The Newsletter of Fig Tree Books LLC
April 2023: Issue #41
Fredric D. Price, Founder & Publisher
BLOG: With commentary and Guest Blogs on culture & current events, plus mini-reviews of books not published by Fig Tree Books

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Purging the Jews of "Babylon", by Thane Rosenbaum

“Babylon” went out of its way to foster inclusion for every category of identity except for the one responsible for moving the nascent industry to Los Angeles, erecting studios, sound stages and an entire city to support it—in what had been a barren wasteland.
“[A]s a diagnostician, Rosenbaum is on target . . . he exposes a system that encourages lying, permits truth to be stifled and allows evil men to roam free. . . . Rosenbaum should be read by every law student in America." -- The New York Times Book Review 

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.”
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 2009 “A Serious Man,” set in 1967 Jewish Minneapolis, is a serious and often hilarious dark comedy about a Job-like physics professor whose wife wants a get. Mixing together a Yiddish fable about a dybbuk, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” his stoned Bar Mitzvah son reciting Torah, his daughter stealing from his wallet to save for a nose job, culture clashes with a goy neighbor who likes to hunt with his son and a failing Korean student whose culture includes bribing to change a grade, and conversations with Jewish doctors and lawyers, lessons with students, and meetings with rabbis supposed to understand about what to do as bad things happen to good people, the film makes us laugh at life and death and the simplicity of accepting the mystery of things. Two unforgettable scenes: First, Larry Gopnick, the physics prof who tries to teach Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle through the certainty of mathematics, climbs up on his roof to realign the TV antenna that generates fuzzy images and mixed songs/messages from the air when he suddenly sees the lovely naked Jewish neighbor sunbathing in her yard on one side while the goy on the other side plays hardball with his son. In the second, the film’s finale, Larry’s son plugs in to Grace Slick while the other Hebrew school kids stare at a very dark approaching tornado as the rabbi has trouble finding the right key to open the shelter that would protect them.
J(Y)oel Magid grew up in Jewish Brooklyn, earned 3 Columbia degrees in English Lit, volunteered on a kibbutz during the 1973 Yom Kippur War…where he became a member and wrote extensively on kibbutz life. He returned to the U.S. in 1999, serving as a synagogue Executive Director and has taught and written about literature, Israel and social issues.
Adam Resurrected is a movie that will be analyzed by film school students in the future as a prime example of the brilliance of a story adapted from another medium with a truly remarkable performance by Jeff Goldblum as well as deft directing by Paul Shrader. It takes place before, during, and after the Holocaust, and explores the effects of survivors guilt, as the lead character descends into psychosis. Despite the heavy theme, it is very watchable, especially as we see the gifts of Jeff Goldblum morph from a comedian to a person who enters a delusional world.
David Hirshberg is the author of the multiple award-winning novels My Mother's Son and Jacobo's Rainbow. My Mother's Son is now available in a flash sale on Amazon for just $1!
"Readers will find connections here to Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) and to Saul Bellow’s classic The Adventures of Augie March (1953)." Starred review - Booklist (American Library Association)
"This amazing mosaic of fact and fiction will hold readers in its grip from the first to last page." Starred review - Library Journal
Woody Allen for decades was considered a Jewish comic film genius; the only fatal flaw being his alleged treatment of women. Here, it was his onscreen treatment of Annie Hall which concerns me. Annie is a child-woman. Woody as Alvie "Singer" must teach his songbird her song; whether it's what books to read, what films to see or how to enjoy sex. In a comic reversal of the Beauty and the Beast mythology with Alvie as the Jewish "beast" beloved by the shiksa "beauty" of Annie Hall; it is Annie as the beast who breaks the heart of the sensitive, artistic Alvie--the real beauty. I don't buy this construct. As charming as Alvie was, and as hysterically funny the sequences of Annie's midwestern WASP family's prejudices; the outcome of the failed relationship was dishonest. Alvie never takes responsibility for his need to be Svengali to Annie and his inability to meet her as an equal when she inevitably matures. The fantasy that his power depends on a woman's powerlessness and the conflict that produces, permeates Allen's films after ANNIE HALL; but its roots are here. If Allen could have expanded his brilliant gift for satire to a comic vision of Jewish Patriarchy; ANNIE HALL would have begun an important reversal in his cinematic history, and possibly, his life.

Betsy Shevey has been a practitioner, performer, producer and professor of theater for decades. Highlights include designing, developing and directing theater programs at Bennington College, Goodman Theater, Lehman College, CUNY, New York Shakespeare Festival, Berkshire Theater Festival, Women's Project and Productions, Great Lakes Theater Festival, and more.
Barry Levinson, best known for “Rain Man” and “Good Morning Vietnam,” directed his comic but sad semi-autobiographical “Avalon” in 1990. Set in his home town of Baltimore, the film follows Polish Jewish immigrant Sam Krichinsky and his extended family from the time of his arrival in the US through his memory-challenged old age warehoused in a retirement home. When he arrives on July 4, 1914, Sam thinks the fireworks are meant to welcome him; later his son’s and nephew’s discount department store burns down on its own July 4 successful holiday opening day. Thanksgiving and Christmas become sometimes incomprehensible parts of the Jewish-American family’s calendar as the Family Circle also pools resources to rescue other relatives from Europe. Strong family ties weaken as the younger generation moves to the suburbs, where the oldest brother has trouble arriving on time for Thanksgiving dinner and leaves in a huff after discovering they had cut the turkey without him, a gross insult to family unity and respect. Sales of the newly invented 1950’s TV’s provide both new second generation opportunities for generating wealth (Sam and his brothers supported themselves as wallpaper hangers smoothing over and covering up the old!), while the family holiday dinners deteriorate as everyone eats around the TV set, and, finally, TV becomes a good living for the son selling TV commercials. “Avalon,” so very Jewish in all its details, captures the American immigrant experience as family ties weaken in the wake of commercialism, financial success and the strengths (?!) of American culture.  
J(Y)oel Magid grew up in Jewish Brooklyn, earned 3 Columbia degrees in English Lit, volunteered on a kibbutz during the 1973 Yom Kippur War…where he became a member and wrote extensively on kibbutz life. He returned to the U.S. in 1999, serving as a synagogue Executive Director and has taught and written about literature, Israel and social issues.
This tale of decadent Berlin on the cusp of Hitler began as a novel, then was redone as a stage play, a Broadway musical, and finally a movie– and the fact that so many versions kept finding audiences is just one proof of the story’s emotional power. (More proof: The 1972 film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Director for Bob Fosse, Best Actress for Liza Minnelli, and Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey.) The story: For the first time in her life, cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Minnelli) seems to have a chance for “normal” happiness with the English teacher Brian Roberts, a baby (perhaps not his), and a ticket for London. But Nazi uniforms are erupting around her, especially in two chilling musical numbers. The Berliners who aren’t oblivious to the Nazis are joining their salutes, and Bowles’s cabaret is no longer neutral territory. 
After an award-winning career as a nonfiction author and journalist (including writing or editing for The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and Fortune), Fran Hawthorne a few years ago returned to her childhood passion: fiction. Her second novel, I Meant to Tell You (published last fall by Stephen F. Austin State University Press), has won or been short-listed for four awards.
This 1982 Oscar-winning film, "Chariots of Fire,” is based on the true story of two British track athletes. Harold Abrahams, a Jew, and Eric Liddell, a devout Christian, are each chosen to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics and driven to win.  Harold, the son of a Lithuanian Jew, raised in early twentieth-century England, has been diminished by an Anglo-Saxon culture which stigmatizes Jews as despicable. Now, a student and sprinter at Cambridge, he continues to experience anti-Semitism by the college masters. He claims his drive to compete as a runner is for the glory of Cambridge and Great Britain, however what’s gurgling beneath is far more complex.  Eric Liddell runs and competes with every ounce of strength, as he proclaims, “to honor Jesus.” Harold, on the other hand, is not driven by religious conviction. His intense need to win, be triumphant above and beyond all others, and prove excellence despite being a Jew, is a race for revenge and a chase for self-worth. This film raises questions which out-distance Harold and Eric. Why do we run? From what are we running, and does our obsessive need to compete, win, leave others in the dust, actually restore us? “Chariots of Fire” forces us to reflect on the burn within our own bellies. Towards the end of the film, Harold poignantly mutters, “I don’t know what I’m chasing. To justify my existence? And if I win, will I?” Harold Abrahams, battling his Jewish identity, later in life converted to Catholicism.  
Esther Amini is a writer, painter, and psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice. Her debut memoir, entitled: “CONCEALED”—Memoir of a Jewish-Iranian Daughter Caught Between the Chador and America, was anointed by KIRKUS REVIEWS as one of the BEST BOOKS of “2020.”
After her breakthrough 1975 film Hester Street, where characters spoke Yiddish (with subtitles), Joan Micklin Silver’s next big feature, ten years later, Crossing Delancey, has only the bubbes speaking the Mother Tongue. The protagonist and uptown bohemian bookstore employee played by Amy Irving is aspiring to be, as it were, British. Irving’s poetry-besot Isabelle Grossman gently responds “I’m too cool for you” to the advances of the local pickle store owner played by Peter Riegert. Yet only someone not interested in the evolution of the American assimilation experience would call the film a mere romcom with a Jewish cast. The result of an under-appreciated feat, transforming from stage to screen Susan Sandler’s play of the same name, the film becomes an unusual marvel, a soft-spoken, non-talky Jewish Talky, with the wit retained and visual pleasures added. Silver’s camera moves fluently from scenes at the fancy shmancy uptown bookstore to the Lower East Side digs of Bubbe Ida, played exuberantly by famed Yiddish actress Reizl Bozyk. Bubbe’s old-fashioned matchmaking intervention finally wins the day, and by the film’s end this couple seems likely to be moving to a fast-growing suburb, there to join a Conservative or Reform synagogue. At a time when the virtues (and, yes, deep challenges) of assimilation are taking a back seat to identity politics and identity art, this entertaining cautionary tale with more than a touch of sophisticated schmaltz rewards a second and third watch.

Allan Appel has published eight novels including the National Jewish Book Award finalist The Rabbi of Casino Boulevard. His most recent is The Book of Norman, a fantasia on Jewish-Mormon relations. He is a long-time reporter at the online New Haven Independent.
"Defiance" is based on the true story of a group of Jews in Belarus who successfully defied the Nazis, hid in the forest and maintained a self-contained society while losing only about 50 of their some 1,200 members. The "Bielski Partisans" represented the war's largest and most successful group of Jewish resisters, although when filmmakers arrived on the actual locations to film the story, they found no local memory of their activities, and, for many reasons, hardly any Jews. Edward Zwick's film shows how they survived, governed themselves, faced ethical questions and how their stories can be suited to the requirements of melodrama. The story of "Defiance" has all the makings of a deep emotional experience, but I found myself oddly detached. Perhaps that's because most of the action and principal characters are within the group. The Nazis are seen in large part as an ominous threat out there somewhere in the forest, like "Those We Don't Speak Of" in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." Do I require a major Nazi speaking part for the film to work? No, but the drama tends to focus on issues, conflicts and romances within the group, and in that sense could be a very good reality show but lacks the larger dimension of, say, "Schindler's List."

Roger Ebert,
“Dirty Dancing,” written by Eleanor Bergstein and directed by Emile Ardolino is both a Catskills-set love story between teenage Frances “Baby” Houseman” and a dance instructor, and an ode to the area known as the Borscht Belt and the Jewish Alps, that spawned Milton Berle, George Burns, Mel Brooks, Henny Youngman, Joan Rivers, and even Lenny Bruce. Of note is that the song playing during the seduction scene – “Cry To Me” – is performed by the man for whom the term Soul Music was created, Solomon Burke, whose father was a Black Jew.
Alan Swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose story “Dream B Project” was appeared innFig Tree Lit.
Based on the novel of the same title by Naomi Alderman, “Disobedience” delicately and far too bloodlessly charts the intricacies of Ronit’s return to a tight religious community that no longer wholly welcomes her. One who does, though hesitantly, is Dovid (a very good Alessandro Nivola), a once-close comrade who is her father’s probable successor. Ronit also resumes her relationship with a former lover, Esti (Rachel McAdams), Dovid’s wife. The women’s reunion rapidly rekindles a passion that — with stolen kisses and progressively steamier intimacy — disturbs this world’s scrupulous order, a disruption that is more about hidebound tradition than about religious belief.

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
Since all humor is based on someone in trouble, consider poor Herman in “Enemies, A Love Story.” A ghostwriter for a rabbi, he's barely coping with the two women in his life – the Polish peasant he married after she hid him from the Nazis, and a neurotic mistress who's married to someone else – when his life is further complicated by his first wife's miraculous return from the dead. Adapted from a novel by the great Isaac Bashevis Singer, the film touchingly evokes the days when Yiddish culture flourished in a New York complete with Jewish newspapers, bakeries, delicatessens, synagogues, as well as philosophers, writers, schlemiels and schlimazels.
Alan Swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose story “Dream B Project” was appeared innFig Tree Lit.
A haunting fiction about a Jewish boy during the Holocaust who is captured by Nazi soldiers .They treat him well because of his usefulness as a Russian-speaking translator. He becomes a member of Hitler Youth and endures the scourge of listening to vitriolic anti-Semitic tirades from teachers, schoolmates and his Aryan girlfriend. You’re on the edge of your seat waiting for the shoe to drop, for Solly to be ‘outed’ and the implications of that circumstance. Riveting is too common a word to describe your attention to Solly’s predicament. Oh, did I say it was fiction? Well, it’s a true story, which makes it all the more astounding, especially when you see Solomon Perel at the end of the film. It was based on based on his autobiography Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon (I Was Hitler Youth Salomon).

David Hirshberg is the author of the multiple award-winning novels My Mother's Son and Jacobo's Rainbow.
This is precious. Everything Is Illuminated is sweetly and sublimely funny from the first delicious line of dialogue. Oh, how I've been waiting for this to arrive in Austin. While Elijah Wood is charming as ever as Jonathan Safran Foer (the real-life author of the novel Everything Is Illuminated), it's Eugene Hutz (playing Jonathan's Ukrainian tour-guide and translator, Alex) who truly steals this film. Alex is a hip-hop-lovin' Ukrainian break-dancer who, along with his grandfather, helps Jonathan find the woman who saved Jonathan's grandfather's life during World War II. The Ukrainian countryside has never looked so breath taking. I'm thinking of packing it all up and moving to the former Soviet state.The tone of the film, however, shifts when Jonathan and Alex do finally meet the woman they're looking for, and suddenly, this adorable comedy turns into a heart-breaking historical drama about a Jewish village that was annihilated during the Nazi occupation. Everything Is Illuminated is about history, heritage, and the wisdom that can be gained from uncovering the past. It's perfect.

Austin Movie Show Review
Let me say up front, I am not predisposed to enjoy a movie like this. On the contrary, as a straight WASP, the last thing I want to watch is a broadway musical or a bunch of Jews 'kavetching' about how bad they have it. That is definitely NOT what this film is about. Though the subject matter is Jewish, to say it is a Jewish film would grossly limit it's significance. It is about the human experience. Any one who has felt pain and persecution will relate to it. Therefore I say every human should love this film. It has an indomitable optimism and remarkable pathos that causes the viewer to empathize with the characters, namely Reb Tevye, played by Topol in arguably one of the finest dramatic performances ever. Considering the lack of success Topol has had with the rest of his career it would literally seem he was born to play this part. This film will most likely not be enjoyable for those looking for spoon fed, mindless entertainment or titillation, but for anyone who appreciates the beautiful things in life, it is high art. I recommend you set aside an undisturbed block of time, (use the can first, it's three hours long) when you are feeling relaxed, eat some good homemade soup and watch this masterpiece. Perfect casting, cinematography, pacing, art direction, wardrobe and best of all, an exquisite soundtrack by the great, and very young, John Williams. Listen to this movie on a powerful sound system and it will sweep you into each musical number. Especially (my favorite) the bar room dance scene. Fiddler on the Roof should be on every top 100 list that exists. Like no other movie I can think of, 'Fiddler' reaches deep into the heart and begs one to look at what things in life are worth living for and dying for.

R.T. Firefly
Tradition, ‘Tradition!’ and the Memory of Topol on the Roof

By Sarah Wildman

Ms. Wildman is a staff editor and writer in Opinion; The New York Times

A few years ago, I bought my father a T-shirt printed with the Yiddish words “Shver tsu zayn a yid” (“It’s hard to be a Jew”). The expression is something between a joke and a boast.

“Shver tsu Zayn a Yid is also the title of a Sholom Aleichem comedy, which speaks to the great Yiddish author’s particular sort of sly love for the Jewish story and weariness at its burdens. It’s the kind of phrase that might have come straight from the mouth of Sholom Aleichem’s best-known creation, Tevye the milkman, the central character of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

I thought of the expression last week, when I learned that the Israeli actor Chaim Topol, who performed using only his last name, had died, at age 87. Zero Mostel was the man on the original cast recording of the Broadway musical version of “Fiddler,” but in the 1971 film, it was Topol, with his bass baritone and barrel chest, who forever imprinted his conversations with God into the memory of Jews and non-Jews alike.
In many ways, FUNNY GIRL is the quintessential Jewish film. It is a hybrid of Jewish musical, film, comedy and vaudeville history. Its "hello gorgeous" Barbra Streisand's greeting to her Oscar for the role of Fanny Brice, was iconic of Jewish women's power and success. But was the film? A traditional rags-to-riches success story, usually told about men, marries an ugly duckling-to-swan story usually told about women. The contradiction between the two was never resolved. On one hand, Streisand, like Fanny, was a force to be reckoned with; a Jewish woman succeeding in the man's world not because of her looks, but her talent and intelligence. On the other hand, she was a typical one-man woman of her time who chose the wrong man. How do the aggressive qualities of Jewish-American success blend with the submissive qualities of loving a dominant husband? This baffling question was answered brilliantly in the performance of Streisand's songs: her soaring voice reflecting ruthless honesty, searing vulnerability, and emotional generosity. This balance however, was nowhere to be found in the script or the acting of its scenes. Ultimately, this doomed the film while the songs defied gravity.

Betsy Shevey has been a practitioner, performer, producer and professor of theater for decades. Highlights include designing, developing and directing theater programs at Bennington College, Goodman Theater, Lehman College, CUNY, New York Shakespeare Festival, Berkshire Theater Festival, Women's Project and Productions, Great Lakes Theater Festival, and more.
The spectacular critical, popular and financial success of Laura Z. Hobson’s “Gentleman’s Agreement” as a novel should be repeated by Darryl F. Zanuck’s brilliant and powerful film version. Just as the original story of the writer (character), who poses as a Jew to write a magazine series on anti-Semitism was a milestone in modern fiction, the picture is one of the most vital and stirring and impressive in Hollywood history. It should clean up at the boxoffice and bring deserved acclaim to its creators.
The film is, if anything, an improvement over the novel. This is not merely because the story has been better focused and somewhat condensed, without softening the treatment. It is also more graphic and atmospheric than the book and, more importantly, because it has greater dramatic depth and force, and more personal, emotional impact. Even the least-informed and least-sensitive filmgoer can hardly fail to identify himself with the characters on the screen, and be profoundly moved. The picture provides an almost overwhelming emotional experience and thus is not only highly topical, but truly universal.

Hobe Morirson, Variety
Joan Michelin Silver’s 1975 “Hester Street,” in English and Yiddish, adds a feminist twist to the early 1900’s Jewish lower East Side immigrant experience. Jake (formerly Yankel) has become a fast and productive sewing machine worker; he’s also shaved his beard and changed his name and clothing as he prides himself on his assimilated Americanization.  Happily in the midst of an affair with Mamie, a Polish Jewish dancer who’s been saving her money which she lends him to buy furniture thinking it’s for an apartment they would share, Jake brings over his wife and son nobody knew about to a new apartment which they also share with a Torah-studying immigrant who also works in the clothing sweat-shop. Jake pressures his innocent wife Gitl to speak English, uncover her hair and dress American and she senses quickly that he’s become someone very far from the old-world Jewish world-view and values. Gitl eventually realizes that Jake’s in love with Mamie who’s succeeded in making the cultural adjustments that Jake so admires. When Gitl and Jake divorce, the newly assimilated feminist Gitl outsmarts a Jewish lawyer and receives all of Mamie’s savings to start her new life — ironically dressed like an American but supporting their Torah-studying roommate in a new relationship as she manages to maintain old traditions in a new world.  Jake and Mamie walk off (they can’t afford to ride, Mamie says) to city hall to get married and begin their new life, starting anew financially.

J(Y)oel Magid grew up in Jewish Brooklyn, earned 3 Columbia degrees in English Lit, volunteered on a kibbutz during the 1973 Yom Kippur War…where he became a member and wrote extensively on kibbutz life. He returned to the U.S. in 1999, serving as a synagogue Executive Director and has taught and written about literature, Israel and social issues.
Quentin Tarantinos “Inglourious Basterds” is a big, bold, audacious war movie that will annoy some, startle others and demonstrate once again that he’s the real thing, a director of quixotic delights. For starters (and at this late stage after the premiere in May at Cannes, I don’t believe I’m spoiling anything), he provides World War II with a much-needed alternative ending. For once the basterds get what’s coming to them. From the title, ripped off from a 1978 B-movie, to the Western sound of the Ennio Morricone opening music to the key location, a movie theater, the film embeds Tarantino’s love of the movies. The deep, rich colors of 35mm film provide tactile pleasure. A character at the beginning and end, not seen in between, brings the story full circle. The “basterds” themselves, savage fighters dropped behind Nazi lines, are an unmistakable nod to the Dirty Dozen. And above all, there are three iconic characters, drawn broadly and with love: the Hero, the Nazi and the Girl. These three, played by Brad PittChristoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent, are seen with that Tarantino knack of taking a character and making it a Character, definitive, larger than life, approaching satire in its intensity but not — quite — going that far. Let’s say they feel bigger than most of the people we meet in movies.

Roger Ebert,
This romantic comedy is witty, funny, and sweet, but it does show its age where the female lead is concerned. At its best, Keeping the Faith sheds light on Catholic and Jewish customs, poking fun while staying respectful: The faith of its two lead characters are never in doubt while viewers get to laugh with Jake and Brian as they struggle to live up to their ideals. Amid a classic romantic triangle, the movie has some good things to say about the importance of maintaining tradition ("it's comforting to people") while trying to connect to people in changing times. The cast is great. If Norton and Stiller really were a priest and a rabbi, there's no doubt they'd invoke the excitement shown by mass and synagogue attendees in the film. Anne Bancroft is terrific as Jake's mother. But dated aspects of the movie bring down the enjoyment level, especially the sexist story arc for Anna who needs to overcome her "flaw" of being too ambitious (and too single). Families who do watch together should take this as an opportunity to discuss their own views of religion and interfaith relationships.

Common Sense Media
“Life Is Beautiful” deservedly won three Oscars in 1999 for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Roberto Benigni, who also directed), and Best Original Dramatic Score. The film explores the tension between optimism and the hopelessness of the Holocaust through the character of Guido, a Jewish-Italian husband and father who continues his playful ways, including slapstick comedy, while interned in a concentration camp with his wife and little boy. His goal was purely to protect his little boy’s spirits. While the film avoids explicit violence, the bleakness and comedy are a jarring and risky juxtaposition, but one that this viewer found achingly profound.

Judy Gruen is a regular columnist for the Jewish Journal and the author of several books, including the highly acclaimed memoir, The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love With Faith. She is also a non-fiction book editor and writing coach. Read more of her work at
Unsurprisingly, Schindler‘s List combines two elements of Steven Spielberg‘s films with which we have become accustomed, so much so that we may discount his genius both for technical virtuosity in the art form and his skill as a masterful storyteller. While this attenuated format makes it difficult to elaborate on both items, what elevates the film to the category of masterpiece, even without referencing seven Academy Awards, is the challenge of content. And while the story of a reprobate man rising to an awesome moment of defiance and courage is now familiar, that prospect continues to offer supreme ethical challenges for our time, at any and every time. To wit, what would we do in the position of a Schindler when our intervention to save lives, be it subtle or bold, would simultaneously put our own and our families at risk? That stark message and, if we be honest, our uncertainty of what we should or would do means that Schindler’s List will never lose its haunting relevance. I am reminded of a comment attributed to the World War II refugee from Germany, Rabbi Joachim Prinz. “Hitler’s great genius was that he made it possible for people to participate in murder simply by doing nothing.“ What would we do? What are we doing? 

Michael Zedek is Rabbi Emeritus of two synagogues, one in Kansas City and the other, Chicago. He currently serves as Rabbi in Residence at St. Paul School of Theology and has a book available for preorder on Amazon, Taking Miracles Seriously: A Journey to Everyday Sprituality.
Without the use of even a single frame of archival footage, Claude Lanzmann's monumental documentary “Shoah” melds interviews with survivors, witnesses, and even ex-Nazis to create a devastating reminder of the heinous phenomenon known as the Holocaust. Even more troubling in this age of Holocaust denial, the 9 1/2 hour film makes it far too clear that the hideous anti-Semitism that fueled the genocide of six million people continues to this day. 

Alan Swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose story “Dream B Project” was appeared innFig Tree Lit.
Between the early 1970s blockbusters, American Graffiti and Jaws, Richard Dreyfuss shined in his first starring role in the film adaptation of the Canadian writer, Mordecai Richler’s novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravetz. Bitingly satirical, it is a film that holds up almost too well in today’s time of the climb for status and cash. A high-energy, brash Jewish Montrealer, Duddy obtains a summer job at a kosher resort. His French-Canadian girlfriend at the hotel takes him to picnic on a lake; the stunning beauty there marks what film writers call “the inciting moment.” In the crisp air he inhales his uncle’s dictum: “a man without land is nothing.” Duddy’s rapid and unscrupulous rise to land baron crashes in the inevitable fall but the ride is a rollercoaster of fun and wry observations. Richler earned an Oscar nomination for the screenplay; the film and book brought him a worldwide reputation.
Howard Kaplan is the author of six Middle East novels. His recently published, The Syrian Sunset, is about the Syrian Civil War, the failure of the West to save the Syrian people, and how that inaction against the Russian incursion in Syria emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.
The Book Thief, a 2013 film directed by Brian Percival and starring Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson is based on the 2005 novel of the same name authored by Markus Zusak. Death is our occasional narrator advising us, the viewers, to anticipate the impending demise of some of the characters we come to know. With this as a backdrop, innocent life seems undaunted even as Nazi terror – the ultimate partner to Death - confronts ordinary Germans and Jews in the small town where Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) a young orphaned girl is adopted by a loving older German couple. 

Liesel shows us throughout our time with her that to her, words matter. Mute when we first meet her, she becomes more and more animated as she adjust to her new home. She develops a strong relationship with her new father and to the boy next door. Although she cannot read, she values the written word enough that she finds a way to steal books and keep them close and hidden. Eventually, her new dad, and later the young Jewish man who was hidden in their basement, teach her to read. 

Some who have critiqued this film have been rather harsh in describing it negatively as simplistic and childish. I think that is quite the point – for the simple German– the Nazi regime was an insurmountable and powerful evil. What they could do was go about their business quietly doing small good deeds, avoiding larger confrontations that would only result in bringing danger to themselves and their families. Leisel and her family were simple and decent in their thoughts, and righteous in their deeds. They hid a young Jewish man in their basement sharing what little food and resources they had. This because it was simply what was right. 

This film showed the challenges of life during devastating and terrifying times. Death hovered and took what death took – there was no moral ground or logic to that.

Boomer, Dr. Fran SLP (Speech Pathologist), retired prof, sometimes writer, always grandma, Franma to step grandkids (dont like "step"), family, community, dogs rule.
"The Chosen" retells one of the most dependable stories in literature, the story in which two people from different backgrounds overcome their mistrust and learn to accept each other's traditions. These stories usually work best when the audience is in sympathy with both sets of traditions; this is not the right time, for example, for a movie about a Moonie learning to get along with a follower of the Ayatollah Khomeini. In "The Chosen," one of the heroes is the son of a progressive Jewish intellectual, and the other is the son of a Hasidic rabbi. I'm never quite sure what this genre is trying to prove. What does it say when people from radically different backgrounds learn to respect and love one another? That the backgrounds are interchangeable? That one's own beliefs aren't as important as a kind of amorphous ecumenism in which we're all brothers? The problem is, in the real world, people generally don't get that wishy-washy about the things that concern them.
Nor should they, perhaps. Maybe that's what's disappointing about "The Chosen": It seems to argue that beliefs are interchangeable in the face of human universality, when in fact our beliefs are what make us human, and the knack is to respect the other person's differences, not pretend they don't really matter.

Roger Ebert,
Throughout the movie, it's the hopefulness that is constantly being expressed that makes this all the more sad to watch - because, of course, we (the viewer) know the hopelessness of the situation; we know how it's going to end. The story is based on a stageplay which was in turn based on the actual diary of Anne Frank, whose family (being Jewish) went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland in 1942, sharing a very small space with several others. As the title implies, the movie is largely about Anne. We watch her grow up in this claustrophobic setting - starting at age 13 and spending more than two years there until the group was discovered. Starting out as a child with a natural rebellious streak, Anne grows into a young woman, falling in love with a young man sharing the living quarters. Millie Perkins was excellent as young Anne, and I was impressed with Joseph Schildkraut as her father Otto, who was in the end the only survivor. The movie begins and ends with his post-war visit to the place where they were hidden, and his grief at being the only survivor among his family is powerfully portrayed. In general, all the performances in this were quite good, and there was a believable portrayal of the difficulties involved in so many people sharing so little space under such stressful circumstances, and there are a number of very suspenseful moments involved. It's a very moving story.

SDDavis63, IMDB
Spielberg and his co-writer Tony Kushner(who worked with Spielberg on "Munich," "Lincoln," and "West Side Story") avoid the fundamental mistake that hobbles so many film biographies (and autobiographies), which is to try to cram every single moment that people might've heard of elsewhere into two-plus hours, making it impossible to linger on any one thing. Kushner and Spielberg (taking his first screenplay credit since "A.I.") refashion the director's life as a work of fiction. That lets them simultaneously tease and nullify a thought that viewers would have had anyhow: How much of this actually happened? And it lets them concentrate on a few milestone moments that have been reimagined for a Hollywood feature aimed at the broadest possible audience, and tie everything back to intertwined questions that any viewer can relate to: How do you define happiness? And is it possible to achieve it without hurting anybody else?
The answer, as it turns out, is no. All of the characters in "The Fabelmans" can be divided into three categories. Some realize they are unhappy and do their best to change their situation. Others remain unhappy because they aren't bold enough (or ruthless enough) to take the necessary steps. And a lucky few don’t worry about it because they’re already happy. 

Matt Zoller Seitz,
This day in 1927, Oct. 6, made TIME’s list of “80 Days That Changed the World,” and with good reason: that evening marked the premiere of The Jazz Singer, the “talkie” that sits at the transition point between silent movies and a Hollywood where sound is as important as sight. The Jazz Singer was the first feature-length movie with spoken dialogue and — though it was neither the first sound on film nor the first film with talking throughout, and its minstrel-show plot doesn’t exactly stand up to modern scrutiny — it was one of the most important movies ever made. As Richard Corliss wrote, explaining the date’s presence on the list:
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” cried Al Jolson halfway through The Jazz Singer. Jolson’s urgent, boastful bray–an ad-libbed intro to his rendition of Toot Toot Tootsie–cut through the opening-night audience at the Warner Theatre near Times Square like an obstetrician’s scissors severing the umbilical cord to silent films, for 30 years the dominant screen language.

Lily Rothman,
The Pawnbroker [based on the novel by Edward Lewis Wallant] is a painstakingly etched portrait of a man who survived the living hell of a Nazi concentration camp and encounters further prejudice when he runs a pawnshop in Harlem. Rod Steiger (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1965) plays the embittered pawnbroker, and his personal credo is a reflection of his past experiences. He has lost his faith in God, the arts and sciences, he has no discriminatory feelings against white or colored man, but regards them all as human scum. Such is the character of the man whose pawnshop is actually a front for a Negro racketeer, whose main income comes from the slums and brothels. There is little plot in the regular sense, but a series of episodes spanning just a few days of the present, which recall many harrowing experiences of the past. By the very nature of the subject, the pic is dominated by Steiger, and indeed virtually must stand or fall by his performance. He knows most of the tricks of the trade, and puts them to good use. Although appearing only in three scenes, Geraldine Fitzgerald makes a deep impression as a welfare worker who almost succeeds in getting through to him, but at the last moment he refuses to weaken.

Roman Polanski's heartfelt and high-minded Holocaust movie - based on the true-life memoir of Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman - arrives garlanded with the Cannes Palme d'Or and a widespread, respectful sense that here is a very substantial work. Seeing it for the first time at the festival I was restive at a certain plodding historical worthiness. A second viewing, however, discloses more than ever just how stunning is the work done by Polanski's cinematographer Pawel Edelman, and also the excellence of Allan Starksi's production design and Christian Kunstler's painterly digital effects. Maybe Ronald Harwood's dialogue is a bit stately and stagey here and there, but that is an allowable by-product of the film's sheer, sustained seriousness.
Gaunt Adrien Brody plays Szpilman, a famous pianist who at the moment of the 1939 Nazi invasion is broadcasting live on Warsaw radio; the studio is blown to pieces - an inspired image for the impingement of life on art. He and his family (Maureen Lipman and Frank Finlay are the querulous parents) are moved into the notorious ghetto. They refuse to join the Jewish ghetto police - collaborators who affect grotesque Hitler moustaches - but Szpilman's celebrity nevertheless allows him to pull strings; he gets his firebrand brother out of detention, gets a work permit for his father and just as his family are loaded on to the cattle trucks headed for Auschwitz, Szpilman is hauled off and allowed back into the devastated city, to fend for himself and deal with his survivor-guilt as best he may.

Betsy Reed, Editor, Guardian, US
Call me a glutton for the slapstick, the broad, the good-hearted, and the clever, but if I’m marooned on the proverbial desert island with only one movie to watch over and over, give me Mel Brooks’s directorial debut, his whacky black comedy from 1967, The Producers. Everybody is over the top – especially the wonderfully yoked stars, Gene Wilder as a naively neurotic young accountant Leo Bloom and Zero Mostel as a fast-talking jaded producer Max Bialystock. Together they concoct a financial scam for the world’s worst musical – beginning with a goose-stepping Busby Berkely quality dance number called “Springtime for Hitler and Germany/Winter for Poland and France “; the musical is sure to fail for investors but reap a big profit for the producers. Of course the opposite occurs in no small part because in slinks Hitler in the person of Dick Shawn’s character, Lorenzo St. Dubois, or L.S.D. His portrayal of the Fuhrer is so completely stoned that the audience begins to think – and they’re right! – that this is a satire, and they adore it. So do contemporary audiences, although when the film debuted it was considered by mainstream savants so bad for the Jews, chock full of too much inside Broadway Jewish humor, crude performances, and marred by the clunky mistakes of a first-time director, that Peter Sellers (who had considered playing the part of Leo Bloom) took out an ad in Variety defending it and urging wide release. Thank the Jewish Movie Gods. A stage musical ensued and then a movie version of that, but the original is the mother lode, a story with so much inspired chutzpah and performances so topsy-turvy that just keep going, they make for a script of true comic genius, for which Brooks rightly won the Academy Award.

Allan Appel has published eight novels including the National Jewish Book Award finalist The Rabbi of Casino Boulevard. His most recent is The Book of Norman, a fantasia on Jewish-Mormon relations. He is a long-time reporter at the online New Haven Independent.