Posts Tagged ‘entertainment’

Sandy Cash is back with another song, this one hailing the upcoming Free Gaza Flotilla II.

In case Allen Krasna’s masterful video editing makes you miss some of the lyrics, here they are:

HEY JEWS (parody lyrics based on the song Hey Jude by Lennon & McCartney)

Hey Jews, we’re setting sail
Bound for that big jail that’s known as Gaza.
“Flotilla” was once a word no one knew;
Here comes number two, we’re back to Gaza.

Hey Jews, don’t be afraid,
You know your blockade can’t last forever.
The Egyptians tried too, but let down their guard.
Deterrence is hard; surrender’s better.

And if we hide Iranian bombs, hey Jews, come on!
We’re all just humanitarian sailors
With ammo belts and bars of steel.
Hey Jews, get real!
Code Pink buys the same at Lord and Taylor.

Hey Jews, don’t lose your cool,
The revolution is all around you
From the Golan to Sinai’s lines in the sand.
We’ll cross overland ’til we surround you.

No matter what we smuggle in, hey Jews, give in.
We’re riding the wave of world opinion
‘Cause don’t you know when we attack and you fight back,
It tightens the noose we hold your head in.

Hey, Jews, can’t you excuse 10,000 rockets on civilians.
You’ve spent all that dough on reinforced rooms,
The whole world presumes you want to use them.


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Living the dream

Westbankmama has a post up with several bloggers’ aliyah stories (including mine) in honor of her family’s twentieth aliyah anniversary.  Read the different stories about where these women came from, how they ended up here, and the greatest common denominator: how we’re all home.  Mazal tov, Westbankmama.

And when you’re done with that, check out the latest video from Nefesh B’Nefesh.  It doesn’t bring tears to my eyes like the photos of the three jets that landed August 16th 2006, but it is sweet.  Watch, and smile.

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I love accents, and ever since hearing my father imitate his Yiddish-speaking relatives when I was a child, I’ve attempted to cultivate them for fun.  When I was a student teacher at Boston Latin School, I managed to persuade the same ninth grade English students that I was Irish on one occasion, cockney Londoner on another.  Lately, after being put in charge of an Australian client for the transcription company I work for, I’ve been walking around the house conversing in an Aussie twang (including the slightly disdainful tone that lurks behind the pronunciation of the word “Ammairrica”).

The Cap’n shared this with me the other night.  I thought it was (mostly) very impressive, and she also has YouTube videos up which purport to teach the viewer how to speak in any accent.  Okay, I think her South Carolina accent sounds straight out of “Gone With the Wind,” there is an unfortunate omission of the South African (my favorite accent in English) and Bostonian, but the Transatlantic accent (including the dreadful, toothy smile) was perfect.

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The tailor

After writing recently about the proposed ban on circumcision in San Francisco, I was both surprised and delighted to see that there is an annual Jewish film festival there (which actually claims to be the oldest and largest Jewish film festival in the world; who knew?).  Not only that, YouTube has a page dedicated to the festival which currently includes an entire six-minute film by Gordon Grinberg entitled “The Tailor,” a cleverly shot and witty short based on an old Jewish joke.  Is it black, or is it blue?  Be sure to watch it until the end, including the credits; the story doesn’t end until the screen goes black.

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I am not a jazz sophisticate, nor a fanatical jazz fan, but I grew up hearing plenty of it around my house.  Occasionally, I come across an album that I think is worth listening to, and even owning.  I remember Kai Winding’s “Dirty Dog” (only available on vinyl these days), enjoyed Branford Marsalis’s “I Heard You Twice the First Time,” and attended an early concert of Wynton Marsalis in which he introduced his piano player, Marcus Roberts, who has gone on to become a soloist and whose “Gershwin For Lovers” I own.

But not every good musician is a franchise.  (Yet.)  There are very good musicians on local scenes, and one I heard in Boston years ago, playing jazz, afro-cuban, latin, and exotica at various locales and on various wind instruments, has at last released a solo jazz album on tenor saxophone.  Here’s the blurb on the new album on the Jazz Legacy Productions website: “One of the best tenor saxophonists to come along in years.  Tim Mayer’s approach to the horn is sophisticated, passionate, and lyrical.  His big sound is warm and powerful.  Listen for yourself.  Tim Mayer is definitely here to stay!”

To listen for yourself, here’s the link.  Enjoy.

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I mentioned in a recent post that I was thinking of instituting a feature on the blog that would be a departure from the frequent politics and angst one finds in my quadrant of the blogging universe.  After some thought, I have hit on Feel-good Friday (I actually accidentally typed “Feel-food Friday”; Freud said there are no such things as errors, and I have always agreed with that).  From now on, Friday at Shimshonit will be something upbeat, funny, or extremely tasty.  We should all have something jolly to take into Shabbat with us.

So for this auspicious occasion, I’ve decided to go for funny and share my family’s recent favorite short subject, “The Ultimate Dog-Tease.”  Dog-owners will howl with recognition, and those whose feelings about dogs range from indifferent to hostile will enjoy some sadistic pleasure.

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On Sunday evening, after most of the events of Nakba Day had occurred, the Cap’n and I drove to Beit Shemesh for a little R&R.  While prowling through old grocery store (stocking up on things we can’t find in Efrat or Jerusalem), we met up with an acquaintance from our old neighborhood.  After a brief discussion of the day’s news, she told us she’d once been to a talk given by someone who was an expert in positive thinking.  Among the things he said he did to pursue a glass-half-full attitude was the following: “I haven’t read a newspaper in 10 years.  You don’t have to go looking for the news; it will come find you.”

That’s certainly true enough.  And if it doesn’t come find you, maybe it wasn’t worth hearing about after all.  Reading Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz’s interview with President Shimon Peres in last Friday’s paper did little for me but confirm my astonishment at the willful self-delusion of the Israeli Left.  (Horovitz:  So you still see Abbas as a peace partner?  Peres:  Absolutely.)  I’d actually rather I hadn’t read that.

One of my favorite blogs is Jen Yates’s Cake Wrecks.  Jen shares photos of purportedly professionally baked and decorated cakes that shock, amuse, and appall the viewer, accompanied by Jen’s barbed, hilariously witty commentary.  But after a whole week of wrecks, Jen reserves Sunday for the really professional, eye-poppingly masterful cakes, called Sunday Sweets.  These are the weekly reminders that skill, creativity, and good taste still flourish (somewhere) in the professional cake-making world.

I’ve been wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea to take a day each week and have some such thing on my blog to cleanse the psychological palate from some of the stuff that goes on in the world.  I’ll work out the details later, but to post something amusing, allow me to share the following video of one of Judaism’s premiere comedians (and fellow convert), Yisrael Campbell.  This is the second installment of a series called the Jews Report.  (You can check ’em all out on YouTube.)

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The other night, the Cap’n and I watched Timothy Spall in the 2005 film, “Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman.”  Besides being a die-hard Spall fan (I loved him in “Chicken Run,” “Topsy-Turvy,” “All Or Nothing,” and “Shooting the Past”), I had heard a friend praise the film itself.

Based somewhat loosely on the story of Albert Pierrepoint, at one time Great Britain’s premiere executioner in the final days of capital punishment, the action of the film spans Pierrepoint’s application to the Prison Commissioners, his training and longstanding employment with them, including his commission by Field Marshal Montgomery to fly to Germany to preside over the executions of Nazi war criminals.

One of the things the filmmakers sought to emphasize in the film was Pierrepoint’s ethos regarding the corpses of the hanged convicts.  He explains to his assistant that the reason he performs the task of preparing the corpses for burial himself, rather than letting the mortuary staff do it, is because he believes the mortuary staff would not treat the bodies with respect.  In a later scene, to his military assistant in Germany, he becomes indignant and irritable when they execute 13 Nazi war criminals in one day, but are only provided 12 coffins in which to bury the corpses.  (The thirteenth, he is told, is to be shrouded and dumped into a grave sans coffin.)  He vehemently asserts his belief that no matter who they were or what they did, they have paid the price and that once they are hanged, the body is innocent and should be treated with respect.  His insistence on this point convinces the assistant, who slinks off to find another coffin.

While the highly principled Pierrepoint (and I’m talking here about the film Pierrepoint, not the real one who appears to have been more self-serving and slippery) takes pride in his work, using planning and precision to effect the quickest, most instantaneous death, never concerning himself with the crimes his subjects had committed, and always showing compassion for his subjects’ fear of death (even in Germany), the job takes an increasing toll on him as time passes.  The stress he feels as a result of the unprecedented number of hangings he performs in Germany is further ramped up when he finds himself executing a man who maintains his innocence to the end (one of the historically accurate details in the film), and another, a longtime acquaintance of his, who murdered the woman who jilted him in a moment of passion.  When the film ends with a quotation from Pierrepoint’s 1974 autobiography, “I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people,” the filmmakers seek to show that Pierrepoint had become an opponent of the practice.

These two issues, respect for the corpse and capital punishment, make for an interesting paradox.  Is it possible to have both?  Are there some crimes (mass murder, for example) for which capital punishment is appropriate, and others (first degree murder) for which it is not?  Where does terrorism fall in this?  As premeditated murder, part of a genocidal movement, or something else?  Eichmann was exposed as a wholehearted supporter of the Final Solution and convicted on overwhelming evidence.  He was hanged and buried at sea.  Bin Laden was not tried, though his hand was clearly visible in the murders of 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, and after being killed in a raid in Pakistan, he too was buried at sea.  What if Khaled Mashaal or Hassan Nasrallah were to be apprehended alive?  What would they deserve?  Life imprisonment or swimming with the fishes?

And what about kavod hamet (respect for the corpse)?  Sea burial is respectable and prevents the grave site from becoming a shrine to the twisted faithful.  And publishing photographs of corpses?  The Fogel family chose to allow photographs of the bloodied family members (minus Ruth, the mother) to be posted on the Web.  The horror of reading what had happened to them was increased manifold by the photos of the corpses.  To anyone who questioned the humanity of settlers, or tried to explain away the murder of a family as “frustration” at the “occupation,” the photos bore witness to the naked savagery and boundless hatred of the murderers.  So what would publishing photos of a bullet-riddled bin Laden show?  Justice?  Closure?  Simple verification of the kill?  The comment section on a recent Westbankmama post debates the merits of this issue, and while I’m not impressed with the argument of it as a deterrent against crime or compromising the dignity of the corpse (that was buried at sea), I think perhaps its value in debunking conspiracy theories (before they fester into “facts”) is worth considering.

It’s highly unlikely that Israel will have the opportunity to repeat the capture and trial of a major actor like Eichmann again.  None of the high-profile, heavily-guarded figures who seek Israel’s destruction would have any interest in being captured alive, and while there are certainly opponents to targeted killings, I prefer them to drawn-out celebrity trials and orderly executions or imprisonment.  The German conviction of John Demjanjuk, a guard at Sobibor, the other day was suspended pending appeal, and the 91-year-old Nazi will now walk free, most likely for the rest of his days.  There’s also an honesty to simply killing one’s enemies when they’re self-professed combatants, use the language of war to describe their relationship to Israel (and everything else), and violate every law of war and humanity in working toward their ends.  The new face of war is no longer uniformed soldiers engaging a uniformed enemy and observing the Geneva Conventions.  As such, the targeting of masterminds and leaders seems appropriate, and the questions that arise in this context are no longer “whether” but “when” and “how.”

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I pay little attention to Natalie Portman on the average day.  Her all-out neurotic performance in “Black Swan” left my stomach churning, and I had to put the window down in the car on the way home to battle the nausea.  I guess that means she did a good job.

It was after seeing the movie that I discovered she was pregnant, the father being the choreographer from the film.  I have no strong feelings about this; it’s someone else’s life, and I have no comment on her intended intermarriage (they are reportedly affianced) or premarital parenthood, except to my own children.

However, I recently saw an article in the online Jewish newspaper, the Algemeiner, by an Orthodox rabbi who was reacting to some media turbulence caused by Portman’s thanking of her fiance for giving her “the most important role in her life,” i.e. that of impending motherhood.  My tendency would be to hear that speech with an “Awww, isn’t that sweet?” and move on.  But not surprisingly, there are others who can’t let something like that pass without debating it down to the last letter.

Rabbi Moshe Averick’s piece, entitled “The Natalie Portman ‘Motherhood-gate’ scandal; should we laugh or cry?”, takes to task the author of an article critical of Portman, Sarah Wildman (whose  “A Woman’s Greatest Role?” appears in the online Forward).   A career writer, Wildman shares her struggle to work through her pregnancy, through her labor even, and resume writing post-partum as soon as possible to prove to her sexist twit of a boss that women can do everything men can, AND have babies.  The reactions to Portman’s comment quoted in Wildman’s article descend into the feline, with one writer suggesting her garbage man would also have made a suitable stud for Ms. Portman’s greatest role, and another asking, “But is motherhood really a greater role than being secretary of state or a justice on the Supreme Court? Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life?”

Rabbi Averick objects to Waldman’s “wearisome (albeit sincerely written) example of what has become a cliché in feminist literature: agonizing, hand-wringing, and occasional breast-beating regarding the motherhood vs. career conflict.”  Hokey though it sounds to some people, parenthood does take over one’s life, for good and ill, and because women’s biology often forces them to choose (at least temporarily) between motherhood and career, I think the debate about those choices is inevitable and, much of the time, consciousness-raising.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again:  I think far too much attention is paid to the private lives of entertainers and athletes.  Their wealth, fame, and the scrutiny they’re under by the press make their lives anything but normal, and such people should not be held up as examples of anything to anyone, except wealth, fame, and subjection to press scrutiny.  It is also worth noting what Rabbi Averick says, that “While some dramatic presentations may very well contain meaningful messages, films and plays essentially convey distracting and entertaining illusions. Pregnancy, motherhood, and child-rearing are not entertaining illusions. They are as real as it gets.”

I fear what has happened in the wake of Portman’s speech is the same thing that happened when my alma mater (a women’s college) asked alumnae for stories about full-time mothering for a feature in the college’s alumnae magazine.  There, too, a storm broke out between women who had chosen career over family, who had continued to work and put their children in day care, and women who had chosen to shelve their careers in favor of full-time motherhood.  Never mind that those at-home moms had had their experiences and stories ignored by the magazine for decades in favor of features about career, awards, travel, and public service.  At the same time that my college’s magazine tries to stay in step with prestigious co-ed colleges (where mention of family probably makes the editor grumble, “We’re an alumni magazine, not Good Housekeeping!”), it does bother me a little that making a women’s college magazine so much like that of a co-ed’s implies that family life is un-feminist, that women don’t care any more about talking about their families or hearing about others’ families than men do (although it may be true), and that staying home and having children is dull and a shameful squandering of professional opportunities opened up by the women’s movement.  It all comes down to what we choose and how we feel about it.  My mother chose to stay home rather than pursue a career in nursing and never looked back.  Now when she and my father meet a dual-physician couple, these ignorant young women turn to my mother, assume she’s also a physician (not realizing how rare it was to find a woman in medical school back then), and ask her what her specialty is.  (I tell her to say rug-braiding, book-mending, and grandmothering, which really ARE her specialties.)  On the other hand, my mother-in-law continued to practice medicine and hired nannies to take care of the Cap’n and his brother.  (That was the right decision for all concerned, by the way.)  Thanks to the more strident elements in the anti-feminist movement, she is still haunted by her guilt for having worked outside the home all those years.

One of the most telling parts of Wildman’s article is where she asks, “If motherhood is the most important role, have we negated everything else we do? Does a woman who does not become a mother never reach an apex? What if motherhood isn’t happening — because a woman has decided to skip it or because she can’t have children? What then? Is there no important role?”  The answers, of course, are no, no, other things, up to her, and of course there is, dummy.  Done.  If Natalie Portman thinks motherhood is the most important role she’ll ever play, it is, so live with it.  She wasn’t talking about anyone else when she was up making her speech; she was talking about herself.  (I’m sometimes tempted to create an ad campaign aimed at catty chatterers, cranky feminists and other disgruntled people: It’s not always about YOU.)

I’ve been a feminist since I was a child, and will be one until the day I die.  But my feminism is about having choices, about doing as much as we can (though not always at the same time), and about confining our criticism to those who would keep us down, not to women who make different choices, or have more luck or talent or opportunity.  Women, unlike men, have been given (by God, not by men) the biology and the brains to have both children and a career.  Those who choose one or the other, or both, are to be commended, not criticized.  By the end of Wildman’s article, her words and tone seem to be more that of a woman who has already embarked on motherhood saying, “Just wait; she’ll see what it’s really like.”  Why, yes, she will, as mothers always do.  It’s exhausting and exhilarating, difficult and profoundly life-changing.  The best of luck to her.

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While I don’t condone watching The Daily Show or Stephen Colbert in lieu of reading real news sources, they often take grains of truth or news and grow them into excellent entertainment.

One of the truths many traditional Jews are aware of is the contempt and distrust with which we’re viewed by our less religious brothers.  This segment of the Daily Show shows how that contempt and distrust surface when the frummies try to erect an eruv in the Hamptons.  Enjoy.

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A friend from Newton posted this link to the shul chat list before Pesach.  It’s by a couple of Chabadniks who really potchkee the lyrics, but set it to catchy music.  (I always thought “Ashkenazi” had more music in it than “Sephardi”; now I’m convinced of it.)  My kids and I love it.  I hope you enjoy it too.

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Seven-year-old Peach’s new favorite CD is the Cap’n’s recording of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  From my perspective, it’s not the most brilliant or textured collaboration of Lloyd-Webber and Rice, but it has some clever lyrics and does some great stuff musically (like have Reuben tell Jacob about Joseph’s “death” in a country-western song, and have Pharaoh’s song about his dreams be in the style of Elvis who, the Cap’n reminded me, was nicknamed “The King”).

Peach helped me clean the kitchen on Friday and we listened to the soundtrack twice through.  I asked her a few questions about the story to get the facts straight (she could answer them all), and at the end, I observed  how devastating it must have been for Jacob to think his son was dead for years, and only be reunited with him shortly before his own death.  Peach agreed that that may have been the case but said, “But the brothers saved the Jewish people when they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites.”  How? I asked.  “Well, the Ishmaelites took Joseph down to Egypt and sold him into slavery.  Later on, he told Pharaoh what his dreams meant, and told Pharaoh to save up food for seven years.  That saved everyone from starving, including Joseph’s family when they went to Egypt because there was no food in Canaan.  If Joseph had stayed home with his family, no one would have told Pharaoh to save up food, and everyone would have died.”  From the mouths of babes (and Torah-educated babes, no less) . . .

Now I’ve just got to ask her why the Jews had to be slaves in Egypt.

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Four kids home for 2½ weeks.  ‘Nuff said.

Here’s a cute thing Aish.com put up for Pesach.  Enjoy.

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My mother forwarded this via email with the subject line, “They finally got it right.”

Well, sort of.  Jesus is still holding a bagel.  And anyone who would eat gefilte fish from a jar would probably also have Mogen David on the table (though that may be what’s in the ewer on the floor in the foreground).  I wonder why the painter (this is not Leonardo’s version; help me out if you know who painted this) didn’t have them bother to iron the tablecloth, or cover their heads.  Or be home with their families (“You’re having seder with WHO instead of us?!”).  In fact, even without the Manischewitz stuff, this is the most bizarre (supposed) seder I’ve ever seen.

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As a tireless advocate for Israel, I often get bewildered, enraged, and depressed at the insanity, hostility, and sheer stupidity of much of the human race.  A Facebook friend recently posted yet another in the series of pathetic man-on-the-street polls taken about Israel (this one in my former hometown of Portland, Oregon).

To think that these are registered voters in the most powerful country in the world is astonishing.  (That there were only 13 ignoramuses in this small sampling is cold comfort when you realize that they probably represent a good chunk of the American population overall.)

And then, to preserve my sanity, I look for a glimmer of humor (hope is too much to look for here) and remember this priceless scene from Mel Brooks’s “Blazing Saddles” (1974):

Proof of Hashem’s love for the Jews: He inspires Mel Brooks to come up with the antidote before the rest of the world comes up with the disease.

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It seems that history was made recently at the United Nations.  No, China was not kicked off the Human Rights Council (though, inexplicably, Libya was).  And no, Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has not been disinvited from his annual anti-Semitic tirade and raspberry-blowing fest.  And no new canapés have been introduced at UN receptions.

The history I refer to is the recent screening of the Julian Schnabel film “Miral” at the United Nations General Assembly.

The UN is not the usual venue for a feature film to debut.  That’s because it’s a policy-making body, and not Sundance, Cannes, or Toronto.  And while it seems that documentaries (i.e. based on fact) are occasionally screened, feature films (i.e. based on fiction, imagination, or anecdote) are not.

And as feature films go, this one would not seem the likeliest to be chosen.  It was panned by English and Italian critics who found it shallow, stilted, and just another hackneyed vehicle for demonizing of Israel.  Focusing as it does on a young Palestinian Arab girl who grows up in an orphanage, becomes a teacher in a refugee camp, and falls in love with a terrorist, it would not seem to be the most dispassionate tale one could imagine.

I’m not taking issue with a Jewish producer making a movie about a book he enjoyed by an Arab woman he’s romantically involved with.  I’m not even taking issue with the fact that it may or may not be bald-faced Palestinian propaganda.  Such a film, whether or not it has merit, should be allowed to be screened in appropriate venues and judged on its own merits.  I also support the rights of people who claim it is Palestinian propaganda to protest its screening, expose any lies in the film, and to call it a dog of a film if that’s what it is.

But what I do take issue with is the UN as an appropriate venue for this kind of film.  Films that are intended to educate, report facts, enlighten, and provide historical background, are all worthy of being screened to a body which should concern itself with reality rather than imagination.  On the other hand, films that are attempts to appeal to emotions, reinforce (dubious) conventional wisdom, or provide catharsis for the viewer, are inappropriate to be shown at the UN.

GA president Joseph Deiss was reported to like the film “and thought it could contribute to a useful and interesting discussion on a topic that has gone on for so long.”  This is revealing on a number of points.  First, the desire to spark discussion on a topic which has been discussed and discussed until the discussants are blue in the mouth seems to me more like beating a dead horse than contributing to any solutions.  And the fact that the issue “has gone on for so long” is also telling.  The UN itself, through the UNRWA, has administered the very refugee camps that are featured in the film, places where in reality, extremism, violence, and hatred of Jews fester and are indoctrinated into generations of young Arabs.  The UN itself has done more than any other body to prolong this conflict by perpetuating the refugee camps instead of doing what they were set up to do, which is to resettle the refugees and enable them to build whole lives for themselves.  Over 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands descended on Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, and sixty years (and no UN aid) later, they are fully integrated in Israeli society.  The UN High Commissioner on Refugees has operated many large-scale refugee resettlement programs, enabling an estimated 50 million refugees to restart their lives.  Yet under the UNRWA (created specially to administer the Palestinian Arab refugees), between 520,000 and 800,000 Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli conflict have not been resettled in over 60 years, even on an annual operating budget of well over $500 million (source).  If anything, showing a film like this should embarrass the UN, and the discussion it sparks should be one which questions the UN mandate itself.

If the UN wants to make peace in the Middle East, it needs to stop perpetuating the conflict through its own neglect and bloated, protectionist bureaucracy.  If it wants to make peace, it needs to stop fomenting the political divisions that are so entrenched in its own structure (the automatic majority comes to mind).  If it wants to fix this problem and get it off its desk (which seems to be a high priority throughout the West), it would do well to look at what really exists here, and not at the “art” of a scruffy Jewish American who shows up to premieres in his pajamas and hobnobs with celebrity “activists” and self-promoting Hollywood executives.

I read recently that Canadian journalist Robert Fulford is credited with saying that conspiracy theories are “history for stupid people.”  Looking at the behavior of the UN General Assembly these days, it seems that Hollywood feature films are history for international diplomats.

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With Purim on Sunday and loads to do before then, I wanted to take the opportunity to wish my readers a Purim sameach.

This Purim, as so many in past years, Israel finds itself on the heels of yet another terror attack.  But even in our sadness, we are commanded to rejoice.  While it sometimes feels as though we Jews are hanging by a thread on this planet, Purim is a reminder that attempts—large and small—to destroy us have all failed, and that while humankind may have forsaken us, Hashem never has, even when He chooses to operate behind the scenes. And that, I suppose, is worth celebrating.

The Maccabeats, a singing group from Yeshiva University, has made a wonderful video of their “Purim Song” to tell the story of Esther and celebrate the Jews’ victory with song, play, and merriment.  Enjoy.

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Cannibalistic cake

Since beginning my illustrious career as a transcriber and editor, I haven’t had much time to keep up with other blogs (including my own).  Instead, I take advantage of occasional snatches of time between finishing a file and picking up Bill, while the kids are coloring in the playroom after school, or late at night, to go on blog-reading binges.  We were in this Shabbat and I had a light cooking day on Friday, so I thought I’d catch up on Cake Wrecks.

Like me, those who agree with Jen that cake says it all (including things that would be better left unsaid) will be fascinated to hear her speculative history behind the evolution of baby butt cakes into pregnant torso cakes, and then into, well…read for yourself.  It’s rare that I find myself yelling at the computer screen (because I’ve found from experience that it doesn’t really help), but this was one of those occasions.  Enjoy.  (And then, to cleanse your palate, check out one or more of her Sunday Sweets pages.)

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Egyptian revolution blues

There’s been plenty of chatter about the protests and regime-toppling going on in the Middle East and North Africa lately.  Much of that (probably too much) has been coming from the US government, which seems to abhor a verbal vacuum of any kind, even if it doesn’t really know what to say.  One friend on Facebook, an Islamophile, is delighted to see Mubarak overthrown, and bristles at the suggestion that the Muslim Brotherhood (which glorifies jihad and martyrdom as much as Hamas or Hizbullah) might highjack the revolution and create a new fundamentalist Islamic state.

While we all wish the Egyptian people well, and hope that this revolution succeeds in laying the foundation for the democracy, freedom, and increased standard of living that they want, it’s legitimate to have concerns about the possibility of a less desirable outcome.  The peace with Israel has been a cold one, but maintained to a passable degree over the past 30 years.  What happens to that peace under a new, as yet undetermined, regime is anyone’s guess.

A couple of weeks ago, our friend and teacher, Rav Binny Freedman, was about to give the weekly English language shiur at our shul.  Before he began, he asked who sponsored the kiddush, and in honor or memory of whom.  Our neighbor said it was in honor of two friends of hers, and she added, “And so that the events in Egypt should turn out well for the Jews.”  Rav Binny chuckled, and observed that there is a tradition adhered to by the more chauvinistic Jews among us that everything that happens in the world is for the Jews.  So even though we don’t know whether the outcome will be good or bad for the Egyptians, we are obliged to see it as good for us—it just depends on how.  Will it be an easing of our lives by creating a stronger, friendlier, more cooperative neighbor who can perhaps help facilitate peace and stability across the region?  Or will it restore a former enemy to our borders, giving us a kick in the pants?  We watch and wait.

Sandy Cash, a Beit Shemesh friend and folk singer with a sharp wit, delightful sense of humor, and a knack for turn of phrase, churned out a song (from which the title of this post is taken) and video on this topic that she posted on YouTube, and that has gone viral in the last week.  (She even got written up in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post.)  For a little perspective, and a rueful (but much-needed) chuckle, here’s the song:

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After a long, dry spell of movies the Cap’n and I had no desire to see in the theatre (interrupted only by the seventh “Harry Potter” film), we splurged the last couple of weeks and shlepped to the cinema not once, but twice.

Last week saw us at the Rav Chen in Talpiot for “Black Swan.”  The review in the Jerusalem Post made it look intriguing, artful, if a little twisted.  After seeing it, I think that was very generous.  Yes, the dancing (done by Natalie Portman herself) was very good, and the story (in which she, as Nina the prima ballerina, is required to dance both the black swan and the white swan parts in a new production) potentially interesting.  But this is not an ordinary woman being asked to stretch herself to dance a challenging part; it’s a neurotic, lonely, repressed dancer thrust suddenly into the limelight (in a world that is exceedingly pressurized and competitive already) being asked to do the nearly-impossible.  None of the enticements (sex, drugs) and pressures (from her mother and the competition from other dancers) to perform the part successfully work, and she very nearly muffs it.  The catalyst that gets her over the top and enables her to perform both innocently and seductively is shocking and bizarre, and is emblematic of the confusion throughout the film between Nina’s bizarre fantasies and the bleak reality that is her life in reality.  When I studied short fiction writing years ago, we discussed in each story what happens to the main character.  What does she learn?  How does he change?  At the end of “Black Swan,” I’m not sure what Nina has learned, or whether she’s any better off for what has happened to her.  There is nothing to suggest that the demons that haunt her can be vanquished, and in fact, the viewer has reason to believe that her career and neuroses may well follow those of the previous principal ballerina’s.  I can’t remember leaving a movie theatre feeling as physically ill as after seeing this movie.  I can take a good amount of violence and psychological trauma from the movies, but I had to put down the window to breathe the fresh air (and exhaust) to calm my nerves on the drive home.

(I should note that the Cap’n, who has the toasties for Natalie Portman, commented that the movie was “very well done.”  He was not nearly as grossed out as I was, perhaps because he’s not a woman and has never experienced the ridiculous pressure to please others, be perfect, admired, the best, and beautiful all at the same time.)

A few nights of “Deep Space 9” and “The Tudors” helped slowly to draw out the poison in my soul.  But the true palate-cleanser came Sunday night when we attended “The King’s Speech.”  The Smadar theatre, located in the charming, gentrified Jerusalem neighborhood of Emek Refaim (aka the German Colony) is a small art-film house cum restaurant and bar.  It’s clearly an intellectual crowd, and the films shown there are the sleepier, more thoughtful, usually foreign films that make it to this part of the world.  “The King’s Speech” is one of the few English films that are shown there.  (They also screen French, Spanish, Danish, and others, with Hebrew subtitles.)  When I read about “The King’s Speech” on a blog, and watched the trailer online, I knew this was the tonic I would need after last week’s freak-out.  The combination of Colin Firth (whom I like) and Geoffrey Rush (whom I love) seemed too good to be true.  Even Helena Bonham Carter, whom I have grown tired of in all of Tim Burton’s films of the past few years, looked excellent.  For those unfamiliar with the story, Bertie, the Duke of York (and father of the current Queen) has a stammer which makes public speaking nearly impossible.  As a prince, he is expected to make the occasional speech, but as it becomes increasingly clear that his older brother, David (Edward VIII), is likely to abdicate to marry two-time American divorcée, Wallis Simpson, the fact that he is about to be thrust onto the throne, into a war, and in front of microphones with ever-increasing frequency, makes public speaking a necessity.  Firth plays Bertie, who (with the encouragement of his wife, Elizabeth, played by Bonham Carter) seeks help from speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush).  Their relationship develops slowly, in fits and starts, as Bertie’s father’s health declines (George V, played with bombast by Michael Gambon) and his relationship with his brother David (ingeniously-cast Guy Pearce) deteriorates.  Helena Bonham Carter’s performance was called “tart, in Merchant-Ivory fashion” in the review in the Post, but I thought it was more nuanced than that.  She was formal and clipped in her public role, but a warm and compassionate wife—as one would expect a royal figure to be.  The screenplay has an excellent balance of seriousness (Bertie’s humiliating first speech at Wembley Stadium, and his confession to Logue about some of the darker periods of his childhood) and humor, as when Bertie insists his stammer couldn’t be cured by any of the doctors in Harley Street.  “They’re all idiots,” Logue responds, to which Bertie retorts, “They all have knighthoods.”  “That makes it official,” says Logue.  Or when Logue encourages Bertie to use every filthy word he’s ever heard (which he does without stammering).  The music is also excellent, with an extremely powerful use of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

I realize, writing this, that there are similarities between these two movies.  Both Nina and Bertie have to overcome difficult obstacles in order to perform their roles (as ballerina and king, le’havdil).  It was much pleasanter, though, to see Bertie succeed with the love and support of his wife and the able help of Logue, than to watch Nina flounder helplessly with a domineering mother, a slick ballet director on the make, and no friends.  And where we’re unsure whether Nina’s success will endure or fizzle after this one triumph, at least we know that Bertie is able to function capably in the future.

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