Posted by Dikla Kadosh
At Camp Rikud, David Dassa’s annual Israeli folk dance weekend at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, there is always a talent show on the last night.
Many of the performers are painfully embarrassing to watch and leave you wondering how anyone could be so lacking in self-awareness. Like the high school girl who performed a slightly odd dance number in a loose strapless shirt that kept sliding down every time she turned, jumped or twirled. The performance was dangerously close to becoming a peep show and the audience was more preoccupied with gasping and giggling at the near-wardrobe malfunction than with the young girl’s awkward movements - which in the end, turned out fine for everyone: the audience was entertained and the girl was the talk of the night.
But the R-rated dance was not the performance that most accurately exemplifies the essence of an Israeli folk dance camp, although many Israelis, including my fiance, are convinced that the dance weekends resemble something out of “Dirty Dancing” - young girls being seduced by dance instructors, older married women having weekend flings, steamy late night dance parties in the staff quarters… I’ll get back to those scandalizing half-myths in a second.
A song sung by a veteran dancer, who actually has some musical talent, could very well be Rikud’s anthem. A few lines into the song, the 250-person audience began singing along:
“I could have danced all night!
I could have danced all night!
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my wings
And done a thousand things I’ve never done before.
I’ll never know what made it so exciting.
Why all at once my heart took flight.
I only know when he
began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced all night!”
That’s how it feels to be at an Israeli folk dance camp: exhilarating.
The camp, which starts on Friday afternoon every year on Memorial Day weekend and ends on Monday afternoon, is one long dance marathon, broken up by meals and a few other activities: the talent show, havdallah, melaveh malka. Dancers learn new dances all day during teaching sessions taught by Israeli choreographers and every night, an open dance session lasts into the morning hours. On the last night, Sunday night, the session goes until 8 or 9 a.m. the next morning - hence the “I could have danced all night” anthem.
There are several other Israeli dance camps in the United States throughout the year and the people who attend them vary greatly: most are American, but many are Israeli. The age varies too - more so at Rikud where there is always a large group of high schoolers who David Dassa teaches as well as a large contingency of young dancers he cultivates. There are beginners and dancers who have been dancing for 30 years. People come from Israel, Canada, South America, Mexico and the East Coast to dance at Rikud.
There are those that come seeking romance. And there are people who are rumored to be having extramarital affairs. Sitting on the sidelines, you could probably spot a few smoldering looks exchanged between dance partners or glimpse a couple sneaking off towards the bungalows. There are definitely whispers about the revered Israeli choreographers (the rock stars of the Israeli folk dance world) taking advantage of their sway with female dancers. However, that kind of activity for which Israeli folk dancing is often stigmatized in Israeli culture, is a minor part of the dance experience. And, it’s natural. After all, dancing is a social activity where people connect in many ways.
I met my fiance at an Israeli folk dance session, though he danced only briefly. One of my best friends, Anita, who will be a bridesmaid at my wedding, is someone I became close to at David’s weekly dance sessions. My fiance’s brothers became business partners with someone they met through dancing. There are numerous siblings and husbands and wives whose bond is strengthened by this shared activity.
Once a year, these avid dancers from around the world gather at Rikud to share their passion, to connect with one another, and to dance, dance, dance all night!
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May 13, 2008 | 4:52 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
“Don’t you know? Auschwitz isn’t just for the Jews anymore,” says Lukas, the disturbed (and disturbing) protagonist of “The Memory Thief,” a film by Gil Kofman that was screened Monday night, May 12, at the Jewish Film Festival.
Lukas is an exceedingly desperate character - a young man with no past and no hope of a future who works as a tollbooth cashier by day and watches pornography in his ramshackle apartment by night. He visits a catatonic woman in the hospital, pretending she is his mother and wonders about the lives of the thousands of drivers who whiz by him everyday.
“I bet not one of them would remember my face,” he muses gloomily.
When one of those drivers, a Holocaust survivor, stops to talk to him, Lukas begins to take an interest in the lives of Jews who were victimized during World War II. His interest becomes a frightening obsession that consumes Lukas, a non-Jew, to the point where he assumes the identity of a survivor - stealing memories that are not his own and creating a future for himself that may be more concrete and certain, but definitely not any less dismal.
This psychological twister is well made and intriguing, but plan to get ice cream or something sweet after the movie to alleviate the gloomy state of mind you’ll undoubtedly be in.
“The Memory Thief” opens May 30 at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills. For more info, check out www.memorythiefmovie.com.
The Jewish Film Festival continues this week with several more screenings, two of which are worth highlighting:
“Song of David” is about another young man’s obsession - except this one is a little more normal. David is a Hasidic 16-year-old studying to become a rabbi who discovers the world of rap music and his own talent at expressing himself in this urban genre that is so far from his secluded religious world. The screening at the Knitting Factory on Wed., May 14 at 6 p.m. will be followed by a performance by the Moshav Band.
“The Tree of Life” is a documentary by L.A.-based director Hava Volterra, who turns the lens on her own life as she deals with her father’s death by exploring his familial roots in Italy. If Rob Eshman raved about this film, then it has to be worth a look. “Tree of Life” is screening on Wed., May 14 at 7 p.m. at Wilshire Blvd. Temple, Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus.
Details of the screenings at www.lajfilmfest.org.
May 8, 2008 | 4:47 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
JJLA Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman was featured today on 89.3 KPCC. In case you missed his segment about Israel during your drive to work this morning, here it is in its entirety:
I love Israel.
When I hear an American Jew say that, when I hear myself say that, I always stop to wonder: what exactly does it mean?
Do we love it so much that we would, as the school kids say, marry it? Apparently not. Though Israel’s Law of Return entitles any Jew anywhere in the world to citizenship, a minuscule number of American Jews have picked up and moved there.
Do we love Israel enough to fight for it? No. Only a handful of us have actually taken up arms during any of Israel’s wars. The American Jewish arrangement has long been: we give our money, you give your sons. We give our opinions, you give your lives.
The truth is, too many of us love Israel like young girls love Miley Cyrus, like women love George Clooney, like white guys love Springsteen. We swoon. We idealize. We have a crush.
Once we believed Israel existed to physically save us, to be our refuge when the world came after us. Now we know better: many more Jews leave Israel to come here than leave America to settle there.
So 60 years after the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland came true, Israel has become more of a spiritual refuge for American Jews than a physical one. It’s an emotional home away from home.
We boast of its remarkable accomplishments in technology and culture, its vibrant free press, its social vitality. And we leap to its defense against its many enemies and critics.
But the problem with crushes is that the instant our crush disappoints us, we become disillusioned. The problem with crushes is we overlook faults until they turn dangerous and tragic.
Israel at 60 is a wonderful achievement. But it also faces monumental problems that cannot be overlooked: it desperately needs to improve the quality of its democracy. It needs to narrow the gaps between rich and poor, between secular and religious, between Arab and Jewish Israelis. It needs to pursue agreements with its enemies. It needs to reject the ideologies that have mired it in the folly of settlements for the past 40 years.
And we who love Israel have to learn to scold it, to correct it, to not stay away out of disillusionment or keep quiet out of deference. The father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, once said, “Nothing happens as one hopes, nor as one fears.” A real state in the real world doesn’t demand reverence, it demands we raise our voices and get involved.
Crushes are fine when we’re young. But Israel is turning 60; it’s time we grew up too.
To listen to Rob’s segment, click here.
May 6, 2008 | 4:31 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
Our esteemed chief, the Jewish Journal’s Rob Eshman, will be featured on KPCC 89.3 FM this Thursday, May 8 during the station’s day-long programming in honor of Israel’s 60th anniversary.
His two-minute commentary on what Israel means to American Jews will air during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
To listen, tune in to 89.3 FM or visit www.scpr.org for a live broadcast stream.
And if you think Rob is riveting in print, wait until you hear him on the radio!
The end is near, but have no fear, says Rob Kutner, a former Jewish Journal contributor who moved on to work for the Daily Show (where his wacky sense of humor was encouraged to flourish). Kutner’s new book, “Apocalypse How: Your Guide to Turning the End of Times into the Best of Times,” will be in bookstores on May 12.
The tongue-in-cheek self help book offers valuable advice on how to survive nine of the most likely world-ending scenarios and includes uplifting motivational slogans that’ll keep you going through alien invasions, zombie attacks or a nuclear war: “To the extent that you can see any of it through the permanent cloud of dust and ash, the sky’s the limit!”
Kutner will be reading and signing copies of his book at Book Soup in West Hollywood, May 13 at 7 p.m. For more info, visit www.apocalypsehowthebook.com.
May 2, 2008 | 4:24 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
I left Israel when I was six years old. There are only a fistful of fuzzy memories that remain from my childhood in Kfar Saba.
But recently, a vivid memory floated to the surface of my mind:
The sorrowful wailing of a siren sounding throughout Israel at the very same moment.
For two minutes on Yom Hashaoh, everything in Israel stops: cars on the highway come to a halt, cell phones are shut off, conversations are quieted, children in schoolyards stop playing.
The entire country stands in unified grief, in memory of all those that perished in the Holocaust.
Even as a young child, I understood the significance of that siren. I felt the weight of Jewish suffering on my shoulders and I hadn’t even learned about World War II yet. My heart swelled with sorrow, but I didn’t realize who or what I was mourning.
The memory of that moment still causes my eyes to water and my throat to go dry.
The notes to a Jewlicious video of the siren described it eloquently: “It’s a touching and poignant moment in a country known more for its boisterousness than for its introspection.”
Here is that video:
May 2, 2008 | 12:22 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Today and everyday, we remember the lost; and we celebrate the survivors who lived to tell the tale.
May 2, 2008 | 12:14 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Ruth Messinger’s face is like a map of all the countries she’s visited. Visible in the lines of her skin, there are pangs of hunger, the violence of genocide, the ravages of poverty; but in her eyes - drip irrigation begins in a small Mexican village, an HIV-infected woman and her child receive medical care in Zambia, and in Gujarat, India, low-caste sewage workers’ rights are newly represented.
The list of deeds she’s inspired in the developing world runs long as a lifeline. Hers is the kind of work that is not only improving lives, but prolonging them.
As president of American Jewish World Service, a social change organization that provides grants to 350 grassroots programs in 38 developing countries worldwide, Messinger is a global harbinger of hope for millions of people struggling to survive. Under her leadership, AJWS promotes the Jewish value to pursue social justice and they recruit Jewish volunteers to travel to developing countries and help alleviate the poverty, hunger and disease most politicians only talk about.
For Messinger, talking was just the beginning. She spent 20 years working in public service in New York City as a groundbreaking female in politics: in 1997, she became the first woman in Manhattan history to win the Democratic mayoral nomination (and ran opposite Rudy Giuliani).
Though she lost the election, she shaped her experience into an instructive on the challenges women in politics face, and wrote the following for the Jewish Women’s Archive:
During the years that I held elected office, the percentage of women holding such positions across the U.S. went from about 4% to 20%. An impressive increase to be sure â” very important for the advance of women and, in my judgment, for the improvement of politics â” but also in some ways a painful one, given the hurdles that women in politics encounter. The public often has different expectations of women than of men. They are not sure that women should be working, particularly in a business they think of as dirty. Experienced political donors contribute less to women than to men and, if asked why, cannot justify this decision. Male colleagues are often people who really have never dealt with women as equals and are easily threatened by women expecting to be treated that way.
Instead of leveraging her political clout into a cozy Manhattan lifestyle, Messinger took her hard-hitting activism to the Sudan and confronted the atrocities of the genocide in Darfur. Upon her return, she awakened the American Jewish community and hammered awareness of the conflict into mainstream consciousness.
And, in the middle of doing all that, Messinger mothered 3 children, 8 grandchildren and celebrated the birth of a great-grandchild.
There are many ways to admire Messinger—as an agent of social change, an accomplished woman, and as a Jewish example of how religion can motivate goodness in the world.
But I admire her most for being fearless. In an age when the global conflicts we face seem so huge, so insurmountable, Messinger marches on unfazed. To say that she is changing the world is an understatement; she is actually saving it.
April 29, 2008 | 4:05 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
60 bloggers, 60 days, 60 different spins on Israel.
If you haven’t already done so, check out the new site 60 bloggers for Israel, a blog devoted to thoughts on Israel that features a different post each day leading up to Yom Ha’atzmaut.
The project, dreamed up by Craig Taubman as part of the Let My People Sing festivities, is a collaboration with Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of Jewlicious.com. Together, they enlisted 60 bloggers from near and far including, “Jewtube,” “My Urban Kvetch” and “Yo, Yenta!” to wax poetic about the promised land.
Thus far, the blog reads like an epic love poem to Israel, with many of the contributors sharing their memories, feelings and political impressions of the holy land.
The Calendar Girls posted their prose yesterday in “Oh Israel, how do I love thee?”