New Solondz Film Tackles Pedophilia, Bar Mitzvahs

Reviews in from Venice Film Festival premiere


Early reviews are in for Todd Solondz’s new film Life During Wartime, a semi-sequel to 1998’s Happiness and, it appears, the director’s most explicitly Jewish work yet. The dysfunctional Jordan family is still grappling with incest, pedophilia, and suicide, and now a bar mitzvah, too. “There’s a strong Jewish subtext in the film, with the Jordan sisters’ Judaism, latent in Happiness, now exploited for both comic and dramatic effect—the latter most obviously by exploring rabbinical concepts of repentance and forgiveness as Trish’s youngest son approaches his Bar Mitzvah,” writes Screen Daily.

Variety, which claims Solondz “may have made his best film” yet, praises the bar mitzvah boy, Timmy (played by Dylan Riley Snyder), as “the most compelling character this time around”; like Dawn Weiner, the relentlessly bullied middle school heroine of Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, he’s tormented at school after discovering that his pedophile father, whom he’d thought dead, is alive and has been released from prison. Timmy’s mom Trish, meanwhile, has taken up with an older man “after discovering that he, too, loves Israel,” says the Hollywood Reporter, in a review that heralds Solondz as “the true heir to Woody Allen.” The film premiered yesterday at the Venice Film Festival, where Solondz apparently couldn’t resist making a public comment about the “wonderful fascist building” his press conference was held in.

Life During Wartime [Screen Daily]
Life During Wartime [Variety]
Life During Wartime—Film Review [Hollywood Reporter]
Previously: Today I Am an Actor

NJDC to MSNBC: Watch It!

Liberal network responds by blocking Buchanan nonsense


We’re always a little leery of stories commemorating anniversaries—we did, after all grow up in a house decorated with one of those twee bronze plaques announcing that on some random date in the 1800s “nothing happened”—but Pat Buchanan, history buff that he is, apparently can’t resist. On Tuesday, he put a column on his blog, which MSNBC then picked up on its Web site, noting the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, which triggered World War Two. Buchanan, most recently the author of a book called Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, used the occasion to wonder whether Hitler really meant to start a war at all, and, correspondingly, whether it wasn’t the case that the Allies—mainly the British—just overreacted.

The argument starts to unravel right around the point Buchanan writes that “Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps”—which, presumably, is also the point at which the good folks at the National Jewish Democratic Council decided to intervene. Press secretary Aaron Keyak got a column up on the Huffington Post asking why Buchanan was defending Hitler, but instead of wasting time trying to outargue the pundit, the NJDC trained its eye on MSNBC, a network they would normally expect to count as a liberal friend. “There is a place on MSNBC where he may belong,” Keyak wrote, and linked to Keith Olbermann’s Countdown. And, voila! Media victory ensued: MSNBC took down the column. NJDC couldn’t, however, resist a parting shot. “MSNBC took the responsible action,” wrote president David Harris. “But no worthy news organization should employ and promote a commentator who engages in such vile fiction.” Note to Phil Griffin: Watch it!

Why is Pat Buchanan Defending Hitler? [Huffington Post]

Dov Charney Sheds Tears for Laid-Off Immigrants

Replacing his usual bodily fluid of choice


Known weirdo and founder of American Apparel Dov Charney has channeled his crazy-pants energy into something kind of touching and more trenchant than his usual lechery. Yesterday, his sweatshop-free company had to fire 1,500 employees because of questions about their immigration status. Devastated at having to say goodbye to such a large portion of his harem—er, workforce—Charney penned a tearful letter where he recounts that his grandparents were Jewish immigrants with experience in the garment trade, and bemoans the fact that “the Obama administration has failed to bring about immigration reform” especially when “the rallying cry of the Obama campaign was the words of Cesar Chavez ‘Yes we can’ or “Si se puede.’”

Although it may be a bit soon to declare the president a failure, Charney is writing with the frustration of a long-time committed activist with a personal stake in the issue. His letter is accompanied by photos of his grandmother’s passport and pre-WWII sweatshops. While he usually does everything in his power to make the public forget that there is anything good about his business (“The Vegas Legging,” anyone?), it’s good to be reminded that his heart is in the right place even when his other body parts behave questionably.

American Apparel to Dismiss 1,500 Factory Workers
Dov Charney’s Tear-Stained Letter to His 1,500 Laid-off Employees [Gawker]

Carol Leifer Says a Dirty German Word

Maybe by accident


So, a month or so ago we drew your attention to the fact that former Seinfeld writer and co-producer Carol Leifer had outed herself as Jewish, lesbian, and vegan (in that order). Today, we noticed she’s featured in Ha’aretz, which ran an interview from this week’s Forward about her new memoir, When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win. The interview, by Michael Kaminer, runs through several of Leifer’s favorite lines—one about hiring a rent-a-rabbi for her father’s funeral, another about Hanukkah being the also-ran December holiday—with the plaint that they fall flat. “You find yourself wishing she’d take her foot off the brakes,” Kaminer writes. But he missed a trick: Leifer, who recently did an ad for PETA, jokes that fake chicken should be called “ficken”—a word that also happens to mean, in German, well, exactly the same thing as its closest English cognate. See? There’s always a sex joke somewhere with those Seinfeld alums.

The Queer Jewish Queen of Comedy [Forward, via Haaretz]

Unfriendly Ghosts

Haunt a Hungarian Holocaust survivor in a new film


The Holocaust gets a role in yet another movie this summer, as Tickling Leo hits theaters. It tells the story of a Lear-like Hungarian survivor and poet in the Catskills who suffers from dementia, wanders about naked, and has flashbacks to his childhood when his father, a member of the Judenrat, abetted the liquidation of Budapest’s ghetto. This all goes down right before Yom Kippur, when his two sons come for a visit. The film, says Stephen Holden, addresses “the difficulty of acknowledging and passing on painful family history” (kinda like last month’s Jacqueline Bisset Holocaust vehicle Death in Love); Newsday’s John Anderson calls the lead performance by Lawrence Pressman “a great thing to watch.” Meantime, director Jeremy Davidson (better known as the husband of Mary Stuart Masterson) tells the Jewish Week, “it was important to me to examine my personal themes and life issues. Fatherhood was one thing that scared me, and Judaism is one thing I struggled to understand and live better.”

Echoes of the Holocaust, Reverberating Through the Generations
Demented father, dreadful secrets in ‘Tickling Leo’ [Newsday]
Sour Piklers [Jewish Week]

On Tablet Today

Guns in the chapel, Palestinians in the heartland, and ruminations on maturity


Marissa Brostoff examines the politics below the surface of a film about Palestinian immigrants in America. Michael Weiss presents a video of rabbis learning to use guns for protection in synagogue. Liel Leibovitz discusses this week’s Torah portion on the subject of wisdom and age. And stay tuned for more right here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Toronto Film Fest Under Fire

Settlement freeze postponed, Evangelicals and Israel, and more in the news


• Artists and writers including Jane Fonda and Naomi Klein sent a letter of protest against the Toronto International Film Festival for a planned segment focusing on films from Tel Aviv, which they say is tantamount to a propaganda campaign. [Reuters]
• In an interview with Evangelical pastor John Hagee, Elie Weisel said, “Whenever anyone does that, criticizes Israel, I say, ‘What are your credentials?’ Have you ever praised Israel? Have you ever defended Israel? Have you ever been on the side of Israel?” [USNWR]
• Evangelical students will now have the opportunity to build their cred by participating in the March of the Living, a trip through the former Nazi death camps in Poland and then to Israel; “The fact that this could happen to any group of people on the basis of their faith is something that all people of faith need to take very, very seriously,” says a Christian leader. [JPost]
• An aide to Benjamin Netanyahu says the Israeli P.M. will approve plans to build new homes for settlers before considering a later construction freeze. [Reuters]
• Meanwhile a source at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv confirms it’s “doubtful” President Obama signed off on the plans. [Ynet]

Sundown: Dude Jumps Like a Lady

Freedom of the press, fight or flight, and juice for Jesus


Berlin 36, a new German documentary, tells the story of a female Jewish high-jumping phenom whom the Nazis replaced in the 1936 Olympics—with a man in a skirt. [Times of London]
• An interview with noted Holocaust denier David Irving will be featured in Spanish newspaper El Mundo’s series of “innovative” views on WWII marking the 70th anniversary of the war; an editor has promised that in this piece, Irving doesn’t deny the Holocaust, but rather blames it on the Allies. Innovation at work! [AP]
• In the New York Times Magazine, Norman Podhoretz evades a question about whether there is any Democrat he likes by selecting Joe Lieberman. [NYT]
• Israeli airline El Al is barring anyone displaying symptoms associated with swine flu from boarding their flights without a doctor’s note; no word on whether they will at least give the rejected passengers a bowl of chicken soup. [Ynet]
• Filmmaker Kamran Pasha undertakes a lengthy investigation into the possibility that Jesus was a vegetarian. One piece of evidence: some of JC’s earliest followers, the so-called Jewish Christians, “had a passionate commitment to vegetarianism.” [HuffPo]

Big Reveal on German “Antiques Roadshow”

Art was stolen by—and then from—Nazis


So, if you’re going to go on Antiques Roadshow, you generally want to make sure that you’re not showing off a piece that’s been stolen. The corollary rule, if you’re going on the German version, is to avoid trying to offload stolen Nazi art. But of course, the whole point of the show is that people don’t know what they have, which may be how someone turned up on Kunst und Krempel (Art and Junk) last November asking for an appraisal of a 17th century painting titled Sermon on the Mount, by the Flemish baroque painter Frans Francken the Younger. The painting, it turns out, was worth about $143,000—and it had been stolen from a Jewish family that had bought it at a gallery in Dresden, and was at one point destined for a Nazi museum in Hitler’s Austrian hometown, Linz. The painting disappeared from Hitler’s reception building in Munich sometime after April 1945, according to police. So far, the television network that broadcasts the program is claiming journalistic privilege and refusing to hand over the name of the person who turned up with it.

Art Stolen by Nazis Turns Up on TV Antiques Show
[The Local]

Assimilated Jews = Missing Persons

In new commercial for Israel study program


Haaretz reports that the Israeli government-funded organization Masa, which brings young people to Israel for semester- and year-long programs, has “launched a scare-tactic campaign that urges Israelis to combat assimilation in North America by working to prevent the ‘loss’ of their own Jewish acquaintances there.” The group’s running a commercial—complete with “melancholy flute music” and “images of missing-person posters hanging in locales in Europe and North America”—in which an announcer softly intones her hope that viewers who “know a young Jew living abroad” will call Masa and then “together, we will strengthen his or her bond to Israel, so that we don’t lose them.”

If creepy’s not your scene but you like aggressive, the head of Oranim Educational Initiatives, an Israel tour group that used to be one of Birthright’s biggest collaborators, has reinvented his organization as a Birthright competitor. In contrast with Birthright’s, Oranim’s free trips will be available to people up to age of 30 and will involve even more pressure to “keep the diaspora alive,” “solidify Israel’s public image,” and marry Jews.

New Campaign Targets Jews ‘Lost’ to Assimilation [Haaretz]
Momo Returns [Jewish Week]

Can Hebrew School Be Saved?

By making it more like other parts of teens’ lives?


Breaking news: the point of Jewish education is not to bore kids into confusion about their Jewish identities, leading them to, at best, channel their ambivalence into postmodern indie rock projects like David Griffin’s Hebrew School and/or later force their own kids into the same fate out of some resentful sense of “tradition,” while their parents bemoan their lack of engagement.

Argues Adam Gaynor, “Jewish education is almost always based upon the needs and desires of adults rather than kids…. Adult fears about Jewish continuity also lead to the misguided notion that Jewish learning can only happen in exclusively Jewish environments,” despite the fact that “most American Jews choose to live, work and play in multicultural communities.” This isolation tells kids that “a fundamental rift exists between their Jewish selves and the rest of who they are and what they experience. This dichotomy is false.”

Gaynor’s organization, The Curriculum Initiative, is trying to meet teens on their own terms, with projects such as a boarding school seder held in partnership with a gay student group. But would the “multicultural” brand of Jewish education Gaynor advocates be safe from the de-cool-ifying effect of parental pressure? Or is this yet another attempt by adults to turn something kids are already doing into something Jewish in order to reassure themselves of continuity?

Jewish Education Should Be Multicultural, Like Us

Oasis Breakup Brings Hitler to His Knees

In YouTube version of history


’Twas erstwhile Oasis member Noel Gallagher who brought down the Third Reich in the end, according to a rather inspired YouTube video that borrows footage from the 2004 German film Downfall. In this version of events, Hitler is driven to madness in his bunker—not by rapidly approaching allied forces but by the probable dissolution of his favorite Britpop band, which (in real life) Gallagher quit last Friday. Poor Adolf had mosh-pit tickets and everything: “What am I going to do on Friday now? Watch TV? Go to the pub? Go bowling?” The Fuhrer’s deputies wince as he mumbles, “I lost my virginity listening to Oasis. I had my first LSD trip to Be Here Now.” Too much information, bro.

Hitler’s Reaction to the Oasis Split [YouTube]

A Graphic Take on ‘Genesis’

From Robert Crumb, with a little help from Robert Alter


Bookforum offers one of the first reviews of Robert Crumb’s illustrated version of Genesis, and it sounds like a winner. Crumb’s interpretation departs from other graphic representations of the Torah by not bowdlerizing it, writes Jeet Heer; the legendary artist “doesn’t hide the fact that the holy book is filled with stories of incest (Abraham marrying his half sister, Sarah; Lot being seduced by his daughters), frenzied bloodlust (God’s various acts of mass murder, the terrible slaughter of a village after a young boy seduces Jacob’s daughter, Dinah), and general unsavory behavior (the theme of fraternal violence that runs from the story of Cain and Abel to the concluding saga of Joseph and his spiteful siblings).” In striving for a literal representation of what went down, Crumb relied on Robert Alter’s 2004 translated Five Books of Moses, but tweaked Alter’s prose to make it more colloquial. Alter’s translations have been criticized for a formality born of his desire to remain as true as possible to the Biblical syntax—an idea he discussed with Tablet in 2007.

Meantime, have a look for yourself at Crumb’s version of Eve, who looks a mite like Crumb’s wife, Aline.

Word Made Fresh [Bookforum]

Today on Tablet

An empty nest, and the legendary Wallace Shawn


Gwen Orel chats with writer and actor Wallace Shawn about his Jewishness. Esther Schor reflects on her son leaving home for college. And all day, we’ll be updating this blog, The Scroll.

Beware Imported Shofars!

Buy local, say Tel Aviv rabbis


Are you in the market for a new shofar? Well, bear in mind that Tel Aviv’s Religious Council is warning customers against buying ram’s horns finished in either China or Morocco, which began exporting shofars to Israel last year. The Council’s members have lots of objections: the Chinese instruments are allegedly “smeared with pig fat,” according to one shofar distributor, while the ones from Morocco (identifiable by a silver ring on the mouthpiece, apparently) are glued with polyester, which somehow renders them halachically unacceptable, according to Ynet. One rabbi, Aryeh Levin, told the paper it wasn’t so much the production as the principle: “It’s disrespectful bringing a shofar prepared by an Arab on Shabbat into a synagogue.” He said he encouraged consumers to look for shofars produced under rabbinic supervision, but guess where the two biggest rabbinically supervised shofar factories in Israel happen to be? You got it: Tel Aviv, and neighboring Jaffa.

Religious Council: Don’t Buy Moroccan Shofar [YNet]

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