In his inspiring presentation at Makom’s Global Jewish Forum, Yossi Klein Halevi spoke about the Israeli rejection of two forms of forgetting. He suggests that there are those who forget that Israel has mortal enemies, and those who forget that Israel is an oppressor. The fact that our mortal enemies are also the victims of our oppression, suggests HaLevi, creates the paradox of the Israeli soul.
My third candle was for Shemi Zarchin. He is a screenwriter, film director and novelist who creates beautiful rich and complex women characters in particular, and in particular hits on the Mizrachi experience in Israel. I still think that Aviva My Love was one of Israel’s best films – exploring creativity and exploitation, as well as the working-class Mizrachi world of Tiberias. The two sisters with their “we don’t talk about that” catch-phrases of intimacy and love are a delight, and Asi Cohen puts in one of the great performances of Israeli film.
Zarchin’s novel, “Some Day”, came out recently in English translation. I don’t know how it translates, but I imagine that the magical realist plot and characters will storm past any awkwardness of language. It is a story of overflowing passion, extreme both morally and emotionally, and one of the best books I’ve read.
So the candle I lit last night, the third of this festival, was lit for the words, the people, and the life that Shemi Zarchin brings to Israel’s cultural and political discourse.
I was at a performance of the newly-reunited Teapack band last night. It being a gig in Jerusalem, on the first night of Hanukkah, with Kobi Oz as band-leader, the show was put on hold to light a Hanukkiah candle on stage, together with all the blessings. (One band-member wore a “Kippat Barzel”- “Iron Dome/Kippah” on his head)
It was a lovely moment. What with the warfare in the summer, the oil spill in the Arava, and the pending elections, I’ve been kind of miserable. The Teapacks evening forced me to remember the light in the darkness.
So this week I’m going to write up my eight candles in the Israel darkness: Eight events, cultural phenomena, or just eight thoughts that make me feel optimistic about life in Israel. Bearing in mind the doomsday predictions on all sides, they may well be my eight Hanukkah miracles.
Teapacks are my first candle. The gig was sold out, people of all ages were singing along and realizing once again how prophetic were the lyrics of the young Kobi Oz. Back in the early 90s when he sung of how “people are rolled up in newspaper”, he was referring to a neglected underclass few mainstream Israelis knew. Now in 2014, the song was for all of us.
Back then when he sang in clear-eyed longing for the messy multi-cultural community of the Old Bus Station, he was referring to a shared experience of a specific place. Now, singing to an audience 50% of which only knows the New Station, the Old Bus Station became a state of mind to be yearned.
The band themselves have grown up. Whereas they used to sing songs that mocked their parents’ worries for their children: “Listen to your parents – why aren’t you more careful?” they themselves are now parents, sporting grey hairs and hints of bellies. They have families, we in the audience now have families, and – reinforced by the candle-lighting – we all that night felt like one family.
To feel like a Jewish family together in a public space, only a few weeks before potentially polarizing elections, that qualifies as my first Hanukkah miracle of the festival.
We know that the ‘shin’ and the ‘peh’ are different on the dreidel, but beyond that?
What are the significant differences between the Hanukkah songs we sing in North America, and in Israel?
Over the past week or so I’ve had many difficult exchanges with friends and family over social media around posts I’ve shared about the Metropolitan Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer. I’ve shared articles defending the production, reviews of its artistic merit, social critiques of what the controversy represents and even parallel experiences of the production in other cities.
Those who were convinced it was anti-Semitic remain firmly convinced. Those who believed the protests were just another example of right wing denial of any legitimate Palestinian narrative remain similarly unswayed.
Depressingly, this episode has only reinforced the worst stereotypes each side had of the other in the ongoing shouting-match over Israel (can we really call it a conversation at this point?). The Jewish general manager of the Met Opera has been compared to a Nazi sympathizer and a supporter of Hamas. I’ve read comparisons of the actions of those who opposed the performance of the opera to a “book burning of Adams’ work.”
By my rule of thumb, whoever calls his opponent a Nazi first, loses
By my rule of thumb, whoever calls his opponent a Nazi first loses — and it’s hard to find any winners in this encounter.
My own feelings about the opera itself are mixed — I saw the film version created for Channel Four in the UK directed by Penny Woolcock in 2004. At the time, I was considering it for possible inclusion in the Washington Jewish Film Festival in my capacity as the Festival’s director. I remember being entranced by the music, disturbed by its portrayals of history and touched by certain images that have stayed with me over a decade later — such as that of Klinghoffer’s wheelchair sinking through the water after he has been murdered and thrown overboard.
I chose not to include the film for a number of reasons, some practical (opera on film is a tough sell) and some artistic/thematic. While I appreciated the aesthetic strengths of the work, it felt far too removed from its subject to be included in a Festival in which other films dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict spoke with greater authenticity and authorial intimacy.
The work felt like the product of outsiders to the conflict
One cannot blame Klinghoffer’s daughters for objecting to the opera — that is not their father up there (but neither should they have the last word). We are all products of our history, but the opera isn’t really interested in why these people were affected in the ways they were. It is why the captain is in many ways the most interesting character, he is also a product of history, but its effects on his character are more subtle and his choices stem from a much more personal, interesting and humanely flawed place.The work overall, felt like the product of outsiders to the conflict, looking to illuminate the tragedies and universal lessons for both sides. Firsthand knowledge of course, isn’t a prerequisite for great art, but when the subject is one that brings such passion along with it, one runs the risk — as Adams and his librettist Alice Goodman have certainly be accused — of naivety. That is why the work itself turns the characters themselves into archetypes more than real people, the terrorists are an extension of the chorus of exiled Palestinians and the Klinghoffers are extensions of the chorus of exiled Jews.
A friend I respect greatly wrote me, “folks flying planes into skyscrapers, dragging gay men to their deaths behind cars,etc? They get no inner lives.” I simply can’t agree. Their inner lives may leave them twisted and deranged, committing heinous acts because of the person they have become, but to deny that their inner lives are not worthy of some kind of artistic exploration is to go too far.
Why? Because to have that attitude is easy when you’re talking about Hitler, Osama Bin-Laden or Pol Pot; but there are a lot of shades of grey between them and the historical rungs of the ladder that the Achille Lauro terrorists occupy.
To elevate Klinghoffer’s murderers to the level of genocidal prime-movers is to engage in a false equivalency that blurs our understanding of evil. It runs the risk of a turning a tradition which takes the weighing of justice most carefully, into a shrill hyperbole.
So, my defense of the opera has to be couched in the acknowledgement that given my own opportunity to program it, I chose not to. I think it is probably fair to say that even if I had wanted to program it, given the controversy that already surrounded the work, I might have faced internal and external opposition that would have made including it unwise and impossible.
And it is that last acknowledgement that leaves me so unsettled.
Because what was at stake in this debate was not the production of this specific opera in this specific venue. It was the freedom of artists, Jewish and non-Jewish, Israelis and Palestinians, to engage with the most sensitive and provocative topics in their histories and create music, theater, dance and stories from them, and for arts presenters to provide audiences with the opportunity to see and judge for themselves the results.
I cannot share their belief that this opera constituted a threat to Israel’s survival.
That is not a priority for many of the opponents of The Death of Klinghoffer. While there were some true arts supporters among the opera’s opponents, for many others (among them, the organizing core), the opera was another front in the total war for Israel’s survival. And while I can share their goal — that Israel survive — I cannot share their belief that this opera constituted a threat to that survival, or even that it was antagonistic to it (or for that matter, that its survival depends on a “total war” footing). I believe this as a Jew, as a Zionist, as a writer, and as someone who has first-hand knowledge of terrorism.
But by mounting such a large, public and compelling campaign against an opera that most people will never hear or see, a profoundly chilling wind has been blown across the landscape of Jewish culture specifically and American culture more broadly.
“Do we want another Death of Klinghoffer on our hands?”
In development offices and board meetings across the land, well-intentioned but misguided leaders will ask themselves when faced with the prospect of presenting potentially challenging and controversial material, “Do we want another Death of Klinghoffer on our hands?”
Only the most committed (and masochistic) will conclude that they are willing to risk it.
Joshua Ford is a writer and arts consultant in Washington, D.C. He blogs at notforprofitdad.wordpress.com and is on Twitter @jfo_in_dc
Here is the thing about the Berlin Balagan and the Milky Moan. They have nothing to do with the city of Berlin or the Milky dessert.
The controversy has been simmering for some time. Young Israelis have been working to attain European passports so as to more easily leave Israel. Berlin is their most attractive and symbolically incendiary European destination. The thought that an Israeli could actively seek to live in the Land of the Holocaust sends shivers down Zionist spines.
The rhetorical stakes are high. To Full Post
Cross-posted with ejewishphilanthropy.com
Image by Shay Charka
I have recently returned from an 8 city, 11 flight, 2 weeks’ tour of campuses in North America – with 4 questions.
I was one of the Jewish Agency’s Makom team running full-day workshops on “Gaza, Israel, and the Jews” for the staff of thirty Hillels. Our aim was to empower Hillel and campus leaders to frame constructive conversations about the Gaza Conflict by identifying pertinent questions (rather than institutional answers), and by defining a successful conversation as one that leads to a second conversation…
Apart from learning that DC taxi drivers are the most interesting in the world, and that United Airlines are not always to be trusted with your luggage, I have been left with a few thoughts to ponder: To Full Post
In 2010 the Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar made a documentary about a Gazan family that brings their baby for a life-saving transplant in an Israeli hospital. The movie is built with great sensitivity and an eye for painful irony and complexity galore.
Here Dr Raz Somech explains the story behind the film, at the Montreal Film Festival.
At one point the mother asserts that she would be happy if her child under treatment were to grow up to be a suicide bomber – to the horror of Eldar. As the full story unfolds, we learn of the difference between the mother’s pronouncements for fear of Hamas reprisals, and her true respect and affection for Israel and its doctors. If these struggles were not enough, during the treatment, their doctor is called up for reserve duty – fighting in Gaza. For a full synopsis, read here.
For a community or campus wishing to delve into the human heart of the complexities of Israel and Gaza’s desperate embrace, Precious Life is an excellent place to start.
We recommend providing free coffee at a nearby cafe after the screening, and putting these place-mats on each table. In this way discussion can be encouraged without being forced.
The guide was first created for the screening at JW3.
In order to obtain a copy of the film contact Bleiberg Entertainment
You may have noticed that we have been trying to post conversation-provoking statuses on our facebook page. Here are some of them in one document for your use. Feel free to post them on your own facebook pages, or to use them as short opening conversations at team or committee meetings.
First appeared on www.jewschool.com
Rabbi Oren J. Hayon is the Greenstein Family Executive Director at the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life at the University of Washington.
In his biography of Pyrrhus of Epirus, Plutarch recounts the details of the ancient Greek general’s costly victory against Rome at Asculum in 279 BCE. According to Plutarch’s account, shortly after the battle, Pyrrhus considered the devastating losses to his Macedonian troops and made the dark but prescient reflection: “If we were to be victorious in one more battle against the Romans, it would utterly destroy us.” [Life of Pyrrhus, 21:9]
The story of that long-ago battle comes to remind us that some victories produce a sense of exhilaration so intoxicating that they prevent us from realizing that we are actually marching unwittingly toward defeat. I write these lines in the immediate aftermath of a period in the life of our organization which looks unmistakably like a time of triumph. Nevertheless, as I write, I am keenly aware of how we have been diminished by the events of this year. I find myself surprised and concerned about how much we have lost, and about how much more we stand to lose in the future. To Full Post