Jewish Arts

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In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he told JNS.org. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels ($2.36 million) a year into the local cinema industry and shells out millions more to international companies filming there, and his office is decorated with posters of films produced and shot on his watch in Jerusalem. This week, the fund announced the opening of its newest frontier. Beginning this year, it will connect Israeli content creators with three major North American animation studios to turn local intellectual property into globally marketed television series.

“When it comes to apartheid, Israel sucks.” It’s a key quote delivered by American comedian Brad Stine, a devout Christian and a featured personality in the new documentary film “Hating Israel: In Search of the Truth Behind BDS.” The premiere of the film produced by Laurie Cardoza-Moore—founder and president of the Christian Zionist organization Proclaiming Justice to the Nations—was held in Jerusalem on June 8. Stine shapes his opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while traveling throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. He carries out a series of interviews with Jews, Christians, and Muslims to get their thoughts about what life is really like. The comedian is hopeful that his humorous interviews will be an effective tool to help the film's viewers digest a serious message. “Humor helps people ‘take the medicine’ of a documentary,” Stine tells JNS.org.

“Most bizarre” and “most trashy” are just some of the categories that made the 5th annual Berlin Music Video Awards (BMVAs) stand out. The indie awards event was founded by Aviel Silook, an Israeli man who sought to provide an open platform for celebrating video and performance acts from across the globe. “Bizarre” and “trashy” also describe some moments during the recent 2016 BMVA finale, where Silook stood wearing a black spacesuit of sorts, and looking nervous and proud as he beheld his creation: beautifully and creatively dressed internationals networking around the art of making music videos. As some mingled outside in the party atmosphere, others stayed inside the theater to watch the off-the-wall, uber-creative, and sometimes hyper-sexual winning videos. Performance acts included a trashy nude performance by Stephen Paul Taylor and a bizarre musical performance by Lizzy and her drum-set dress. So how did this Israeli immigrant to Germany dare to make such a loud cultural impact? Silook shares his story with JNS.org.

Squeals of laughter and high-spirited traditional Ethiopian dancing, coupled with deep and mournful cries of loss and pain. The piercing sound of bullets whizzing above a soldier’s head. The quiet smile of a night under the stars with your fellow comrades. “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew,” the latest production from the film-focused educational non-profit Jerusalem U, is the story of an intrepid and introspective young Ethiopian-Israeli soldier. The film, which debuted last month, is a spinoff of Jerusalem U’s previous documentary, “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front,” which followed five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) recruits, including Mekonen Abebe, through their military training. “Mekonen” follows up by honing in exclusively on Abebe, a young Ethiopian shepherd who overcame financial and familial hardships to realize his dream of becoming an officer in the IDF. “I decided to participate in ‘Mekonen’ to be there for others who need hope,” Mekonen Abebe tells JNS.org. “It’s to give the weaker segment of society, those who are struggling, an example that you can win from nothing.”

Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film directed by Eyal Resh. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. “Telling Israel’s Story” seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. Spinning shots depict the natural beauty of Israel’s geography and landmarks. Viewers glimpse the religious passions underlying the society; the business and artistic ventures for which Israelis are known; and the violence that all too often puts Israel in the news. Sirens blare as a rocket streaks across the night sky. But when the rocket is later revealed to be part of a festive fireworks show, the music and montage resume with renewed vigor, depicting the celebration of life that underlies Israeli existence. “I see it as my responsibility to use my abilities to change Israel’s image in the U.S. and the world,” Resh tells JNS.org.

Three Israeli real estate brokers, developers, and property managers based in Brooklyn were in the heart of the real estate boom prior to the big bust of 2008. They were buying dilapidated properties, renovating them, and then reselling them—usually to people who could only obtain loans through the controversial government-backed programs that encouraged property ownership even for those who could not afford it. What they saw were greedy mortgage brokers, shady developers, and likely inept or corrupted appraisers, and they witnessed firsthand the dealmaking on the ground to get these properties sold. It inspired them to write a screenplay and develop a story to share with the world—the 2015 movie “The Closer.” Eli Hershko, Isaac Broyn, and Victor Baranes have elevated themselves from unknown real estate entrepreneurs to the competitive world of Hollywood and the indie film market, writes film reviewer George Bishai.

There’s no one label for the deep, spiritual, funky, fun, and eclectic tunes of one of the hottest new Hassidic funk bands, Zusha. “What are we? What are you?” asks band member and guitarist Zachary Goldschmiedt, 24, over coffee in Jerusalem. Yes, they’re Jewish and Orthodox, with long beards and soulful eyes, but that’s where the labels stop. Zusha’s music is tough to define. Some call it hipster, others dub it Hassidic soul. It’s probably a combination of both of those genres. The band is in the midst of an international tour, celebrating its latest and second album, “Kavana,” which means intention in Hebrew. 

“What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site of the Jerusalem Biennale, as part of an installation called “Betrothal.” With exhibits taking over seven of the city’s most interesting public spaces, the Biennale adds a fresh dimension of culture and innovation to the city’s more traditional Sukkot activities.

These are Israeli folk songs as you’ve never heard them before. And that’s exactly the point: Los Angeles-based cantor Elisa Waltzman’s debut album seeks to bridge a gap between traditional Hebrew music sung by her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and the musical sensibilities of her kids growing up in the United States. Set to a jazz ensemble, it combines verses remembered by children of the Holocaust with a modern sound familiar to Jews in the English-speaking world. But besides spanning generations, “Reinvented: Hebrew Songs for Families” is a family affair.

The 94th installment of Harvey Rachlin's comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

The 93rd installment of Harvey Rachlin's comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

The 92nd installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

In July 2014 in Jerusalem, sirens over the city at the beginning of the 50-day Gaza war forced the cancellation of the outdoor opening event of the Jerusalem International Film Festival. The festival went on despite several schedule changes and film celebrities who were last-minute no-shows, but the usual festive atmosphere was distinctly muted. This year, the July 9-19 festival was not without controversy, but bore none of last year’s tensions, with both the opening and closing events drawing large crowds at the Sultan’s Pool venue just below the walls of the Old City. This year’s most controversial film was “Beyond The Fear,” a documentary about the personal life of Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence in prison for the assassination of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

The 91st installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

The 90th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

When Shahar Dori left his Haifa home at age 17 and made a 6,500-mile trip to Montgomery, Ala., to attend a summer ballet program, he was pursuing a dream. But he had no idea where it would lead. Dori, now 23, is the first Israeli ballet dancer to join the Houston Ballet, where he is earning recognition as a rising talent in the fiercely competitive ballet world. His journey from one port city, Haifa, to another, Houston, is a story of hard work, sacrifice, and the generosity and closeness of the Jewish community.

The 89th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters. Best-known for his slapstick humor, Lewis has made arguably as significant of a mark in philanthropy. As former national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he raised more than $2 billion and hosted a Labor Day l telethon for more than 40 years. “I think many people in later years associated [Lewis] much more with the telethon than with his comedy. This work makes a perfect companion to his work as a comedian and shows that laughs by themselves are not enough in life,” said Lawrence Epstein, author of “The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America.”

The 88th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

The 87th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.