March 23rd, 2017

Alleged culprit in JCC bomb threats arrested

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Israeli teenager who also has American citizenship was arrested on suspicion of carrying out more than 100 bomb threats on Jewish institutions in the United States.

The American-Israeli teenager arrested on suspicion of making over 100 bomb threats to American JCCs leaving court in Rishon Lezion, Israel, March 23. (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel’s anti-fraud squad arrested the 19-year-old suspect at his home in southern Israel and searched the premises on Thursday. He also is accused of a series of threats made in Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the past six months, according to reports in Israel.

Israeli police said the teen has been the subject of months-long undercover investigation by the anti-fraud unit, as well as the FBI in the United States and law enforcement in other countries. He has lived in Israel for many years, Haaretz reported.

He appeared in court in Rishon Lezion on Thursday for a remand hearing, where he was ordered held over until March 30. His motives are unknown, according to reports.

Ynet, which reports that the teen is from Ashkelon, reported that during the hearing the teens attorney requested that he be placed under supervision after raising concern for his mental status, claiming that he might try to harm himself. The attorney told the court that the teen has had a brain tumor since the age of 14, and has been homeschooled since then. The attorney said that the tumor affects his behavior, Ynet reported.

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March 22nd, 2017

MacPhail concert spotlights Jewish music


The MacPhail Center for Music has been a cornerstone of Twin Cities cultural life in one form/name or another since 1907. Generations of area residents have studied violin, piano, voice and other forms of musical expression under the tutelage of some of the best professionals who have graced local concert stages.

However, considering Minneapolis’ long history of anti-Semitism, it wasn’t particularly known as a magnet for Jewish musicians.

Things have changed.

MacPhail faculty member Marc Levine, who will perform at the MacPhail spotlight series. (Photo: Kyle Ensride)

MacPhail Spotlight Series Artistic Director Mischa Santora has created a concert that puts MacPhail faculty members (some of whom are Jewish) in the spotlight and focuses on music that intertwines both Jewish music and a part of Europe with a strong Jewish history. From the Balkans to the Holy Land brings it all together 8 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at MacPhail’s Antonello Concert Hall. Keep reading →

March 22nd, 2017

The meaning of family

Playwright Wendy Kout looks at three generations of Jewish life in We Are the Levinsons


Playwriting and writing for television are ostensibly similar undertakings. In fact, if you’ve ever been on the set of a sitcom, it can look very much like a stage set, with bleachers set up for live audiences and much of the action of the show performed uninterrupted, like a scene from a play.

They are not the same. Wendy Kout has written for both, starting with seven episodes of Mork & Mindy in the early 80s and also creating the popular sitcom Anything But Love, which featured Richard Lewis and Jamie Lee Curtis as co-workers at a Chicago magazine who spent years battling a mutual attraction for each other.

Playwright Wendy Kout, whose play We Are the Levinsons will debut at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company in April. (Photo: Courtesy of Wendy Kout)

Kout, who authored the play We Are the Levinsons (debuting at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company on April 22), turned to playwriting in the early 2000s, frustrated with her inability to get a movie produced. Her writing partner suggested turning it into a play.

In an interview with American Jewish World, Kout expressed her relief at the experience. “It’s so nice to work in a medium where the writer’s voice is so respected,” she said. “When you write for television, you’re writing somebody else’s voice. You’re writing their stories.”

As a playwright, Kout has explored Jewish themes (and as a screenwriter; she wrote the 2011 film Dorfman in Love, which was a fan favorite on the Jewish film festival circuit.) With We Are the Levinsons, Kout looks at three generations of a Jewish family as the oldest generation nears the end of their lives. Kout also explores the meaning of family, introducing a transwoman who comes in as a caregiver and develops into a sort of adopted family member.


We Are the Levinsons runs April 22 – May 14 at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, Highland Park Community Center, 1978 Ford Pkwy., St. Paul. . Tickets start at $20 and are on sale now. Call 651-647-4315 or visit for reservations and more information.

(American Jewish World, 3.24.17)

March 22nd, 2017

How Europe remembers the Shoah

Hell’s Traces: One Murder, Two Families, 35 Holocaust Memorials, by Victor Ripp; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 206 pages, $25


A tour of European Shoah memorials might seem thin material for even a slender book, but Victor Ripp seamlessly weaves in histories of two families: His mother’s, the Kahans, who escaped, and his father’s, the Ripps, 11 of whom did not.

Unexpectedly engaging and easily read despite split verbs, Hell’s Traces shows how millions of Jews’ deaths are memorialized in monuments that often say as much about the societies that built them as they do about the Shoah.

Ripp, author of three books including Pizza in Pushkin Square, says he got nowhere trying to write a history of his Russian-origin families. Then he thought of visiting memorials for inspiration. A web search showed nearly 1,000, “clustered in Central Europe, where guilt was thick on the ground,” he says. “I was looking for memorials that conjured up stories about the Ripps and the Kahans.”

His first stop was Germany, with more than 200 memorials. A 45-minute walk among the famed 2,711 blank granite steles of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe left him uncertain of how it was a statement about the Shoah.

“Jews in the millions murdered. Families shattered, traditions desecrated,” he says. “Shouldn’t a Holocaust memorial acknowledge these facts in a way that can easily be grasped?”

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March 8th, 2017

A life onscreen

The Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival puts the Jewish experience front and center


Jewish filmmakers can be strangely touchy about Jewish subjects. Although arguably the first film blockbuster was an explicitly Jewish story — 1927’s The Jazz Singer, about a cantor’s son — it’s surprising how often films have minimized or even suppressed Jewish content.

Jewish actors changed their names and passed themselves off as Italian. As an example, there was the star of the original Scarface, Paul Muni, who was born Frederich Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund and got his start in Yiddish theater.

The Women’s Balcony, a film about Orthodox Jewish women in Israel, screens as part of the TC Jewish Film Festival. (Photo: Pie Films)

Stories that had originated as Jewish somehow became decidedly non-Jewish in their transition to the screen, such as the novel City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder by Herman Wouk, which was made into a film titled Her First Romance, with the titular city boy not only losing his religion but also swapping gender; he was now played by Margaret O’Brien.

I don’t know why this is. Herman Wouk wrote another novel with scenes set at a Jewish summer camp, Marjorie Morningstar, which was made into a 1958 movie with its Judaism intact; there is even a Bar Mitzva scene. The film opened to impressive, if short-lived, sales and was nominated for an Oscar.

Thank goodness for programs like the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival, which unapologetically puts the Jewish experience at the forefront. For 24 years, it has been making the case that Jewish stories are excellent fodder for cinema and Jewish characters are worth representing onscreen. As a result, the festival has allowed Jews to see themselves reflected back as complex and diverse.

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