May 20th, 2015

From Minneapolis to Minsk

Natalie Shnaiderman, of the Jewish Agency for Israel, speaks about the organization’s work in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union

By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor

When Natalie Shnaiderman was just seven years old in Moscow, Russia, her first-grade teacher asked each student, “What is your nationality?”

“There were no Jews in the class, or at least nobody actually said it, because not all of the kids knew — most of the Jewish kids were not told that they were Jews,” Shnaiderman said. “I was fortunate to know the family history, to hear Yiddish… at least I know who I am. I told [the teacher], ‘I am Jewish.’ And my teacher laughed.”

Shaiderman said she came to realize, many years later, that her teacher’s response was “probably not so negative,” the teacher was just surprised to hear “that a small girl was not embarrassed to say she was Jewish.”

Natalie Shnaiderman: When you don’t have any education, any knowledge about your history or heritage, you can’t be proud of it. (Photo: Heather Villars)

Natalie Shnaiderman: When you don’t have any education, any knowledge about your history or heritage, you can’t be proud of it. (Photo: Heather Villars)

But that experience had a profound impact on Shnaiderman at the time and she stopped saying anything about her Jewish identity. She said most Jews in the former Soviet Union only knew of their nationality because of the anti-Semitism they experienced.

“When you don’t have any education, any knowledge about your history or heritage, you can’t be proud of it,” Shnaiderman said. “Many of us thought that it was very unfortunate to be Jewish because of the reaction of the outside world.”

Shnaiderman shared her story during a recent visit to the Twin Cities, as a guest of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. She is now the Jewish Agency for Israel’s director of development and activities for Russian-speaking Jews in North America and Australia.

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May 20th, 2015

Missionary group is behind Israel film

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

A film titled The Miracle of Israel, which will show on two local TV stations in late May, is backed by a group seeking to convert Jews to Christianity.

The film’s Web site notes that the “documentary” is “a project of The Miracle of Israel Foundation. The Miracle of Israel Foundation seeks to inform, encourage and equip people to know and understand the importance of supporting Israel — both the Land and the People.”

In addition, the film — which is narrated by the late Leonard Nimoy — purports to explore “four ancient prophecies in light of modern events,” including the establishment of Israel in 1948, the “regathering of the Lost Jewish Tribes to the homeland, the “rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, and claims of the coming of the Jewish Messiah.”

A detail from an ad for The Miracle of Israel film.

A detail from an ad for The Miracle of Israel film.

“The four miracles highlighted in the film are not only distinct threads woven into the fabric and seams of the Jewish people’s survival and restoration, but some say they are proof of prophetic fulfillment that has and will impact the world as it moves toward the Last Days,” according to the Web site.

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May 20th, 2015

The youngest Shoah survivors

Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance and Hope, by Wendy Holden, Harper, 385 pages, $26.99

Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER

Eva Clarke likely is the youngest survivor of a Nazi death camp.

She was born April 29, 1945, as her mother, Anka Nathanová, sat atop a heap of sick and dying women on a wagon entering Mauthausen, where prisoners were worked, beaten, thrown and shot to death in a quarry atop a hill overlooking one of the loveliest spots along the Danube.

Anka weighed 70 pounds. Eva weighed three.

Anka had survived a death train shuttling from place to place for 16 days, its starving, dehydrated cargo crammed into locked cattle cars or open coal cars thick with black dust and human waste, including the dead, who were thrown out whenever the train stopped.

Born-Survivors-cover

Although Eva wouldn’t know for decades, two Jewish women and their infants also were on that train. Hana Berger Moran was born April 12 in a slave-labor factory to Priska Löwenbeinová, a teacher and accomplished linguist from Bratislava, Slovakia. Mark Olsky was born April 20 amid coal-car filth to 70-pound Rachel Friedman, married into a textile-business family and one of the last Lodz ghetto deportees.

Anka, a law-school student in Prague, reached Auschwitz from Terezin with her husband; earlier, she’d turned down chances to go to Britain or escape to Shanghai.

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May 20th, 2015

Editorial: Terrorism and Twitter

One sensational news story displaces another in the unending press cycle. For example, there was the brawl and shootout by outlaw bikers in Waco, Texas, on Sunday, which left nine dead, 18 hospitalized with injuries, and more than 170 arrested.

In the aftermath of the bloodshed in Waco, another shooting spree in Garland, Texas, on May 3, recedes in the popular memory. That incident occurred at an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which was organized by an outfit called the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), headed by Pamela Geller (5-8-15 AJW).

Two men from Phoenix, Ariz., wearing body armor and carrying assault rifles, arrived outside of the cartoon contest. They apparently were set to commit carnage in the cause of avenging perceived insults to the Islamic prophet; but a traffic officer working after hours as a security guard for the event shot and killed the two men.

The attack recalled the January attack by Islamist extremists on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, where 11 magazine staffers and others were murdered; that was followed by another jihadist attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, where four people were shot to death.

Regarding the attack in Garland, near Dallas, there is no justification for responding to the exercise of free speech with violence. The “Draw the Prophet” cartoon contest clearly was conceived as a provocation directed at Muslims; however, the First Amendment does not provide any protection from being offended. Americans can take offense at another person’s form of expression, but they cannot demand that others curtail their right to express themselves, even if the speech is seen as blasphemous or otherwise objectionable.

That said, Geller is a noted anti-Muslim bigot who happens to be Jewish. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Geller in its “Extremist Files” section: “relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam…”

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May 20th, 2015

Seeking justice in the face of genocide

Watchers of the Sky, available on Netflix, traces Raphael Lemkin’s quest to criminalize genocide, and the ongoing struggle for peace that continues

By MICHAEL FOX

No matter how enthusiastically a critic may commend Edet Belzberg’s artful and inspiring documentary, Watchers of the Sky, the fact is many readers will lose interest as soon as they hear the word “genocide.”

Raphael Lemkin would understand completely.

A Polish Jew born in 1900 on a farm near Bialystok, Lemkin was a student of history who became a victim of history and, ultimately, left his mark on history.

Lemkin trained as a lawyer and, remarkably, found his mission when he was just 21 — to change the legal framework for dealing with mass murder.

“Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of an individual?” Lemkin asked.

Raphael Lemkin personally lobbied dozens and dozens of members of the newly created United Nations to vote to codify genocide as a crime and to take responsibility for prosecuting future incidents. (Photo: Arthur Leipzig / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York)

Raphael Lemkin personally lobbied dozens of members of the newly created United Nations to vote to codify genocide as a crime and to take responsibility for prosecuting future incidents. (Photo: Arthur Leipzig / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York)

Lemkin was dismayed that the international community allowed the Turks to get away with massacring the Armenians. He was appalled by the tacit agreement among nations that a government operating within its own borders was free from outside intervention.

Through archival footage and photographs, onscreen text, animation and the narration of Samantha Power, author of A Problem From Hell and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Watchers of the Sky threads Lemkin’s remarkable life story into a riveting narrative that encompasses contemporary standard-bearers for international justice.

A stunningly ambitious work that achieves the level of art, Watchers of the Sky is currently on Netflix following a limited theatrical release last fall.

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May 13th, 2015

Lonely hearts meet in ‘Félix and Meira’

The slow-burning and deeply empathetic drama traces the tentative friendship and romance between a frustrated Hasidic wife and mother, and a non-Jewish man

By MICHAEL FOX

Wordlessly picking at her Shabbat dinner, the young Hasidic wife clearly wants to be somewhere else.

It’s a powerful image, because Judaism’s all-encompassing combination of family, community and ritual is typically a comfort and strength.

But what if her life is a prison rather than a haven, and an obstacle to fulfillment rather than a conduit?

That’s the crux of French-Canadian director Maxime Giroux’s slow-burning and deeply empathetic drama, Félix and Meira, which traces the tentative friendship and romance between that frustrated Hasidic wife and mother (Israeli actress Hadas Yaron of Fill the Void) and a non-Jewish man (Martin Dubreuil) who’s also at loose ends.

Israeli actress Hadas Yaron plays Meira, whose husband, Shulem (played by Luzer Twersky), is portrayed as unequipped to deal with his beloved wife’s decidedly unorthodox behavior. (Photo: Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Israeli actress Hadas Yaron plays Meira, whose husband, Shulem (Luzer Twersky), is portrayed as unequipped to deal with his beloved wife’s decidedly unorthodox behavior. (Photo: Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Félix and Meira opens May 15 at Landmark Edina Cinema.

“I didn’t want to make a film that is critical of the [Hasidic] community,” Giroux declares on the phone from Montreal. “What I want to say and show [is] sometimes you’re born in a community where it’s not the one for you. Some people are raised in a community with a religion and it’s good for them. And other people want more diversity, and their own path.”

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May 6th, 2015

P’Chotchka will celebrate inspiration

The June 1 event will benefit Rimon and feature eight artists talking about 18 images that inspire them

By ERIN ELLIOTT BRYAN / Community News Editor

For the fourth year, Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council will present its popular P’Chotchka event, a fast-paced evening of art, film and performance, on Monday, June 1 at the Metropolitan in Golden Valley. The event, a benefit for Rimon, will feature eight artists speaking about ideas or images that excite them or have inspired their artistic work.

The artists — whom Rimon has funded or presented during the past several years — are tasked with selecting 18 images, projected one at a time, and given 18 seconds to speak about each image.

“Some have referred to this as speed dating,” David Harris, executive director of Rimon, told the AJW. “The images can refer to [the artists’] own work, literally, or it can refer to ideas or experiences that have stimulated or excited them, or have been formative for them as an artist. It becomes like a visual autobiography.”

This year’s artists will be filmmaker Emily Goldberg, painter Keren Kroul, artist and educator Ethan Rowan Pope, photographer Eiden Spilker, actor and playwright Susan Stein, playwright and composer Joseph Vass, composer Adam Wernick and playwright Jenna Zark.

Keren Kroul stands in front of a piece titled “Unquiet Mind,” from her Charted Memories series of paintings. (Photo: Courtesy of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council)

Keren Kroul stands in front of a piece titled “Unquiet Mind,” from her Charted Memories series of paintings. (Photo: Courtesy of Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council)

Harris said the eight artists represent a spectrum of art forms and life experiences.

“P’Chotchka is meant to show the full range of what [Rimon does] and, more importantly, show the full range of the artistic talent in our community,” Harris said. “Our goal is to support artists in every phase of their artistic life, from research and development, from early work, all the way to supporting mature artists who have been making work for 30 or 40 years. It’s significant for us to be able to showcase several generations of art making.”

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