November 30, 2006
Click on big arrow to see 'Valley of the Wolves' trailer
A Turkish film featuring a venal, bloodstained Jewish doctor has been mysteriously withdrawn from screening in the United States.
In "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq," American actor Gary Busey portrays a Jewish U.S. Army doctor who cuts out the organs of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison and sells them to wealthy clients in New York, London and Tel Aviv.
A blockbuster hit in its native country, the film had been scheduled to open last Friday at two theaters in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco.
However, in early November, "Valley of the Wolves" was quietly dropped from the theaters' advance schedules.
Gregory Gardner of Luminous Velocity Releasing, a company involved in distributing the film in the United States, said the Turkish producer, Pana Films, had withdrawn the movie without explanation.
Attempts to obtain further information from American or Turkish sources were unsuccessful, but a protest filed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) may have played a role in the cancellation.
In an Oct. 19 letter to Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy in Washington, ADL leaders expressed concern at ''the incendiary anti-Jewish and anti-American themes and characters in the film" and pointed to previous inquiries about the wide availability of anti-Semitic publications in Turkey.
The letter was signed by ADL National Chair Barbara Balser and National Director Abraham Foxman, who did not receive a reply from the ambassador.
The Busey character, listed only as "The Doctor" but clearly identified as Jewish, isn't even the chief villain. The distinction goes to another American actor, Billy Zane, who plays a rogue American officer and self-professed "peacekeeper sent by God."
In one scene, the officer and his men shoot up an Iraqi wedding party, killing the groom in the presence of the bride and a little boy in front of his mother. "Valley of the Wolves" was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and has played in theaters in Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Bosnia.
According to one Turkish diplomat, who spoke unofficially and requested anonymity, the film became such a hit in Turkey because it is a spin-off from the country's top-rated TV series of the same title, though the series' villains are local mafiosos and militant ultranationalists.
The movie is also seen by Turks as payback for the 1978 film "Midnight Express," in which some Americans and Britons are caught trying to leave Turkey with a stash of hashish, thrown into a hellish prison and viciously mistreated.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Writer
'Emergent' Network Could Help Define Synagogue
Christians have their "emerging church" movement that seeks to redefine the traditional church. Now, Jews have an "emergent" network of their own.
A group of mostly young American and Israeli Jewish leaders will start meeting regularly to brainstorm ways of pushing the boundaries of what a synagogue is supposed to be.
The leaders will focus on creating "sacred communities unbound by conventional expectations," said J. Shawn Landres, the Los Angeles-based research director of Synagogue 3000, the national organization sponsoring the Jewish Emergent Initiative.
The initiative, which includes Los Angeles' Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, met twice this year in working-group sessions. Now, with more than $300,000 in grants from the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Awards Committee and the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the leaders will meet formally twice a year. The next meeting will take place in Simi Valley in January.
The group of innovators will document their efforts so Jewish communities around the world can emulate their work. They will also write essays for a book that will attempt to map the future of Jewish congregational life.
In a separate initiative launched last month, Synagogue 3000, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing synagogues, introduced the S3K Synagogue Studies Institute. The institute's first report, written by sociologist Steven M. Cohen, draws on data from the National Jewish Population Survey to examine who joins American synagogues and why.
For more information, see www.synagogue3000.org.
-- Sarah Price Brown, Contributing Writer
Fund Brings Macedonian Mom to L.A. for Treatment
Thanks to contributions to the newly created Rachel Fund of Temple Beth Emet in Burbank, Rachel Razankova, who was suffering from cancer in Macedonia, has arrived in the United States and is now under the care of Dr. Marina Vaysburd Vaysburd, a hematologist/oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Outpatient Cancer Center at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, had been consulting on the case even before the arrival of Razankova, the mother of Beth Emet congregant Roni Razankova. (See "Beth Emet Works to Save a Mother's Life," The Jewish Journal, June 9, 2006.) Razankova has now undergone three chemotherapy treatments. Pending an evaluation, she is likely to continue with more, according to her daughter, who lives in Valley Village.
Every other day Rachel Razankova talks with husband, Jordan, who is still in Macedonia, as well as their son, Vanche, 30. Meanwhile, Roni Razankova has applied for a resident visa for her father, a process that takes nine months or longer.
Rachel Razankova grew up a non-practicing Jew, forced to keep her religion secret in communist Macedonia, and she attended synagogue for the first time at Temple Beth Emet on Yom Kippur morning. Beth Emet's Rabbi Mark Sobel and other congregants warmly welcomed her and presented her with a tallit.
Although weak, she greeted the congregation, gave them handmade crocheted placemats and, in English, which she is learning, said, "Thank you."
Created to raise money for Razankova's care, the Rachel Fund has now become a permanent charity at Temple Beth Emet. It will continue to assist her with medications not covered by Cedars-Sinai, but will also be extended to other families affected by cancer.
"No matter what happens, I will for sure continue to raise money for people who are in the same situation as my mother is," Roni Razakova said.
To contribute to Temple Beth Emet's Rachel Fund, contact Rabbi Mark Sobel at (818) 843-4787.
-- Jane Ulman, Contributing Writer