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The Kindergarten Teacher Who Won Cannes

Hungarian actor Géza Röhrig stars in Auschwitz drama Son of Saul

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(Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images)

“Before I read the script, I thought: this is inaccessible,” Géza Röhrig pronounced in his melodious and reedy Hungarian-accented English. The enigmatic and austere star of Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes’ luminous Saul Fia (Son of Saul) was an implausible celebrité at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It was several days before the critically acclaimed—and divisive film—would be garlanded with the Grand Prix as well as the International Federation of Film Critic’s Fipresci prize. Röhrig was pressed up against a small glass coffee table along with several journalists in the glitziest hotel of Canne’s Promenade de la Croisette, a bizarre place to conduct an earnest conversation about the experience of portraying an obsessive Sonderkommando inmate in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Set against the backdrop of the Allied march on the camp in the autumn of 1944, the film unfolds over 36 hours as the doomed prisoners plot a rebellion before their own imminent liquidation by the Nazi guards. The eponymous Saul Auslander is also on a manic quest to locate a rabbi to pronounce Kaddish over the body of a boy who may or may not be his son.

That this role fell to a former kindergarten teacher is a fact no less remarkable than anything else about the movie. Röhrig explained that he and Nemes knew each other from Hungarian film circles, and other actors offered the part wanted more money. The man whose performance carried one of greatest films of the year at Cannes is a semi-amateur, whose last acting experience in a Polish film was several decades ago, when he was in his early twenties.  (more…)

Likud Lawmaker Sponsors Bill Mandating Arabic Education in Israeli Schools

Support pours in from left and right, as well as Israeli President Rivlin

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(Shutterstock)

It’s safe to say that Likud MK Oren Hazan never expected to be in the Knesset at all. Ranked 30th on his party’s list, in a slot reserved for a youth candidate, Hazan was never projected by any pre-election polls to make it into Israel’s parliament. But after Likud’s surprisingly decisive victory garnered it 30 seats, Hazan found himself the beneficiary of the party’s electoral fortune. And this week, he began to flex his legislative muscles with a surprising proposal that has garnered support across the political spectrum: a bill that mandates early Arabic language education in Israeli schools.

Hazan, 33, is a bit of a loose cannon, and certainly no bleeding heart. He lives in the controversial settlement city of Ariel, and is the son of conservative former Knesset member Yehiel Hazan. Earlier this year, the younger Hazan submitted a false Gaza war testimony to the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, with the aim of exposing their purportedly poor collection methods. (The ruse failed.) This background makes Hazan an unlikely champion for coexistence education reform, but that is the subject of his first major bill.

Hazan’s legislation would require Arabic to be taught in Jewish schools beginning in the first grade. “Just as you won’t find an Arab citizen who doesn’t know Hebrew after completing 12 years of formal education,” he said, “so too, it’s inconceivable that we maintain a status quo in which a Jew who has completed 12 years schooling doesn’t know how to speak Arabic.”

Hazan’s proposal also includes a parallel Hebrew program for Arab schools, though as he noted, most Arab citizens of Israel learn Hebrew as a manner of course.

Learning Arabic, Hazan wrote in the bill’s text, “will allow students and citizens to understand one another.” Moreover, he added, “knowing the language of the other is the basis for understanding and mutual respect, which are necessary in the current situation in Israel.”  (more…)

Palestinian Football Authority Withdraws Motion to Suspend Israel’s FIFA Membership

‘It is time to raise to red card to racism. In Palestine and everywhere.’

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Jibril Al Rajoub (R) shakes hands with Ofer Eini during the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, May 29, 2015. (Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

The vote on a motion to suspend the Israel Football Association from FIFA didn’t end up happening at the organization’s congress today in Zurich, much to the relief of newly re-elected FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

When it was time to address the Palestinian proposal to suspend Israel’s membership with FIFA, the Palestinian Football Association decided to withdraw the motion. Jibril Rajoub, head of the PFA, addressed the decision by announcing to the congress that “he wanted to find a ‘responsible solution’ to the issue, as opposed to ‘scoring points,’” Arutz Sheva reported.

“I have decided to drop the suspension but it does not mean I give up resistance according to statutes,” Rajoub said. “It is time to raise to red card to racism. In Palestine and everywhere.”

Rajoub’s decision on the motion, which he’s raised three years running, was, in fact, political. As I reported yesterday:

Rajoub’s motivation for pushing the appeal this year stems from the negative impact Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has had on Palestinian soccer. “Palestinian players often cannot travel between Gaza and the West Bank for training camps or practices, a result of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, under Hamas’s control, which began in 2007,” reports Vice.

Aside from the restrictions on Palestinian player movements in and out of the Gaza Strip, the PFA also claims that “hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment have been held at the border for inspection past the time it was to be used for matches.”

But Israel offered four concessions to address Rajoub’s contentions, and it appears to have worked.  (more…)

Current Movie Crush: ‘Pawn Sacrifice’

Bobby Fischer vies for the 1972 World Chess Championship, takes on ‘the Russians and the Jews’

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(TIFF)

Chess rocks. It always has and always will. Don’t believe me? Check out current world champion Magnus Carlsen—blindfolded and under a time control—beat three players at once. It’s beautiful.

But the poetry of a man’s chess performance can sometimes be muddled by the man himself. This is not the case with the 24-year-old Carlsen, but it was with Bobby Fischer, a maniacal anti-Semite—and the last American world chess champion—who died in Iceland in 2008. And yet, Fischer left an indelible mark on chess—both in his contribution to game theory, and the game’s competitive legacy, namely the 1972 Chess Championship in which he faced off against Boris Spassky during a Cold War détente.

The story of how Fischer earned the title is a riveting one, and is deserving of many an artistic treatment. Here’s one I’m excited for—a movie called “Pawn Sacrifice,” starring Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer, and Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. The preview was just published, and opens to a wide release in September. Check it out: (more…)

Ancient Archaeological Site Torched at Israel’s Midburn Festival

Flint tools from Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are history

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Cosplayers watch a wooden effigy burn at Midburn festival in Israeli, May 22, 2015. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the second annual Midburn festival—a radical five-day event of art and expression and self-reliance and sundry communal tomfoolery—took place in a “temporary city” in the Negev Desert. An estimated 6,000 attended, who, by virtue of being present, adhere to “The Ten Principles” as established by Larry Harvey, the founder of the U.S.-based Burning Man festival after which Midburn is modeled. But it appears that two principles, namely “Civic Responsibility” and “Leaving No Trace,” were violated.

On May 24, a Saturday night, festivalgoers watched a wooden temple burn on a hilltop. I imagine many danced, or gazed agape as they contemplated the meaning of it all, as the flames screamed upward into the night sky. Below the fire, however, and atop the hill, were prehistoric artifacts. (more…)

Embracing Wisdom and Folly

Should we continue to revere the works of Jewish leaders who act wrongfully?

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(Shutterstock)

Over Shavuot last weekend, and in the wake of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s sentencing for recording women in a mikveh, I studied Maimonides. Soon enough, I found myself at an existential crossroads of cognitive dissonance. I wondered: Is it possible to embrace the scholarship and ideas of a revered Jewish leader whose words or actions are disreputable, immoral, or even illegal?

Take, for example Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish minds, whose works populate my various bookshelves despite his, shall we say, “interesting” views on race, as illustrated in The Guide for the Perplexed:

Those who are incapable of attaining to supreme religious values include the black colored people and those who resemble them in their climates. Their nature is like the mute animals. Their level among existing things is below that of a man and above that of a monkey.

Is this line problematic? Yes. Very. Yet I’ve been largely unfazed by that statement’s presence in the larger picture of Maimonides’ ideologies. After all, much like the crows in Dumbo or the blackface segments in Marx Brothers movies, I simply accept Maimonides as a product of his time.

Despite Maimonides’ clear bigotry, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the wealth of knowledge and elucidation on many aspects of Jewish thought and life that exists because of his scholarship. But one would be hard-pressed to find deep discussion on the topic that is not either apologetic of Maimonides’ less admirable traits, or does not outright consider all of Maimonides’ views to be worthless, and poisoned by the ugly specter of racism. (In fact, Maimonides’ level of scholarliness demands that inflammatory ideologies such as the one espoused in the above quote, be taken to task.)  (more…)

Israeli-Palestinian Politics Add Fuel to FIFA Fire

Delegates will vote today on motion to ouster Israel Football Association from soccer’s embattled global governing organization

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter at 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, May 28, 2015. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been quite a week for FIFA, the worldwide governing body of professional soccer. On Wednesday, as the organization gathered in Zurich for its annual congress, 14 officials were arrested on charges of corruption, including bribery, “racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy,” reports the New York Times. In the midst of this crisis, and even overshadowing it, the Palestinian Football Association has pushed forward a proposal that calls for the suspension of the Israel Football Association from FIFA; delegates from the organization’s 209 member federations will vote on the matter on Friday.

This is the third year in a row that Jibril Rajoub, the FIFA delegate for the Palestinian Football Association, has put forth the motion. In the past, embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter has managed to convince Rajoub to rescind the appeal. But this year, Blatter was unsuccessful.  (more…)

Why the World Should Test Netanyahu’s Newfound Commitment to Peace

Bibi announces support for Arab Peace Initiative. It doesn’t matter if it’s real.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, May 19, 2015. (Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

If there were one word to describe the spirit of Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election campaign, it would not be “compromise.” From questioning the viability of the two-state solution to vowing to keep Jerusalem undivided, the prime minister repeatedly appealed to hard-right voters in a successful bid to draw them away from rival conservative parties. And yet, less than a month after his new government’s swearing-in ceremony, Netanyahu has made a remarkable about-face on the peace process.

First, last week, in a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the prime minister expressed a willingness to negotiate Israel’s borders in the West Bank, delineating which settlements Israel could build in, and where it would cede land to Palestine. This openness came as a surprise, Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid noted, because it was “the first time since he took office in 2009 that Netanyahu has voiced willingness to discuss the size of the settlement blocs and their borders with the Palestinians.” Doing so would open the door to freezing settlement construction outside the negotiated border line, effectively halting the settler enterprise in its tracks.

The prime minister’s second act, however, was even more eye-opening. (more…)

Herman Wouk’s Fire Island Synagogue

The centenarian author formed an Orthodox congregation in his home in 1952. It thrives today.

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(Shutterstock)

Did you know that Herman Wouk, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Caine Mutiny who turned 100 yesterday, founded an Orthodox synagogue during the 1950s in a laid-back, Fire Island beach community?

Ruth H. Skydell, a journalist writing in the October 1952 edition of The Jewish Horizon, describes how Wouk vacationed with his family on Fire Island. In the summer of 1952, Wouk met Skydell’s husband, a rabbi named Adrian. Together they acknowledged that the island lacked “an orthodox element,” and put out feelers to discover whether there was enough interest to start a synagogue. One evening, when Wouk was approached by a man who inquired about these plans, he saw no point in delaying further.

According to The Jewish Horizon article, Wouk immediately replied: “We are going to hold services in my home at 9:30 p.m. next Shabbos, please G-d. Tell all your friends about it.”

Wouk and Rabbi Skydell put their plan into action.  (more…)

Would You Like That Ice Cream in a Cup or a Hitler Cone?

‘Macabre’ Führer-branded treats gain popularity in India

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(Shutterstock)

Apparently, one marketer believes that the likeness of Hitler, a symbol of hatred and murder and bad moustache jobs, is the ticket to ice cream cone sales in India. This has pissed off the German newspaper Bild, which deemed the cones as “macabre.” The Daily Mail has the scoop. (more…)

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