site. Hill and his real-estate partners purchased the building in 2002, as part of a preservation project, and converted the space into live/work lofts. Kout was so taken by the building and its role in downtown L.A.’s urban renewal that she wrote the movie around the setting. For a self-described “Valley girl,” it was L.A.’s promised land: Soho meets SoCal, bohemia meets Hollywood.
Indeed, one star of the movie is downtown L.A. itself. When the film’s protagonist, a nebbishy Jewish girl named Deb, gets an opportunity to spend a week at her unrequited love’s downtown loft (she plans to woo him by cat sitting), her ensuing saturation in the new culture becomes a catalyst for her self-realization. In this L.A., people do astonishingly urban things. They walk! They take the Metro! They dine on rooftops! Not a chain store in sight, they buy everyday items at specialty, artisan shops. A trip to the Los Angeles Flower Market, where luscious orchids sell for $10 a pop, bursts on screen in bright, beautiful colors, giving away one of L.A.’s best-kept secrets. Deb’s transformation from an aimless single gal into the self-assured, made-over Deborah, mirrors the transformation of a newly revitalized city, from something known, mundane and expected into a place that is alluring, exciting and new.
Truly being seen, whether it’s cityscapes, other people or even for oneself, is a leitmotif in the film, but it’s also the central challenge for a little independent film like this one (Hill wouldn’t say what the budget was): Will anybody actually get to see it? It screens here on May 10, the closing night of The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, co-presented by The Jewish Journal, but beyond the festival circuit, where it has been doing the rounds for several months now and has even won several awards, the film does not yet have a distributor.
“Look at this; is this crazy?” Kout said from the Toy Factory’s rooftop pool, admiring its panoramic view of the downtown skyline. I recognize the spot from a scene in the film. “Basically, I tried to use every square inch of this building,” she added. “I knew the locations before I wrote the script — it’s the repurposed, revitalized city.”
Kout had just about given up screenwriting when she ran into Hill, a veteran television producer, across the street from the building, at the restaurant Church & State. They had worked together decades earlier on one of Kout’s pilots that was never picked up, but had since lost touch. “I said, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ And he said, ‘Well, I kind of own the block.’ ” Next, Hill invited her for lunch and a tour. “He was all excited and twinkly, showing me his world,” she recalled of that propitious meeting. Then she got twinkly, too, seeing a side of Los Angeles she had never known existed.
“I grew up in the Valley — I would come downtown to go to the Mark Taper Forum. For me, downtown was never a place to live.”
But something about the resurgent city sparked her enough to return to screenwriting — albeit on new terms. “I had given up on all that, because I was chasing the studio model,” she said. Over the years, Kout had delivered countless scripts to some pretty big names, including Barbra Streisand, “Spider-Man” producer Laura Ziskin and screenwriter John Hughes, who penned cult hits “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.” But none of her screenplays was produced. “Even if I had gotten a movie made in the studio paradigm, I probably would have been fired after the first draft,” she said. So when Hill told her, “You write it, I’ll produce it,” it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Circling back across the roof, Kout looked out toward the Los Angeles Times building, a looming presence in the distance. “Where else do you see this much sky and this much city?” she asked. Hill is on the roof, too, watering the plants on his deck.
“Have you ever seen a Jew do this?” Kout asked wryly.
“And I have power tools!” Hill quipped. As if power tools have any place in the tranquil, almost other-worldly surroundings of this setting, framed by hills and sky on every side.
“Wendy was absolutely Dorothy who suddenly saw Oz in Technicolor — she wasn’t in Kansas anymore,” Hill recalled of the first time he brought her to the loft.
“You mean, I wasn’t in the Valley,” Kout said.
Still, they might still have been in the desert if not for an 11th-hour save by Gould, who agreed to play the part of Burt Dorfman, Deb’s cantankerous widowed father, after a deal with another actor fell through. Hill knew Gould through Hollywood guild politics, and called the actor one night out of desperation, dropping the script on his doorstep hours later and warning that if he didn’t get an answer by morning, the film would be scrapped. As the movie’s sole investor, Hill had decided that if the deal didn’t close within a certain time frame, a cost-efficient production would not be possible. Fortunately, Gould liked the script and asked to meet with the creative team — Kout, Hill and the film’s then-24-year-old director, a graduate of USC film school, Brad Leong.
Kout remembers being unabashedly star-struck. “As a Jewish woman, I have been in love with Elliott Gould since the first time I saw him on the screen,” she said. She’s not kidding: When Gould arrived that day, Kout nearly ran him over. “I turned into a gushing 15-year-old girl,” she said. She and Hill re-enact the scene when Gould walked in, “kinda shlumpy,” as Hill described it, and Kout ran up to him screaming, “Ohmigod, ohmigod, omigod, I’m so excited, I’m so excited.”
“I could not stop jumping,” she recalled with only mild embarrassment. “I was holding his hand, and I wouldn’t let go! But, let’s face it, there weren’t a lot of Jewish men on the screen [when I was growing up]. There was Paul Newman, who was too old; there was Woody Allen, who I didn’t really have an attraction to other than his incredible brain — and then there was Elliott Gould.”
Gould was gracious about the fandom. “Oy vay iz mir,” he said, remembering the moment during a phone interview from his West L.A. home last week. “Wendy is very enthusiastic,” he said, ever so delicately (he tends to sound like a spiritualist when he speaks), “and I believe that enthusiasm is a gift.”
At that initial meeting, Gould tried to get a feel for the young, first-time director by asking him about his “process.” But as “Dorfman” was to be Leong’s first feature, he flipped the question back to Gould: “Tell me what has worked for you,” Hill recalled Leong saying. With complete sincerity, Gould rattled off a list of likes and dislikes based on his past experiences with other directors — who happened to be the likes of Robert Altman, Ingmar Bergman and Paul Mazursky.
There was a time when Gould seemed to embody Hollywood stardom. After roles in Altman’s 1970 Korean war satire, “M*A*S*H,” and an Oscar-nominated performance in Mazursky’s “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” he became a kind of American countercultural icon. It was also during this period that he married Barbra Streisand, his first wife and with whom he has a son. But big-time fame wasn’t his thing.
“At one point, I let a great part of my career go,” he said, a stream-of-consciousness, seemingly random thought that came up just after he had been talking about his parents. He choked up: “Now you can tell I’m being moved,” he said, fighting tears. “I had to give [my career] back, because I knew it wasn’t about being somebody, and I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t want to be beholden to this great success and have to be fearful that I would lose it.”
Gould’s attitude helps explain why a man who has done it all would take a chance on a little movie like “Dorfman.”
“You always want to work with people who want to work with you,” he said. “I find that ego and vanity is toxic, and I’m exceedingly sensitive to it. And also, even though sometimes it is rampant in this industry, there’s really no room for it.”
Which may be why the role of Burt Dorfman seems so right for Gould, whom The New York Times once praised for his “touching transparency.” Although appropriately cantankerous for an aging widowed Jewish man, Gould plays the role with unselfconscious vulnerability. In 2007, he was described by the Village Voice as helping to popularize the notion of “leading man as schlemiel,” and though he finds that characterization offensive, he said that playing Jewish characters comes naturally to him.
“It is somewhat cultural,” he said. “But being that we have nearly 6,000 years of written history, it’s very deep, and therefore, there’s something more, perhaps, to call on.”
In “Dorfman,” this meant he gets many of the film’s best lines, most of which are Yiddishisms. “This is a farkakteh staircase!” he shouts during his first visit to the loft, which is a little too chic for his taste.
For Kout, the Jewishness was her bottom line. “You know,” she said, “If I had walked in [to a] studio [with] this movie, the first thing that would change is the characters would not be Jewish.” Because “Dorfman” is really her own story, a way of reclaiming her screenwriting voice, authenticity was important to her. Everything from the locations to the actors to the music (10 of its 14 songs are by L.A. indie bands) had to be as authentic as possible. “We read everybody,” she said about the casting process, “but we were looking for Jews.”
At one point, director Leong, who is Asian-American, asked, “What is a flagella?” The script, in fact, read “fagela,” and after a good laugh, Kout remembers thinking, “It’ll be fine. We’ll get him a Yiddish dictionary.”
As the producer writing the checks, Hill was a little more tense about the whole Jewish thing. “Is it any more Jewish than ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ was Greek?”
For Hill, a son of German immigrants who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, the film’s Jewish sensibility comes from “embracing uncertainty.” As the film vies for theatrical release, that’s something he’ll have to do as well.
“Well, we were told our movie would get commercial distribution if we had Katherine Heigl in the lead, but with Katherine Heigl in the lead, it’s not ‘Dorfman’!” Hill said.
After making some 60-odd TV movies, Hill is a big believer in the “engineering of storytelling,” meaning that if you structure a story a certain way, and aim it at the right audience, “There is a way to industrialize the manufacture of mainstream commercial movies done at low-budget levels.
“If we could do it,” he added. “I could really get back to the hobby I most enjoy — making movies.”
For Kout, making this film was enough. She had come to writing late in life and spent most of her childhood wondering, “Where are my stories? Where are my characters?”
“I was very much like Deb,” she said, “living in a world where I was not being reflected anywhere. And then she goes downtown, where differences are appreciated.”
For Kout, the most romantic thing about this romantic comedy is that both its characters and the city they live in have the capacity to change. It’s the central message of the Jewish tradition, I offered. She smiles.
“People think when you say romantic comedy, it’s girl-boy, but this movie is about her journey,” Kout said with such conviction it was hard to tell if she was talking about the character or talking about herself.
“What’s romantic to me is she learns how to love herself. And because she begins to love herself, she can love another.”
“Dorfman” screens on May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Laemmle Town Center in Encino. To purchase tickets, go to lajfilmfest.org or call (800) 838-3006.
April 27, 2012 | 2:51 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Last night, UCLA’s Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies hosted Arab-Israeli (or Israeli-Arab, or Palestinian-Israeli, or quite simply) writer, Sayed Kashua to discuss his unusual career as “an Israeli Arab who writes in Hebrew.”
Kashua is the author of three novels—“Dancing Arabs,” “Let It Be Morning” and his latest, “Second Person Singular,” the creator of a popular Israeli TV series “Avodah Aravit” (or “Arab Labor”) which will soon enter its fourth season, and the author of a weekly column for the liberal Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz.
While Kashua said he simply wants to be known as a writer, his interviewer—Arieh Saposnik, director of the Nazarian Center—was much more interested in his identity politics.
Introducing the author, UCLA’s Gil Hochberg, associate professor of Comparative Literature spoke about the “schizophrenic” experience of being an Arab citizen of Israel. Kashua, she said, has been “the target of political and literary praise and accusation”; his protagonists are called to “negotiate two seemingly incompatible identities”; and quoting Kashua, bolstered the idea that “simply by being an Israeli-Arab, one is considered a traitor.”
According to Hochberg, Kashua’s work lends itself to “manufacturing tension,” “reappropriating conditions of exclusion,” “reworking and restaging ethnographic and national othering” and ultimately forces the reader to “rethink our notion of the Arab Israeli.” Now, if you can get around the academic lingo, which is useful when prancing around polemics, you’ll empathize with Kashua’s plight: to let the work speak for itself and not an entire populace.
When Kashua finally got to talk, he said that even his recent appearance at an East Coast university was co-opted as part of a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration. “I don’t know how to come out of this clean, and not be a hypocrite,” he said, highlighting the ever-present tension he lives with. “I just want to write.”
As an Arab-Israeli, Kashua is not only a minority within greater Israel, he is part of an ethnic group in constant conflict with the Jewish State and thus in a very awkward position. As Jews well know, it is not easy to live among one’s “enemies.” Kashua’s citizenship in Israel, along with his incredible success, also makes him an object of scorn among his own people. His work reflects this torment.
“Is this just a tension in your work or does this reality make your life impossible and miserable?” Saposnik, an associate professor of Near Eastern Language and Culture asked.
Again, Kashua said, “I really just want to be a writer and a storyteller. But maybe pain is one of the things you have to feel in order to be creative.”
“[This condition] is very problematic,” he added, “I’m not representing anyone—not Israelis, not Palestinians—I’m just a storyteller trying to raise more questions than give answers. I wish I could be proud of being an Israeli citizen, but how can I do that when I’m not really recognized as a full citizen?”
Still, Kashua was careful not to overstate his dilemma. He is a person first, a Palestinian second: “I don’t really wake up in the morning and say, ‘Ohmigod, I’m a Palestinian in a Jewish state’; I wake up in the morning and say, ‘Ohmigod I have to make sandwiches for my kids.’”
What saddens him even more than living uncomfortably as an outsider is that peace talks have stalled. “I still remember the morning after the Oslo agreements,” he said wistfully. “It was real once - talk about peace. It would be easier for me if there were a solution, a way or hope.”
Long before the Arab Spring, Kashua said he remembers a time when Palestinian national aspiration included plans to demonstrate democracy. “In the 50s and 60s, there was hope that the PLO will create a state that will show the Arab world what a real democracy could be.”
The night before The Second Intifada broke out, Kashua remembers being at a jazz club, dancing and drinking with his “Israeli Jewish friends.”
“Now it’s just getting worse,” he lamented. “The feeling now in Israel is that it’s impossible to make an agreement and the situation will never be different.”
In person, Kashua has an easy, friendly, often very funny manner. He was never unkind in speaking about Israel, but he was sarcastic: When a woman from the audience said, “I’m right wing and I admire you!” He replied, “I admire you that you don’t live in Israel!”
His awkward status as a sorta citizen in a segregated society is not only burdened with losses, but with an anxious sense of loyalty to both sides: “I’m always very worried, ‘Is there going to be an attack on Gaza? Is there going to be an attack on Sderot?’”
The irony of Kashua’s experience, whether he realizes this or not, is that it is precisely the same experience as the historically alienated Jew.
“To be a minority is part of your daily life,” he said. “There is pain calling you always to be aware of being different and to teach this to your kids.”
Kashua’s own parents imbued him with a worldview that emphasized both national aspirations and personal ones. They were not too proud to send him away to an Israeli boarding school that offered a superior education than the one in their village. There, he read Kafka (“I couldn’t believe when I discovered he was Jewish!”) and “The Catcher in the Rye” (“I was shocked that you could have doubts like that, and think like that, and write like that”). Even with all the guilt, Kashua enjoys a level of success most Israeli Jews have not experienced; so much so, that he said he often finds himself apologizing for his success.
I asked Kashua if he ever wonders what his life might have looked like had he lived in the Palestinian territories. Would he have had a hit television series? Published three novels? Gotten a lucrative contract at a major national newspaper?
He didn’t really answer: “I would have grown up to be the same screwed up person.”
I also asked if he felt camaraderie with any of Israel’s leading writers.
“Israeli writers are really very supportive of me,” he said, naming Amos Oz and Etgar Keret.
He said Oz once called him in the car when he was driving his family to Eilat “for Passover vacation” to tell him how much he liked “Avodah Aravit”. Oz also wrote him a letter praising his novel, “Second Personal Singular” and counseled him that even with a column and a TV show on his plate, he should always set aside one or two days of the week for writing literature.
“Literature is like a very proud woman,” Kashua said Oz told him. “You can cheat her once or twice but more than that and she’ll never forgive you.”
Kashua said that although he is heeding Oz’s advice, “I’m sorry to say, my main goal is to earn enough money so I can sit down very early and watch TV.”
April 25, 2012 | 4:37 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
On a recent Tuesday, a group of 30 leading music executives, talent agents and entertainment lawyers gathered for lunch in the downstairs conference room at the law offices of Ziffren Brittenham in Century City. Together, the group represents the likes of Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Timberlake — to name a few.
Organized by the nascent group Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), a nonprofit seeking to counter artist boycotts of Israel, the meeting would include an educational PowerPoint presentation and an informal discussion with Los Angeles’ Consul General of Israel, David Siegel.
Cueing up the first slide, adorned with photos of famous musicians — Carlos Santana, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello and the alternative rock band The Pixies — David Renzer, the former Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, asked, “What do these artists have in common?”
The room remained quiet. Renzer clicked to the next slide, displaying photos of jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, alt rocker Cat Power and UK-based electronic artist Joker.
Then, in his most equanimous voice, Renzer offered the big reveal: “They’ve all boycotted Israel,” he said. He repeated, for added effect: “They’ve all canceled their tours to Israel.”
The music industry executives, producers, lawyers and agents included Jody Gerson, co-president of Sony/ATV Music Publishing; Ron Fair, former chair of Geffen Records; and Rob Prinz, head of music at United Talent Agency. But few of them were aware that Israel faced an international campaign to create a cultural boycott of the country.
Renzer described the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), a loose collection of self-described “pro-Palestinian” activists who use every means — from sophisticated Web sites to tables on college quads — to spread a pro-boycott message.
“This is a very well-organized, very well-funded movement,” Renzer told the group.
“It doesn’t have clear leadership or a major hierarchy,” Siegel added. “But the goals are very, very clear: Boycott, delegitimize, dehumanize. They’re not about peace, and it’s not about debating Israel’s policies. It’s really about undermining our right to be a state for Jews.”
The next slide showed images encouraging the boycott of Israel: a Coca-Cola can inscribed with the words “Killer Cola,” an Israeli flag overlaid with a no-smoking symbol and the words “Boycott Apartheid Israel,” and another food label that reads “baby blood fresh Gaza.”
“I just want to point out,” interjected David Lonner, a former William Morris agent and founder of the Oasis Media Group. “That ‘baby blood fresh Gaza’ thing? That’s not anti-Israel. That’s plainly anti-Semitic. That’s as vile as anything you’d see in Nazi Germany.”
Next, Renzer showed videos of BDS in action: a divestment debate on a college campus; a street boycott of London’s Ahava retail store, a distributor of skin-care products from Israel’s Dead Sea; and a video of the BBC cutting off its live broadcast of the Israel Philharmonic’s performance at Royal Albert Hall last fall, after pro-boycott demonstrators disrupted the concert.
“This is an example of the stuff that gets put in front of artists,” Renzer said, adding that just this month, Oscar winner Emma Thompson joined three dozen other actors, directors and writers in protesting the inclusion of Tel Aviv theater troupe Habima in a Shakespeare festival at London’s Globe Theatre. Not only musicians are targeted, Renzer said, “This is about culture.”
“Well, where’s our music video? Where’s the counter publicity?” griped an angry Gary Stiffelman, a partner at Ziffren Brittenham, who has represented Eminem, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. “Don’t the Jews still control the media?”
“It just shocks me that this ragtag group is doing a better job at the PR battle than Israel,” Stiffelman said. “There should be a global campaign! I don’t see it. I don’t see counter-PR happening on YouTube.”
Siegel chimed in: “It takes a network to fight a network. You don’t see Abbas making these videos; you see Westerners doing it. It’s much better to do this at the local level,” he said, prodding his audience with eye contact. “You don’t want government bureaucrats doing this; believe me, I’ve seen those videos.”
Siegel went on to list some of Israel’s accomplishments in science, technology and the arts. Most people don’t know of them, he said, because the BDS movement wants to “pull an Iron Curtain over Israel.”
“Israel can’t be like Vegas,” Siegel said. “What happens in Israel can’t stay in Israel.”
Talk turned to producing a pro-Israel promotional video, then, inevitably, questions followed about who might pay for it. “Couldn’t Israel underwrite a campaign managed by laymen to create these videos?” Stiffelman asked. Siegel’s answer: “Right now there are three anti-missile batteries protecting Israel’s south. In order to defend the entire country, Israel needs 15. So there are very immediate demands on Israel’s resources.”
“What people respond to is pop culture,” said Hanna Rochelle Schmieder, president of Lyric Culture, a company that licenses rights to famous music lyrics and prints them on everyday apparel. “They like Lady Gaga, they like Justin Bieber. Music brings people together.”
“It’s all a question of image,” Siegel agreed. For many in the younger generation, being associated with the anti-Israel cause can be “way more cool.”
“We need to make Israel cool,” Atar Dekel, cultural attache for the Israeli Consulate, concluded.
CCFP is the first group led by industry insiders to try to counter negative messaging about Israel targeted toward the artistic community. Although the music community has been the biggest target to date, with musicians routinely getting bombarded with anti-Israel agitprop, the BDS movement has also arisen in the film and theater worlds, most visibly during the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, when a group of artists tried to stop the festival’s spotlight on films from Tel Aviv.
Israel is no stranger to challenges, both at home and abroad. But at a time when its image as a vibrant, democratic society is constantly threatened, the presence of world-class entertainers, many of whom have large, impressionable audiences, can help make life there seem, and feel, more normal. These days, however, luring mostly liberal-minded artists to a country whose reputation is often defined by its detractors can be a challenge. As Esther Renzer, co-founder of the pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs, put it, “This is a battle for hearts and minds.”
CCFP was created to demonstrate to artists that Israel is a decent place. And that whatever their opinion of Israeli national policy, the boycott and divestment efforts unfairly punish the Israeli public. Shuki Weiss, one of Israel’s leading music promoters, told The New York Times in 2010 that the boycott was akin to “cultural terrorism.”
But while some high-profile musicians have succumbed to pressure to cancel their Israel tours, many prominent artists are still performing there — Lady Gaga, Elton John, Rihanna, Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen are just a few who have taken the stage there in recent years. This summer, 46 musical acts are scheduled, including Madonna, who will debut her World Tour in Tel Aviv, as well as Rufus Wainwright, Herbie Hancock and Lenny Kravitz. For the classical palate, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will perform; for spectacle, Cirque du Soleil.
But elsewhere, there may be trouble ahead. CCFP is already monitoring a situation arising with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, scheduled to perform in Israel in September, who have become the subject of an intense Internet campaign to cancel. If you Google “Red Hot Chili Peppers Israel” the third hit from the top is a Facebook page demanding the Peppers “Defy Injustice, Cancel Israel.” At press time, it had 700 “likes.”
“Maybe this [boycott activity] is an aberration,” record producer Fair said. “Maybe it’s a small thing, and it won’t spiral out of control. But it’s another thing to watch. It’s another swastika painted on the front door of a Jewish institution. That’s how I look at it. I think it’s straight-up anti-Semitism with a new twist.”
CCFP first germinated in the summer of 2010 on a Master Class trip to Israel organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. It was around this time — just weeks after the Gaza flotilla raid prompted an international uproar — that musicians like Elvis Costello and The Pixies began to cancel. David Renzer and his friend Steve Schnur, worldwide head of music for Electronic Arts (EA) video games, got to talking about what they could do.
Schnur had just come from an Elton John concert at Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium.
“Elton walked on stage and said, ‘They’re not gonna stop me from coming here, baby,’ ” Schnur recalled. “I was on the verge of tears, because someone was speaking up when all others were protesting. And the press was turning [the flotilla incident] into a forum for significant misinformation, and people have a tendency to believe what they read.”
Renzer and Schnur held an informal meeting, which also included Ran Geffen-Lifshitz, CEO of Media Men Group, a music publishing company based in Tel Aviv, and Doug Frank, former president of music operations for Warner Bros. Pictures. They decided they could use their connections to reach out to artists who were planning to perform in Israel.
“The initial mission was: Make sure no one else cancels,” Renzer said during an interview with CCFP co-founder Schnur last fall.
“We were in a position that we could contribute,” Schnur added. “And it’s easy to write a check, but it was time to get my hands dirty.”
They also felt the need for urgency. “We saw the boycott movement was getting some wins,” Renzer said, referring to the initial spate of cancellations, which also included spoken word artist and poet Gil Scott-Heron. After pro-boycott activists disrupted Scott-Heron’s concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall, he announced his tour would “end in Athens, not Tel Aviv,” according to The New York Times.
Costello, the most prominent artist to cancel, publicly vacillated before his final reversal. He initially told The Jerusalem Post that abandoning plans to play in Israel to protest the government was misguided. “It’s like never appearing in the U.S. because you didn’t like Bush’s policies or boycotting England because of Margaret Thatcher.”
But as pressure mounted, Costello changed his mind.
According to a post on his blog, Costello’s decision had nothing to do with being anti-Israel and everything to do with not wanting to get caught in a political tug-of-war.
The Creative Community for Peace was designed to preempt those battles before they start.
“It was frankly a bit of a race at first,” Schnur said about how CCFP got its start. Before officially launching in late 2011, they teamed with Geffen-Lifshitz, who began providing a monthly list of artists scheduled to perform in Israel. From that, they wrote a letter, and sometimes made a phone call, to thank each artist for planning to go to Israel. They also received material support from the pro-Israel advocacy group StandWithUs (whose co-founder Esther Renzer is David Renzer’s wife) and a $50,000 start-up grant from The Jewish Federation.
“Our job was to get ahead of [the boycott] and make sure they didn’t cancel,” Schnur said. “What we felt was that we were going to have to take this on musician by musician, artist by artist.”
Their efficacy was quickly tested when singer Macy Gray was subjected to online intimidation so intense that it escalated into death threats. In fall 2010, just after she announced her Israel tour dates, a group of supposedly pro-Palestinian activists began posting on her Facebook page, accusing Israel of apartheid and other human rights abuses. Genuinely perplexed, Gray asked her online audience to weigh in. She received more than 10,000 responses.
“The dialogue that she created became very intense, and also became quite sinister and threatening,” her manager, Merck Mercuriadis, said during a phone interview.
As an African-American, Gray was particularly sensitive to accusations of apartheid, Mercuriadis said. Gray finally decided to go, but it took a village. And it was only after a protracted and agonizing period, during which Gray consulted with members of the Jewish community — including the Renzers, Schnur, then-Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan and media entrepreneur Dan Adler — as well as individuals from the Palestinian community. Mercuriadis said it was Adler “who became a real confidante to Macy,” and who put Gray in touch with Palestinians so that she could hear from both sides, which ultimately convinced her that performing in Israel was good for both communities. While in Israel, she visited the Palestinian territories, and with additional financial support from the Renzers, Schnur and Adler, donated a ambucycle to United Hatzalah, an organization of medical volunteers serving both Israel and the territories.
Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s 30-year-old manager, was also menaced online when Bieber announced his Israel shows.
“There were threats on my life,” Braun said. Threats that said, “If Justin Bieber comes to Israel, we’re gonna kill the Jew manager.”
But the tough-talking Braun, whose sister is in medical school in Tel Aviv, said he was indifferent to the threats. “I reacted like, ‘I knew this was coming; let’s go to Israel,’ ” he said. “You can’t go through life afraid. It’s not a good way to live.”
The death threats turned out to be the least of Braun’s troubles with Israel, since Bieber’s one-week visit included a public kerfuffle with the Prime Minister’s Office and enough paparazzi haggling that Bieber took to Twitter to complain about it. Of the botched meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Braun said that Israel can be a little too eager (and perhaps sometimes a little too crafty) in using Hollywood celebrity for an image boost. Besides, he said, “The statement [of support for Israel] was made when my guitarist walked on stage at the beginning of the show and played ‘Hatikvah’ to 40,000 people in the style of Jimi Hendrix,” he said.
Not to mention that Bieber, a religious Christian, had Yeshua — the Hebrew name for Jesus — tattooed on his body.
Considering the many colorful experiences artists have in Israel, CCFP’s raison d’etre may come off as a little sensational, or sound like fear-mongering.
But as Geffen-Lifshitz pointed out, “If you boycott Israel in art, the next thing is boycotting Israeli manufactured goods, then a boycott of Israel as a tourist destination. Then a boycott of anything that has anything to do with Israel. We have to nip this in the bud.”
Still, he admitted that American Jews sometimes get more excited by the perils facing Israel than do Israelis. Overwrought worry may be one of the psychological costs of living in the Diaspora, a sense that Israel is perennially in peril and needs saving.
“We want to present a balanced point of view,” David Renzer said, defending the group’s integrity. “We don’t want to be right wing or left wing. But we do start with an initial premise, which is, Israel is not apartheid. It’s an easy sound bite to make that accusation — it’s a little more complicated to give the reasons why it’s not.”
But the point, really, is that music goes beyond politics. It is personal, emotional and can cut across language barriers, boundaries and borders, and spread messages of openness and peace. As Braun simply put it, “Music is the most influential thing in the world.”
“People who live in Israel are music fans and have a right to hear the music they love,” Schnur said.
“Musicians that play there don’t have to agree with the current or previous policies of the Israeli government — but they can go there and speak toward it or against it. Where else in the Middle East can an artist do that?”
April 19, 2012 | 12:07 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I got a strange email in the middle of the night from one Dan Bloom, a freelance writer who says he’s living in Taiwan. He asked if I could blog about an open letter he posted on TheWrap.com asking comedian Ricky Gervais to refrain from joking about Anne Frank.
Last week, Gervais appeared on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” for the second time in only a month. His much acclaimed prior visit discussing bestiality was such a big hit, Stewart invited him back. This time they discussed Gervais’s new HBO series “The Ricky Gervais Show”. Then the men had what I can only describe as an awkward conversation—about Anne Frank.
While talking up his collaborator and sidekick Karl Pilkington, the 37-year-old British comedian who appears on his show, and has something of a cult following in Britain according to the New York Times, Gervais giddily said, “This is a man who genuinely thought that Anne Frank was just avoiding paying rent.”
Jon Stewart dropped his head, something he does when he is stunned by a joke, as if hiding his face is an act of detachment.
“What do you mean?” Stewart asked.
Again referring to Pilkington, Gervais said, “[He] thought she was a squatter. He said, ‘I knew she lived in a cupboard but I thought that was to keep away from the landlord.’”
Cracking up, Gervais added, “I had to explain the landlord in this situation were the Nazis.”
“Does Karl really think a whole industry would crop up over someone who was hiding from a landlord?” Stewart asked incredulously. Stewart seemed uncharacteristically serious. “Why would we still know about it? Why would there be movies?”
If anyone can take—or rather make—a joke about Jews, it’s Stewart. But here, he seemed a bit disturbed. Like he sensed ill-humor.
Gervais: “I didn’t know how far back I had to go to explain about the war and the Nazis. I’ve been to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and it’s tiny,” he said, pausing. “So I don’t know why they didn’t find her earlier to be honest. It’s terrible! But Nazis must be stupid! Really? Everyday they went in, didn’t one of them say, ‘Can we look upstairs today Sargeant?’”
Stewart, now visibly horrified, replied: “She didn’t live in a Nazi’s house…”
“No, but they were looking for her so…” Gervais interjected.
“But they didn’t come in everyday and go…” Stewart began, defensively. Then even he suspected he was walking a dangerous line. “You should read the book,” Stewart said. “It’s very.. its… good!”
“That’s what I mean,” Gervais shouted. “She had time to write a book! Did they go, ‘What’s that tapping? Move on, it’s just mice. I can hear something Sarg!’.. it’s ridiculous!”
At this point, Stewart gets instructive, realizing that the man across from him who he ordinarily finds very funny is now making jokes on a subject in which he’s completely ignorant.
“The Nazis in general, did not go… it’s not like Halloween everyday [when] the Nazis came by and they would knock and go, ‘Any Jews today?’ She lived with a family that was harboring… people would harbor Jewish people, and protect them, but the Nazis wouldn’t do like bedchecks.”
Gervais gets the message and backpedals. “Say what you want,” he says to Stewart, “but I think the Nazis are useless—that’s what I’m saying.”
“Well you’re not gonna get a lot of pushback from me on that,” Stewart concedes, but then he goes back to being serious. “It’s more the logistics of what happened. It’d be like just describing other things that way, you know, ‘They should have done with Jesus, just not put him up on that wood, that was the trouble!’ We need a contextualizing of the historic [reality]...”
Whoa Jon Stewart.
Stewart’s discomfort is worth attention. Usually casual anti-Semitism or a bad Holocaust joke is worth an eye roll, or concerted quiet when everyone else is laughing. But the cringeworthy headline “Ricky Gervais accused of anti-Semitism” is hyperbolic, if not entirely off-base. Ignorance is not the same thing as hatred, but it is still a dangerous tone.
As Elie Wiesel has said, the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. What I think Stewart detected in Gervais’s comedy was blatant dispassion towards the Holocaust, a cool, impassive detachment. This does not, by any means, mean Gervais would have been a Nazi, but it does make you wonder if he might have been a bystander.
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those, who in times of moral crisis, do nothing,” wrote poet Dante Alighieri. Ignorance leads to indifference which permits moral atrocity to go on unchallenged.
But we must be careful about which comedy we jump to criticize or censor. As I’ve written before, for the mantra “Never Again” to be realized, the Holocaust must become a paradigm ingrained in the culture, and with such an imperative, all kinds of permutations and perversions are inevitable. The Holocaust will appear in an “X-Men” movie; Anne Frank will be made fun of in literature and on television.
As Hungarian Jewish author Imre Kertesz and Holocaust survivor acknowledged in his essay, “Who Owns Auschwitz?”: “For the Holocaust to become with time a real part of European (or at least western European) public consciousness, the price inevitably extracted in exchange for public notoriety had to be paid.”