• Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Gus Ballis on The Jewish Cultural World: Bes…
    Goose on Hate Crimes and Misdemean…
    Hay Terr on Hail the Jewish State; Screw…
    Mr. B on Hail the Jewish State; Screw…
    Judah on The Villa in the Jungle
  • Top Posts

  • Search by Category

  • Archives

  • Pages

  • Twitter

  • Meta

  • Advertisements

The Jewish Cultural World: Best of 2018

Amazon eonline.com


Say it ain’t so, but here we go again: The end of one year and the beginning of another. And since I just finished watching the second season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I thought to myself, why not say something abut this most ‘Jewishly,’ most successful of television shows. Even more so: Why don’t I give you a short, selective list of the best artistic, cultural outputs I read or watched this year.

A few words in advance, though: I chose six outstanding works to recommend to you from six different fields—most but not all—artistic fields. Some of them, may have been published, or screened first in an earlier year, but I read or watched it this year. And so, it would be a selective list, with the caveat that it was created by Jews, and was mostly about the Jewish world, even if not entirely. One last thing: I’m not going to give you links to the works I write about, or information where to buy or watch them. It’s very easy to find that out with a click or two online.

First on my list is the Book of the Year: ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar,’ by the Israeli author David Grossman, which last year had won the ‘International Man Booker Prize.’ Now, even though I used the word ‘best’ at the top, I don’t really like to use that word in regard to literary works. Though this short work of fiction with its unique title, is indeed unique. And entertaining and innovative as hell. It takes place in only one night, in only one bar in the Israeli city of Netanya, and centered on a down-on-his-luck ‘standup comic,’ who is so painfully bad, just as he’s sometimes brilliantly mesmerizing. Through his comic routine, his endless stream of words—with a special invited childhood friend present there—and his tormenting flashbacks, we not only learn so much about his sad life—he actually swears he’s going to kill himself at the end of the night—but about human nature, our own childhood, and a no-holds-barred observations on the political situation in Israel. Truly a small masterpiece.

Second on my list is the Film of the Year: ‘The Angel,” directed by Arial Vromen. This film is an Israeli-American production, a spy-thriller-drama, based on the book ‘The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel,’ written by Uri bar-Joseph. It tells the true story of Ashraf Marwan (played wonderfully by Marwan Kenzari), who was the son-in-law of Gamal Nasser, the Egyptian president during the Six-Day War, and later became an assistant to Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, as well as a double-agent, working for the Israeli Mossad. This being a thriller, and a limited space here besides, I won’t go into the plot in details. What was so fascinating, and portrayed so masterfully by the star actor, was how this young man—who if to believe the story, and I tend to believe it—had saved Israel from even worse disaster in the Yom Kippur War. And all because, with great personal costs, he really was, well—believe it or not—an idealist at heart, who desired peace for both nations.

Third on my list is the Documentary film of the Year: ‘Forever Pure,’ directed by the Israeli filmmaker Maya Zinstein, which had won an Emmy in the ‘Outstanding Politics’ documentary category. The film centers on the ‘Beitar Jerusalem’ Football Club; the most popular, ardent, and controversial soccer team in Israel, long associated with the rightwing Likud political party. It was the only club in the Israeli Premier League without an Arab/Muslim player at the time. Its core fans are zealots, fanatics, and core supporters of both PM Netanyahu and President Rivlin; whom they carried—literally so—to power on their shoulders. And so, when the Russian owner of the club hired two players of muslin origin from Chechnya, all hell broke loose. So much so that their season, the team, the owner all collapsed. But the fans, with their ‘pure’ hatred of all Arabs—their favorite chant is: “Death to the Arabs!”—had won the day. If one want to understand the raw emotions fermenting the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, making it unsolvable, you’d do no better than watch this excellent film.

Fourth on my list is the TV Show of the Year: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” created by Amy Sherman-Palladino. As I mentioned above, I just finished watching its second season. And even though the quality is somewhat inferior comparing to the first season, it’s still ‘marvelous.” And so very Jewish, taking place in Manhattan in the late 1950s, and centered on Miriam “Midge” Maisel—Rachel Brosnahan, beautiful and fantastic—and her transformation from an Upper West Side housewife to a standup comedian (yes, a standup comedian again.) It had swept, well deserved, all the Emmys last year in all the major categories. I say this, even if dramatically, story-wise, the second season is somewhat lacking, the sheer beauty of it, the life of these two Jewish families, the entertainment business back then, with sometimes laugh-out funny Jewish humor is so charming that it’s simply hard to take your eyes off it.

Fifth on my list is Song of the Year: “Don’t Lie to Me,” by Barbara Streisand. Now, while I was never a particular big fan of her singing, acting and directing; and while this song, on her new album, is not a song for the ages; there’s something about its raw emotions, its timeliness, even its naiveté that is so very moving. She sings “You can build towers of bronze and gold. You can make castles in the sky. You can use smoke and mirrors and old clichés … don’t lie to me.” In the chorus, she brings it home: “How do you sleep when the world keeps turning? All that we built has come undone / How do you sleep when the world is burning?” It gives you chills when she blurts: “don’t lie to me!” Obviously, the appeal is for President Trump. Who of course, will never stop lying.

Sixth on my list is the Op-Ed piece of the Year: “Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Anti-Semitism,” by Michelle Goldberg in the NY Times. I chose this piece, out of the many great articles and opinions I’ve read this year for the fact that it deals with the always important topic, acutely lately, of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and the chorus of lies it generates in the Jewish world and in Israel. And Michelle Goldberg deals with it with the precision of a brain surgeon, and with the bravery of a soldier going to a battle he believes in. Because the crowded forces on the Jewish right, marched on by AIPAC, are stuck against her. “Indeed, it’s increasingly absurd to treat the Israeli state as a stand-in for Jews writ large,” she writes, “given the way the current Israeli government has aligned itself with far-right European movements that have anti-Semitic roots.”
Amen to that, and to the many other artists, writers, journalists and bloggers, who stand—in America, in Israel, and the world at large—against the tyranny of criminal leader trying to become dictators.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

Advertisements

The Battle Israel is Losing

lohud.com

It would seem, to the casual observer, that Israel is winning on all fronts. Militarily, its army is unequal in the Middle East, and as result Israel—not from today, mind you—is no longer facing an existential threat to its existence. Forty-five years ago the ‘Yom Kippur War’ of 1973 was the last major war of such magnitude. Yes, Iran still possesses the power to be a major threat, but it still abides by the nuclear deal, in spite of America’s withdrawal from it, and begins to lose its grip on Syria, where Israel controls the skies, and where Russia calls the shots on the ground.

On the political front, while Israel continues to face challenges, the current situation still favors it. First, with its major ally USA, where the Trump administration is practically in PM Netanyahu’s pocket, and doing his bid. Every wish—from moving the embassy to Jerusalem, to cutting off all financial aid to the Palestinians—is being met. And while the EU, mainly Germany, France and the UK refuse to align with Israel’s demands and policies, other countries—Russia, Poland and Hungary—are eager to form new alliances with the Jewish state. Just as some Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt are eager to be among Israel’s friends, rather than its enemies.

Economically, Israel is flourishing, and its citizens—seventy years since independence—are mostly happy with their lives. Culturally, Israel’s artists continue to supplement American television with plenty of shows and creative personnel, and even one of Hollywood’s biggest stars du jour—Gal Gadot—is an Israeli. Another artist, Netta Barzilai, had won the last Eurovision contest and as result, the competition will take place in Israel next year. Even Israeli athletes—admittedly mostly not born and even raised for long in Israel—are making their mark and achievements felt in the international arena.

The Palestinian conflict, internally anyhow, while still possesses limited risks and threats—such as on the Gaza Strip’s border, and random terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank—is also dying a slow death. Even the threat of a new Intifada, following the USA embassy move to Jerusalem, didn’t materialize. PA President Abbas is old and ailing, and losing touch with his people, maybe with reality too, while still staying put and grooming no viable successor. Israel’s strong grip on the West Bank’s territories is unchallenged, and with it the settlement endeavor marches on, solidifying the occupation—most probably—for eternity.

Well, you may ask yourself—and me—if everything’s so good, what’s wrong? And which battle Israel is losing? Hang on, I’m coming to it: Israel is losing the PR Battle; the BDS Battle; the Cultural Battle; the Perception Battle. You name it—Israel is losing it. Here’s why and how:

To begin with, the current rightwing governing party in Israel—in power consecutively for almost eighteen years—greatest wish is for the Palestinian problem to go away. To be swept under the rug of history. And yet, it’s staying put and going nowhere. Even Netanyahu/Trump latest efforts, cutting off all financial aid to UNRWA, to an East Jerusalem Hospital, and to coexistence efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, and closing the Palestinian Diplomatic Delegation—the Palestinian de facto embassy—in Washington, won’t stop it. They are here to stay. And so is their just, unrelenting effort to be recognized as a people with a state to call their own.

The Palestinian cause and people are enjoying more support around the globe than ever before. In the UN General Assembly, where 137 nations have already recognized a Palestinian State, they will outmaneuver, and out-vote Israel and America easily. The move of the American embassy to Jerusalem has produced no followers, other than two small South American countries, one of which has already reversed its decision. Even in America, troubling signs are growing for Israel. The millennials—but also their liberal parents and grandparents, it is now apparent—are increasingly disillusioned with Israel and its policies; especially its treatment of the Palestinian people. These young people, whom we count on to bring change to this country, identify with the Palestinian cause and suffering more than with mighty Israel.

Israel—which is in the process of becoming less and less democratic—can arrest an American professors in the West bank, can prevent Jews and others they don’t like from entering the country all they want. But outside Israel, the BDS forces are winning the day. In the last couple of years more than twenty artists, mainly musicians, have canceled their trip to Israel as result of pressure brought to bear by that PR Battle. From Lorde to Lana del ray; from McCartney to Elvis Costello and Cat Power, they all have canceled gigs in Israel due to the BDS pressure.

Worst of all: Natalie Portman. The highly regarded Israeli born American star. Serious star, I’m talking about, not light star. She refused to come to Jerusalem to accept a special humanitarian prize in order not to shake hands with Netanyahu. The big win in the Eurovision contest is already marred with controversy (and I’m not talking about the song apparently plagiarized from an American pop song), and will not take place in Jerusalem—as the Israeli government so much wanted—but in Tel Aviv. Worst of all, the Eurovision governing body has sent Israel a letter demanding conformation that Israel will respect the human rights, traveling rights, speaking rights of all visitors coming for the contest.

Israel took offense, but the facts are, Israel is no longer considered a free, democratic country. And the problems with the Eurovision competition—Israel’s biggest chance to make amends, to rescue the cultural narrative—are just beginning. I foresee more to come, such as artists, winning ones in their countries, refusing to compete in Israel. Maybe even countries banning the competition altogether. ‘Wolf Alice,’ North London’s alternative rock band, signed a letter calling for a boycott of the event, together with musicians Roger Waters and Brian Eno, in addition to writers, theater directors and filmmakers.

Truth of the matter is, this is not really a PR Battle. Israel cannot win this battle no matter how much resources and personal its investing in fighting it. Because, this is really a ‘Heart and Mind’ battle. Maybe even an all-out war. Israel cannot win that war because the heart and mind of living, thinking, feeling people are not with the mighty power of occupation, settlement, and ruling over other people for so long. Israel is losing this fight because in the process of being so powerful, and winning in all the other fronts mentioned above, it lost its own mind and heart.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

%d bloggers like this: