Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jerusalem's best-kept secret

 More of the wonders of Israel

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Outrageous Sophie Tucker

     Its seems the Jewish Film Festival in New York has gone on for weeks. Two weeks to be exact. This year every film I have seen has been a good one. So far, anyway. The last film I saw was on Sunday. It was called The Outrageous Sophie Tucker produced by Lloyd and Sue Ecker. I had heard of Sophie Tucker a few years ago when the Jewish film festival showed a film about Jewish women in comedy called Making Trouble.That  film  recounted  her life more than  her career. This film told more about her career than about her life.
       When I stood in line before the film I really did not know what to expect. There was a mix of old and young, but mostly older. An older woman in line in front of me commented how it was too bad that Sophie Tucker was not there to see how many people were there to see the documentary about her. The man behind me in line commented "Oh she knows, she knows" . Certainly a fun way to herald the showing of a documentary about a woman I knew little about except for the fact that she was an icon to many of a previous generation.
        Sophie Tucker was born in Russia in 1886, and moved with her family to Hartford , Connecticut when she was an infant. Her family was orthodox and was not happy when she decided to become a performer. Eventually they did accept her path, but it took awhile.
        Sophie Tucker first performed in black face because club owners thought she was too ugly to perform as she was. Eventually that went by the wayside. Like Al Jolson she performed Jazz music. She was the forerunner and mentor of Mae West. She performed in Barbara Walters' father's club. Barbara Walters was interviewed  in this film. It was wild. Tony Bennett was also interviewed as well as Mickey Rooney , Kaye Ballard and other old time celebrities.
          During the prohibition era the clubs were owned by mobsters so Sophie Tucker was friends with mobsters like Al Capone so she could perform. She was friends with seven presidents including John F. Kennedy .
           I am not so sure that I am into the old style music that Tucker performed, but her celebrity is quite impressive. She befriended her fans wherever she went. She kept scrapbooks of her career. There are more photos of her with celebrities that fictional Forrest Gump had. She portrayed a warmth onstage that her audience could not get enough of. She was written to as much as any glamour girl was by soldiers during World War II. One Jewish soldier from Brooklyn named Al brought a record of her singing Yiddishe Mama with him to the army and would continually play it to the annoyance of his fellow soldiers.His goal had been to play this record in the streets of Berlin when they got there. He died during combat before he was able to realize his dream, but his friends did this for him when they later reached Germany.
             Watching this documentary made me feel a little bit like someone who was late to the party because I only saw snippets of her career instead of full performances. It does however give me a glimpse into her celebrity and  make me want to read more about her . The Eckers, who produced the film have also written a book about her which is available on amazon which deals with her youth , to be followed by two more books. I plan on reading them. They also plan on making a broadway show about her which is cool because Sophie Tucker was all about stage presence.
            I always like a film that is informative as well as one that makes me want to pursue more knowledge about its subject. This film succeeds on both counts.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

     I saw the film GETT ; The Trial of Viviane Amsalem at the Jewish film festival in New York City.  What a film. The film deals with an Israeli couple. The woman wants a divorce but the husband still loves her and does not want to let go and give her a divorce. The case goes on for five years. Most of the time it does not take so long to have a get given but when it does  the bitter side  of frumkeit is exposed.

  The film was first released in Israel three months ago. Divorce courts in Israel are closed to the public so for many this is the first time they had seen these proceedings. The film does not say that there should not be a gett process it just presents the issues that come up often and that have prevented so many from being able to get divorced and move on with their lives.
      The film has made quite a stir in Israel, so much so that it will be shown on February 13 at a rabbinical convention.
      What I find so interesting about this film is that it was made by a brother and sister. It is a very interesting dynamic.I felt that the film was made out of love and hope and not as a way to slam Jewish law, more as a means for dialogue and resolution.  After the screening there was a question and answer session with Shlomi Elkabetz. It is the first film about this subject that has finally forced the rabbinical courts to take notice .. I think that this is due to the respectful way that the film has portrayed this delicate issue. Of course we do not yet what impact the film will actualize, but we can only hope.

Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

        I watched this show yesterday and I was blown away by it. It would not be on TV these days for several reasons. Joan Rivers is interviewing a child psychologist and Jerry Lewis. Lewis is in favor of spanking his kids.  I  found an interesting snippet while watching this . Jerry Lewis who grew up performing in the Catskills and attending orthodox shuls says on live TV in 1968 that he prefers to wear a yamulke in shul while davening because he grew up going to orthdox shuls. He says this 4 minutes into this clip. This is all quite curious when one looks at the secular Jewish life that Lewis has lived. It just goes to show you that there always is that spark of a Jew within a person no matter how much one has strayed. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Go2Films- SHTISEL trailer

      Now that Srugim is over I have been looking for another good Israeli TV show. Enter Shtisel.  Shtisel can be viewed in Hebrew on you tube . It can also be seen on Monday nights in January and February at the the JCC of Manhattan.
      Shtisel is a show about a charedi family in Israel. The matriarch has passed away and the widower father lives with his single son . The father is trying to find his son a good shidduch and the son is more open minded about who he is looking for . He is interested in a divorced mother of one of his young students . The widower's daughter's husband has left her and their five kids, The widower's mother lives in a nursing home and watches The Bold and the Beautiful.
      The nice part of the show is that its not preachy about being religious nor is it pro rebellion. It is a simple story about a family with lots of drama. Its not the same as what Srugim was to me. Watching Srugim was like watching my life. Shitsel is however an amazing Israeli television show. It is unlike anything I have seen on American tv.
      Watch Shtisel on you tube, Watch Shtisel at a Jewish film festival or community center, or by the series online. The venue is not important. Just watch it. You won't regret it.