Tuesday, December 25, 2007



Film Review: The Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
For Love of Theater
About.com Rating fourhalf out of Five

By Jennifer Merin, About.com
More About:

* yiddish theater
* actors in yiddish
* zypora spaisman
* shifra lerer

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While vacationing in New York, Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir met Zypora Spaisman, the 84-year-old diva of the Yiddish Theater, and became fascinated by the feisty actress, who enlisted him to document her story. Seven years later, the finished film hits the screen.
An Actress On A Mission
It's Hanukah, 2000, when Dan Katzir meets Zypora Spaisman, and the actress is on a mission to save New York's Yiddish Theater, the Folksbeine, from extinction. Zypora, at age 84, is performing in the Yiddish play, Green Fields. The production is housed in the Mazer Theater on the Lower East Side, on East Broadway in the heart of what was once New York's biggest Jewish community. But the company has run out of funds, and the production will be shut out of its theater if investors can't be found.

In the film, we see scenes from Green Fields, and they're utterly delightful. But the show is a hard sell: Green Fields was written in 1916 in a language that few people now speak or understand, and it's simple love story set in a rural Eastern European Jewish community with which modern Americans have little in common. To make matters worse, at the time, New York happens to be experiencing an exceptionally cold and snowy winter which makes it difficult to get around the city. Even people who've aready bought tickets to the play aren't showing up for performances.

However, after a 42-year career in Yiddish Theater, Zypora is not about to give up. "I survived Hitler--that German who wanted to kill me--and Stalin, I can do this," she says. And she holds out in hope.
The Eight Day Hanukah Countdown
We watch Zypora and her colleagues light Hanukah candles each evening before they perform, and wonder whether the show will survive into the new year. Green Fields gets a rave review in the New York Times and is named one of the year's top ten Off Broadway shows by the New York Post, and company Manager David Romeo begins to negotiation to move the production into the Lambs Theater, in the heart of the Broadway theater district. But, then, a traffic-stopping snow storm prevents potential backers from coming to see the show. Will the show go on?

Actually, Zypora's goal is greater than saving the show. She's trying to save an age-old art form and literary tradition from extinction. Why? "I like speaking Yiddish," she says. "It's mine language."

She also likes acting. And, within the context of America's focus on youth and trendiness, the Yiddish Theater is Zypora's artistic home, the place where she and other aging performers, are still relevant, still respected. This aspect of Zypora's mission is particularly moving.

In telling the story, Katzir enlists living legends of Yiddish theater--Shifra Lerer, Felix Fibich, Seymour Rechzeit and others--in rare interviews and takes us to endangered landmarks of New York's Jewish cultural history.

The Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is as charming, humorous, convincing, tenacious and relevant as its wonderful leading lady.
Review by Andy Klein

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story. The Folksbiene Theater was founded on New York’s Lower East Side in 1915, as one of many Yiddish troupes entertaining the legions of Jewish immigrants recently arrived from Europe. Fortysome years later, after surviving the Holocaust and Stalinist Russia, Zypora Spaisman came to America and reinvented herself as an actress in Yiddish theater. Another fortysome years later, toward the end of 2000, Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir was visiting New York and met the 84-year-old actress Spaisman, just as Folksbiene Theater – now the city’s last Yiddish theater – was facing eviction. Charmed by the old woman’s enthusiasm, he set about to chronicle the desperate eight days during which Spaisman and her coworkers attempt to find a way to keep the theater alive. Katzir talks to some of the very few survivors of the form’s heyday, most of whom still display an offhanded wit. The result is uneven but ultimately charming – and sad – look at the disappearance of a centuries-old cultural tradition whose impact on our own culture has been inestimable. (AK)

Monday, December 24, 2007


New York City's Own Borscht Belt
Movies | Review of: Yiddish Theater: A Love Story

November 21, 2007

The survival of professional Yiddish theater in America has often been attributed to one remarkable woman, the late Zypora Spaisman. After surviving the Holocaust, the Polish-born actress joined New York's legendary Folksbiene Theater, now the country's only professional Yiddish stage outfit, in 1956. She devoted her career to it, even selling tickets and sweeping floors when she wasn't onstage. Then, following a dispute over programming in 1998, she left and formed her own troupe.

Spaisman's cultural preservation project, called the Yiddish Public Theater, soon fell on tough times, which is when the Israeli filmmaker Dan Katzir first met her. As her company floundered, the unflinching 84-year-old actress began to worry that her career was doomed, not to mention the future of her once-vibrant mother tongue. Intrigued, Mr. Katzir immediately started filming. Most of "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story," which takes place over the course of a week and opens today, was shot on a camcorder because he was on vacation in New York at the time.

Occassionally, the haste with which Mr. Katzir obtained his footage is all too apparent, but his elegy is tinged with humor, and a countdown narrative adds drama. Despite great reviews, the group's production of "Green Fields," a 1916 play by Peretz Hirschbein, has failed to interest theatergoers or would-be donors enough to keep the company afloat. It's the end of 2000, which raises the question of whether Yiddish will survive into the next century. And talk about dramatic timing: Mr. Katzir explains in voice-over that if funding for the company is not found soon, the production's lights will go dark "on the last candle of Chanukah."

Mr. Katzir, who admits he knew nothing of Yiddish theater before attending this production of "Green Fields," touches on many things in this watchable and somewhat quaint bit of low-budget cinema, but he doesn't delve too deep into any of them. The uncertain fate of Spaisman's little company — which rests primarily on the eleventh-hour fund-raising efforts of the play's producer, David Romeo — doesn't play out as suspensefully as it might have. And while the indomitable, heavily accented Spaisman makes for a colorful character sketch, she is not all that forthcoming to her new friend and his camera. (Recalling her flight from Poland during the Holocaust, she says, "What's his name, the German, wanted to kill me.")

In one scene, Spaisman discusses the death of her husband with emotion, but this disclosure comes a bit out of the blue. Other aspects of the story might have been explored more fruitfully, such as the film's sole voice of youth: a dedicated young Israeli actress named Roni Neuman, who learns her lines phonetically but isn't surprised that a nearly 100-year-old play about Jewish farmers in Ukraine isn't packing the house. And the snippets of expert commentary on the decline of Yiddish — once the official language of Ashkenazi Jews and a much more prominent contributor to the symphony of multilingual New York — in secular Jewish culture leaves the viewer craving more insights.

One author and Yiddish-theater scholar, Nahma Sandrow, explains how Yiddish came to represent "the culture of the victim" after the Holocaust, while Hebrew became "the language of strength and health and self-respect." Mr. Katzir assumes most of his viewers agree, in principle at least, that Yiddish is worth saving. But he might have spent more time showing just why. (Michael Wex's recent description of Yiddish, in his excellent book "Born to Kvetch," as "a language that likes to argue with everybody about everything" would make a fine starting point.) And although "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" spends considerable time tracking Spaisman's group's struggle to upgrade from their Lower East Side performance space to Broadway, and thereby find a wider audience for "Green Fields," the play itself remains something of a mystery.

Still, Mr. Katzir's 80-minute portrait of an endangered stage culture features its share of moving moments. Those curious about Yiddish theater have particularly good reason to see it, despite the fact that it was filmed seven years ago. In fact, it may never have seen the light of day were it not for what many are calling a Yiddish revival. Ironically, that same renewal of interest threatens to make the film's mournful tone seem outdated. So take the kvetching with a grain of zalts.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

NJ Jewish Standard

Yiddish theater: A love story indeed
By Miriam Rinn | Published 12/14/2007

actually saw the show that is at the heart of Dan Katzir’s documentary "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story." A production of "Grineh Felder" ("Green Fields"), an old Yiddish play by Peretz Hirshbein, at the Mazer Theater in the Educational Alliance building on East Broadway, the play was the first — and last — that Zypora Spaisman put on after she resigned from the Folksbiene, the Yiddish theater long supported by the Workmen’s Circle. A less inviting location is hard to imagine — set in the basement, the theater is intersected by huge pillars so that just about wherever you’re sitting, your view is obfuscated — and the play had a desperate, pathetic quality, as of a thing mortally wounded.

Spaisman had been the Folksbiene’s major star and director for many years, perhaps too many, and when the powers that be finally suggested that it was time for her to retire and hand over the troupe to younger people, she left and started her own company. Katzir, whose voice is heard throughout the film, agreed to make the documentary during the winter of 2000 at Spaisman’s urging, and it’s that doughty ego and determination that is the true protagonist of this ultimately poignant film.

"Yiddish Theater" is constructed around the eight nights of Chanukah during that brutally cold winter, with each candle opening another chapter in Spaisman’s frantic attempt to find investors — as well as playgoers — for her production. Katzir follows her around, eating what seems to be many meals in her apartment, asking her questions about the show, about her career, and about her marriage. He develops his portrait as much from what isn’t said as from what is. We don’t realize she has children until the very end, and her husband doesn’t come up either until the film is more than half over. Spaisman’s life is the theater, evidently, and only the theater. She vehemently rejects the idea of retirement. What should I do, wander around the apartment? She asks the question with incredulity. At no point is there even the slightest consideration that the Yiddish theater might do better if it was handed over to the next generation. For Spaisman, as for so many of the larger-than-life personalities drawn to the entertainment world, the production doesn’t exist if she’s not in it.

Katzir also visits and talks with other actors in the Yiddish theater that flourished in New York during the first third of the twentieth century, including Spaisman’s co-stars. He handles these elderly people with great tenderness, but avoids sentimentalizing them excessively. Their crankiness and vanity are on full display, as is the transformation that comes over them when they step on the stage or begin to perform. Spaisman especially seems a frail, slightly addled old woman in some of the interviews, but as soon as she puts on her makeup and walks out on the stage, her stooped back straightens and she regains some of her charisma. A lovely few minutes are dedicated to Felix Fibitch, a former dancer. As he elegantly twirls his hands and undulates his arms, we see the graceful young man he once was. "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" ends up being as much a meditation on old age as an investigation of the future of the Yiddish theater.

David Romeo, the group’s managing director and Spaisman’s general factotum, gets lots of screen time as he gently escorts the ladies to and from the theater on the snowy streets and desperately hustles for money to keep the show going. With an eerie resemblance to Steven Sondheim, Romeo is the heart of the documentary. If he knows that his search is fruitless as he makes call after call, he doesn’t let on; he keeps trying, perhaps for no other reason than to keep Spaisman going.

The Folksbiene National Yiddish Theater, under its new management, has succeeded far beyond anyone’s guess seven years ago. Its productions are much more sophisticated and clearly geared toward a younger, far more Americanized audience. Now at the JCC in Manhattan, the company is building its own theater on Second Avenue, the original home of Yiddish theater in New York, and has a vigorous board out raising money. Spaisman was indispensable in keeping the theater going for many years, but eventually it had to go on without her. Her resistance is as sad as it is understandable.

The film is showing at Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third St., in Manhattan.
Struggling Yiddish Theater Finds a Home — Onscreen
By Eli Rosenblatt
Wed. Dec 19, 2007

It was not long ago that the streets of Tel Aviv and New York were packed with the sounds of the Yiddish language and its echo of exile, displacement and fortitude. For Dan Katzir, the Israeli director of the new documentary “Yiddish Theater: A Love Story,” the sounds of this language, and its disappearance, resonate loudly. His grandfather’s brother was Ephraim Katzir, the Kiev-born fourth president of Israel; his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor who, while kibitzing in Hebrew with some of the newborn country’s most prominent statesmen, would hear them whispering in Yiddish. “There is a negative association with Yiddish in Israel. I was surprised when I came to the U.S. that Jews here would have such shame for Yiddish, too,” Katzir said
The film, which debuted in New York, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv, portrays the story of the National Yiddish Theater — Folksbiene. During the New York winter of 2000, when faced with a dwindling audience and meager financial support, the theater found itself in danger of shutting down. Katzir’s documentary is about its struggle for survival and dignity, and about the future of a Yiddish theater staying alive with supertitles in English and Russian.

The film introduces a cast of stage actors, allies and audiences, including Zypora Spaisman, a Polish-born actress who immigrated to New York in the 1950s; Roni Neuman, an Israeli actress taking a stab at the New York theater scene, and David Romeo, a Brooklyn-born actor raised in a Hasidic, Yiddish-speaking home. Alongside them is a fur-capped producer who tirelessly tries to raise funds, as well as Shifra Lehrer and Felix Fibich — two headliners from a time, earlier last century, when Yiddish theaters from Buenos Aires to New York were filled with audiences that came to see their humor, torments and joys illuminated by actors who spoke their language.

What emerges is the director’s knack for splicing the candid moments in his subjects’ personal lives with the professional fervor with which they pursue their art. The cast’s unswerving enthusiasm for the Yiddish stage and the challenges that this sentiment faces in a city that simply doesn’t speak its language raise important questions about how the cast’s Jewish identities are transformed through the theater’s struggle for vitality. At one point in the film, as the theater labors to make money, Spaisman is confronted with the gloomy possibility of drawing more revenue for the theater by performing on the Sabbath afternoon, and the portrayal of her conundrum evokes larger issues.

“I think about half the people who come to see the film are Jewish,” Katzir remarked in an interview with the Forward. “But for Jews, it is a unique experience. People raise their hands and it’s a coming-out session for them, it’s not a question-and-answer session.”

The film was financed by an Israeli government film fund and by Jonah Goldreich, a Los Angeles real estate developer and Holocaust survivor whom Katzir describes as believing strongly in the preservation of Yiddish culture. Katzir was unable to secure the funding to obtain archival footage depicting the heyday of Yiddish theater, which he said would have added the historical context he wanted the film to describe. Many Jewish film festivals did not initially accept it. After the film’s trailer was posted online at MySpace and was noted at some festivals across the world, the documentary caught the attention of Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles, the Pioneer Theater in New York and the Lev Cinema in Tel Aviv. Now, almost a month after its American debut, it has secured a continued run in New York and Los Angeles.

The film’s extended run and the grass-roots hanging of movie posters on city walls will hopefully ensure that awareness about the Yiddish theater is raised. “People need to think what could happen to this culture, and to see that for the secular people, this is a mirror into their world and a way to learn about the past,” Katzir noted. “But today, the theater still does not have a permanent home. Even if it pays rent to the Manhattan JCC for a space there, it still needs to pay the rent.”

Eli Rosenblatt is a writer living in New York City.
Wed. Dec 19, 2007

Friday, December 07, 2007


The story was their own.

At the turn of the 21st century, a veteran actress struggles to keep Yiddish theater alive in New York. She desperately searches for money and a miracle to extend the run of a show scheduled to close on the last day of Chanukah. Years later, two impassioned filmmakers work outside the studio system with little financial backing to tell her story. They decide to call it "a love story." As fate would have it, audiences are falling head over heels for this documentary; a film that, more than anything, is about the distances people will go for their art.

Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus have brought the world "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" and despite lack of advertising and a limited release, solid reviews in the L.A. Times and The Daily News are compelling crowds to movie theaters. Variety listed the doc as a top indie opener last weekend, so Laemmle Theatres has extended its run in the Valley and opened weekend showings at their Santa Monica location.

It may be rainy weekend so stay dry and see the current cinema.

Here's the schedule:

Laemmle's Monica
1332 2nd Street
Santa Monica, 90401

Sat & Sun: 11:00 am

Laemmle's Fallbrook
6731 Fallbrook Ave
West Hills, CA, 91307
818 340 8710

Fri, Sat & Sun: 12:00 noon, 5:00pm
Mon-Thu : 1:00pm & 6:00pm
Wednesday: 11am, 1:00pm & 6:00pm

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
Film review
by Ed Rampell

Dan Katzir’s Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is a lovingly told tale of what may be the last of a vanishing breed: New York City’s last theatrical showcase for plays exploring Jewish heritage, history and identity performed in Yiddish, the lyrical language of Central and Eastern European Jews dating back to the 10th century. This expressive tongue is best known for its many colorful words that have entered the lexicon of the dominant majority culture, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Jewish comics from the Borscht Belt to the Great White Way to Tinseltown.

For instance, in 1930’s Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx’s theme song contains this memorable lyric: “Hooray for Captain Spaulding, The African explorer! Did someone call me schnorrer?” (According to an online Yiddish Dictionary, a schnorrer is a “beggar; sponger, moocher, parasite.”)

Like Hawaiian words, which live on largely in song lyrics and street names, what has been largely lost, however, is the overall language itself; its daily usage in conversation, newspapers, etc., and its meaning. Yiddish was once not only the main form for discourse of Jews in Europe’s shtetls, but of the masses of Jewish immigrants huddled in Manhattan’s fabled Lower East Side and other ghettos in the so-called New World. But as Katzir’s documentary reveals, use of this once-vibrant post-Palestine patois of the Diaspora has been greatly diminished, due to influences including, first and foremost, the Holocaust, as well as Stalinist purges, Americanization and, surprisingly, an Israeli predilection for Hebrew at the expense of Yiddish. Oy vey!

The once thriving Yiddish theatre (along with the popular Yiddish cinema) has been reduced in size and following in New York, where many Jews live. Against all odds, as Katzir documents, the Folksbiene survived – the last of the 14 Yiddish theater companies that had existed on the Lower East Side when the Folksbiene was established way back in 1915, when the renowned writer Sholem Aleichem was still alive. Like the Fiddler on the Roof based on Aleichem’s witty stories, who continued to play on as he teetered precariously from on high, Folksbiene continued as a lifeline for Yiddish culture and language through the decades.

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story follows the trials and tribulations of the Polish-born Zypora Spaisman, an 80-something Holocaust survivor, ex-midwife, actress and diva, as she struggles in the face of adversity, indifference and ageism to preserve the Folksbiene. An archetypal Jewish mother, Spaisman’s indomitable spirit breathed life into this playhouse and troupe for 40-plus years. Spaisman is a force of nature as she tries to lead her troupe – and people – to the Promised Land of an enduring patrimony, as the final curtain threatens to fall on the long neglected and suffering Folksbiene.

In addition to assimilation, the theatre’s actual Off-Broadway location, far from the theater district and in a not so inviting Lower Manhattan neighborhood, works to keep the crowds away. Being performed in a dialect that is no longer widely used or understood also keep “tushies” and “tokheses” out of the seats of the musty theater (supertitles, like the kind deployed at operas, help, however). But as the final performance of Green Fields (a play about rural Ukrainian Jews) nears, out of left field rave reviews for in New York’s daily newspapers, and the possibility of opening on Broadway, offer a glimmer of light. Not unlike those hoary Hanukkah candles flickering in the darkness, when the ancient Maccabees were besieged, there is a ray of hope. Will there be a miracle? This little theater’s struggle for survival mirrors that of the embattled Jews themselves.

Roni Neuman, a young, fetching, vivacious Israeli actress who – like so many Jews before her traveled to America – finds her calling, as she joins and pumps new blood into the ensemble. Although the ingenue has returned to Israel, Spaisman sort of passes the mantle down to Neuman, as a new generation rises as keepers of the cultural flame.

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story includes interviews with luminaries of the Yiddish stage, such as Shifra Lerer, Felix Fibich and Seymour Rechzeit. It’s fun to see the actors schmactors -- whether they have gone Hollywood or walk the Yiddish boards -- are all hams (even if that’s not kosher). There is footage of the famed 2nd Ave. Deli, the deserted office of the Hebrew Actors Union and the Yiddish Walk of Fame, a counterpart to the Hollywood Blvd. famous Walk of Fame. Nevertheless, the film is very tightly focused on Zypora and her acolytes, and I wished there could have been more contextual background on the Yiddish theater in general.

This documentary opens at a propitious time, as Israelis, Arabs and Palestinians – who paid a heavy price for a Holocaust perpetrated by non-Palestinians -- hold a peace conference. Also, with the Armenian Genocide Resolution, the issue of cultural genocide has been much in the news lately. Wait, let me see if I got this straight: President Bush and his warmongers and minions lobbied against Congressman Adam Schiff’s humanitarian measure recognizing the 1915 genocide of the Armenian people by Turkey because if it were passed, it would adversely affect Washington’s perpetuation of mass murder and mayhem in Iraq. Plus, it could trigger Turkey’s collective punishment of the Kurds. Got it?

In this strange world we live in, allow your humble scribe to make a modest proposal: Survivors of mass exterminations and cultural extinction aimed at peoples should form a “Genocide Guild.” It would include Jews, Armenians, Roma (formerly known as “Gypsies”), America’s indigenous people – including so-called “Indians,” Hawaiians, Guam’s Chamorros, Chicanos, Eskimos, Aleuts -- Polynesians (90% were wiped out after Captain Cook’s arrival), Rwandans, Palestinians, et al. Their mission would be solidarity and support for the human rights of all peoples faced with mass murder – as in Darfur – and with cultural genocide, as in the case of Yiddish culture. Now that, like this documentary, would truly be a mitzvah (good deed) in a Promised Land of milk, honey and cultural preservation for all peoples, big and small.
JEWLICIOUS: LEAH STERN's contributes to one of the most popular Jewish blogs online, that claims to have over 10,000 views a week.:



I met Dan Katzir (as in Ephraim Katzir, the fourth President of Israel) shortly after I made Aliyah in 2005. I was just a bushy-tailed, bright-eyed American girl fresh off the boat and on an assignment to cover his second documentary film for the Jerusalem Post. Though Dan was a well known filmmaker in Israel, I knew little of his work, or of local cinema in general, at the time. He welcomed me into his family home (I played the piano - see photo), made me some strong Turkish coffee, and sat with me as we watched the “dailies” of his film. The documentary, which had no title at the time, was a heartwarming journey with a Yiddish theater diva comprised of various, separate pieces joined together like a puzzle. We laughed and cried as we watched the scenes up in the attic with his father. I remember Dan speaking passionately about his film’s subject, a lovely woman named Zypora Spaisman, and about how he had a
recurring theme in life: he was always falling in love and making the objects of his affection the subjects of his projects. On that first assignment, my first encounter with Dan, I too fell in love - with him. I’m sure that everyone who watches Dan’s films can feel his love for life - it resonates on screen - and can’t help but fall in love too. I remember that he listened attentively as I explained my reasons for making Aliyah - he seemed amazed that I left the sunny beaches of South Beach to rough and tough it in Jerusalem. Though Dan has now chosen to trade in the beaches of Tel Aviv to make his own “Aliyah” to the cutthroat film biz in Hollywood, he has never lost sight of his roots and his truest love - Israel.

I had a recent chat with Katzir about his film, the Israeli film Industry, Israel, his life and everything else. Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is currently screening at select theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.

So what shall I tell about myself?

I’m an Israeli filmmaker, who’s trying to live both in the US and in Israel and have a career in both. In a way, I’m living the old Jewish lifestyle of a person without a home. It allows me to be a foreigner and a local at once, and that gives me an interesting perspective on life both in the diaspora and in Israel. I grew up in both societies and that made me bi-continental. Someone once told me great art is only created in airports. So hopefully that’s affecting my own art.

My biggest problem in life has always been that I love living in the US but I also love in Israel. I’m torn between the two. Each has it’s magic and charm. Currently I’m sharing my time between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles.
Israel is the place I call home. It’s the place I feel I belong to. It’s where I feel the most connected to. Everything is yours. Everything is so passionate, and important and relevant. But it can also be at times suffocating.
There’s no space, no real freedom to be yourself and to explore who your real essence is, as Israeli society is very closed towards true self exploration.

The US is the place that’s Free. You can be anyone you want to be- sometimes be different people at any given hour of the day. People are relaxed. No wars, big homes, big cars, big steaks. But in a way no one feels 100% connected. Everyone seems to feel that at the end of the day they’re mostly alone. There’s no urgency and no feeling of importance when any small task is achieved thanks to a miracle.

My latest film: Yiddish Theater: A Love Story is playing in 3 theaters in the US and one in Israel. This weekend it opened in two theaters in Los Angeles, and got amazing reviews in many of the leading LA papers including Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, LA Weekly (Which recommended us as a GO). In NY we’re in our second week playing in a movie theater with amazing audience attendance. We also got there great reviews in papers including the NY TIMES and a critics pick in the NY Magazine, among other papers in NYC who loved the film.

In Israel we’ve been in Lev Dizengoff center for three weeks, and we’re getting a fourth week based on the amazing audiences attendance. It’s a huge success for a film done on a shoe string budget. The price of this documentary feature is less than many of the segments done for Uvdah, the Israeli like 60 Minutes show. This film was shot on a home video and had about 8 days of shooting.

Still it proves, if the material you shoot has a heart it will break out into the world scene no matter what the budget was.
This film was the hardest film I ever made. Yiddish culture has a stigma with both Israeli’s and American Jews. So making a movie about this old culture that would be hip and happening and would succeed in communicating with people my age was a goal, that fascinated me.I was so delighted that my screenings are attracting a huge crowd of young people that want to learn a little about their past. Ironically it’s also attracting a lot of younger non Jewish audience that are fascinated by the characters, the humor and life of Off Broadway actors in their nineties.

For over 50 years, Jews have been ashamed of this old culture and some have even hated it. I think it’s a pity as it’s the language of so many of the greatest Jewish minds including Einstein, Freud, Shalom Aleichem.
That’s why I did this small labor of love- which has just blown up and might soon be playing commercially in theaters in a few dozen other cities across the US. This film is turning out to be one of the Israeli sleeper hits of 2007, and I’m thankful for this good fortune.

That said, with all the great reviews we’re getting in the American press, we’ve been mostly overlooked by Israeli film critics. That’s sad cause I think this film is particularly important for Israelis. It’s totally breaking my heart that in my home country I’m being disregarded by all the film critics. I don’t know why they’re not willing to review this film. I think cause it’s neither a 100% Israeli film and it’s not a 100 % foreign film.

Regardless, I had hoped for a little bit more support but that’s Israel- the place where everything is harder than it should be- from the bread crust to the false expectation that film critics will write about you - anything- good or bad- even after youi’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you’re film is a success.

Ironically no one wanted to distribute this movie, cause of the subject matter. Many Israeli and Jewish distributors told me that Yiddish is a problematic subject matter. But luckily thanks to a young and dynamic producer I started collaborating with - Ravit Markus, I didn’t give up, and created a MYSPACE.COM webpage for the film. It started getting buzz and the film was discovered on MYSPACE by a non Jewish film programmer for the Pioneer theater in NY.

He thought it’s an interesting film and wanted to see it. We get an amazing group of people to donate their time for free to create an amazing trailer that got some of the best film critics interested in this film. So we’ve managed to get our unique Point of view on life out there using all the best 21st century geurilla tactics of online marketing. It’s been a roller coaster ride, but we’re lucky, it ended being very satisfactory and a lot of fun.

Living abroad, I’ve become much more critical of Israel. I think most Israeli’s are asking themselves the wrong questions. They’re focusing too much on the political aspects of their existence and not paying enough attention to the cultural and educational side, which I think are more important. I think every nation derives it’s strength not only from it’s army but more importantly from it’s education and belief in it’s cultural moral right to exist. I think my country is not investing the needed resources into securing the existence of our culture- both our Jewish culture and our Israeli culture.
That’s the main battlefield of the future, and it’s better we will start preparing for it today.

I love Israel. My family both from my mom and my dad’s side were among the pilgrim families that founded the Zionist state. My dad’s father, founded the Israeli academy of sciences and was it’s first president. His brother was the President of the state of Israel. From my mom’s side we’re related to Israel’s second prime minster Moshe Sharet.

I’ve been very fortunate. My first film was a huge international success. It opened a lot of doors for me and made my life a little easier. That film was nominated for the Israeli Academy award, It later screened on HBO on prime time on Valentines day and showed on Channel 4 UK, with a new voice over by Sasha Baron Cohen (”Borat”), I realized that Israeli cinema has the potential to break out into the world not just as a political film that deals with the Israeli Palestinian conflct but also as a humanistic cinema that has to contribute to the undertanding of humans of themselves in a certain moment in time. In Israel I got very little support for my dream to make Israeli films that could break out into the world. One film critic even mocked my first film that it was “made for export” and the way he wrote about it in the paper had a very negative connotation as if films that have an International appeal is a negative thing.

After the huge success of my film, I decided I wanted to learn more about the American Point of view on film, so I went back to film school to get an MFA in film. I went to the best film institution in the world - the AFI - The American Film Institute that accepts less than 30 students a year to the directing program. I studied with some of the best filmmakers ever. Among my teachers were: Frank Pierson, (Dog Day Afternoon, A star is born), Gil Dennis (Walk the line), Rick Rosenthal (Bad Boys, Halloween) and many others. The years I’ve spent here in the US have helped me understand more the American market and I’m sure my first Israeli fiction feature will resonate in an even stronger way with an American audience.

My dream is to be able to write Israeli scripts, raise the money in the US and shoot the films in Israel. The film will appeal both to Israeli’s and to an American audience as well as to a European one.

This new film was important to me cause it deals with the culture of my forefathers. It’s the language both Einstein and Freud spoke. Yet young people both in the US and in Israel are ashamed of it cause they still see it as the language of “the weak Jews who many feel were slaughtered like lambs in the Holocaust.” Hitler wanted to kill the Jews not because of their culture was weak, not because he thought they’re a weak nation. Hitler wanted to kill the Jews cause such a small minority had so much to give to the world in terms of culture, science, art, business etc…

I think it’s time young Jews around the globe stop hating their Eastern European past and start seeing it’s beauty. See the humanity, humour, and warmth this culture has to give us.

I was very fortunate to make very warm movies that audiences could relate to. I hope as I now move to fiction my films will succeed in having that same warmth that will allow audiences to leave feeling love for themselves, for their fellow humans, and for the world that surrounds them.

It seems in Israel, I was not getting the support for my humanistic belief, but that’s why I decided to branch out.
I will not change my dream of making the world and my country - Israel, a more beautiful place with high art that’s also moving. I guess I’ll have to find the financing elsewhere.

Very few Israeli documentaries make it to cinemas in Israel. Even less make it beyond one week of a run. I’m about to enter my fourth week in one of the best theaters in Israel- in Dizengoff center, and yet most of the film critics in the country have decided not to write about my new film. I hope that they’re not trying to fail the film. It’s sad cause in Israel many of the people make up their mind about what movie they will see by the magazine called Achbar Haier. There’s a page with critics ratings and based on that page, people choose. Because most of the critics(Except one) didn’t write about my latest film it’s being overlooked by many audience members. I don’t understand it, and it’s breaking my heart.

My first film had the same fate- most of the film critics in the country overlooked the film and yet it still did amazing without their reviews. It’s kind of weird that it was easier to get reviewed by the NY TIMES and the LA TIMES than it was by Maariv or Haaretz newspapers.

I have a very international sensibility so I’m hoping that I’ll continue getting support from abroad. I think Israeli cinema will really leap into the twenty first century when it will be like the high tech industry. International corporations will realize the huge potential and appeal of Israeli cinema and will finance film for the international market. My grandfather believed in that vision when the country was formed and people mocked him. No one thought then that companies like Intel or AOL would spend millions of dollars in Israeli companies and individuals and that Israel could compete on the international level. Cinema is the same. It needs no natural resources. It’s just brain power and heart power and we have those two resources in abundance.

I think both Israel and the Jewish Federation are a little slow to understand the power of media in the 21st century.
We live in a world that it doesn’t really matter who wins physical wars. It’s just the perception the media creates that truly matters. Israel is losing the battle in the media, cause it’s invested so little in truly exploiting it.
I remember after the Last Lebanon war- Israel was almost non existent on Youtube.com while anti Israeli short movies were everywhere there.

I think it’s time the different Jewish and Israeli organizations start learning more about the power of the media in our web connected world- and organize more funding for young Israeli and Jewish filmmakers to tell visual stories.

For centuries the power of Jews was the power of their intellect rather than the power of their weapons. Our stories can touch people around the globe. A good feature film or documentary can touch millions of lives and that will help change the perspective of millions, way more than any thing else. That’s what I loved in making Israeli films. There’s a sense of urgency in making them. A feeling of a mission. There’s the knowledge that one’s film can acutally make a real difference in the state of things to come.

One of the exciting things about living in Israel is the sense that there are still frontiers that one can be a pioneer in. Film and TV are one of those fields that are so young, it’s exciting to be among those who are walking in the desert hoping to be in the generation that will make it to the promised land.

As for my film. Here’s some quotes and some links to the various screenings in LA, NYC and Tel Aviv:



“Charming…An irreplaceable record of a life and a movement.”
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

“(A) Touching documentary”
Bob Strauss, LA Daily News

“Funny,wistful and resolute.”
Jeannette Catsoulis, NY Times

Critics Pick !!!
NY Magazine

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story , opened this weekend in two theaters in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

It is also continuing it’s run with great success in
NYC at the Pioneer theater
and in Lev Dizengoff in Tel Aviv.

For more info:




More critics wonderful reviews:

Additional info:

Wednesday, December 05, 2007



'Yiddish Theater' catches movement at a crossroads
The documentary chronicles a last-ditch attempt by a feisty actress and others to keep the tradition alive.

By Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

November 30, 2007

"Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" was not a film Israeli director Dan Katzir was planning to make. But when he met 85-year-old theatrical legend and all-around ball of fire Zypora Spaisman, he couldn't help himself. "I was captivated by her," he says, and this charming and disarming documentary makes it clear why.

A force of nature for whom the word "indomitable" is way too mild, Spaisman has the kind of fighting spirit they just don't make anymore. "Hitler couldn't stop me, Stalin couldn't stop me," she says, making it clear that no one else had better try. "Retirement is a death sentence: People have to live."

For Spaisman, "living" meant acting in New York's dwindling Yiddish theater scene. For more than 40 years she was the driving force behind the Folksbiene, America's longest running Yiddish theater, and when she was forced out she promptly started another group, the Yiddish Public Theater, in 2000. Katzir, a former lieutenant in the Israeli paratroopers whose grandmother was an anti-Yiddish activist, met this irresistible force in December of that year at a particularly pivotal moment in time.

Spaisman's new venture had just eight days to raise enough money to keep the theater open, or it and her theatrical career would be over.

Sensing that he was witnessing the end of an era, Katzir recorded it all on a small video camera and ended up with an irreplaceable record of a life and a movement at a crossroads.

"Yiddish Theater" unfolds on different fronts. First is the story of the campaign, led by David Romeo, a producer-director and Spaisman's manager, to raise the necessary funds. Despite formidable publicity, including the New York Post's listing of the Public's production of "Green Fields" as one of the 10 best off-Broadway plays of the year, this proved slow going.

At the same time, Katzir uses his entrée to introduce us to some of the great survivors of the Yiddish stage. There is the still limber 80-something dancer Felix Fibich; actress Shifra Lehrer, a perfectionist who tweaks Spaisman for her ad-libs; and singer Seymour Rechzeit, as irascible as they come, famous for his Yiddish version of "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top."

Given its origins, it's not surprising that "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" has a catch-as-catch-can feeling to it. But nothing can take away from the flavor of being caught up in the battles and dreams of a formidable group of people.

For a brief moment in time, we share their struggles, and that feels like a privilege, it really does.


"Yiddish Theater: A Love Story." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St. (213) 617-0268; and Laemmle¹s Fallbrook, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills (818) 340-8710.


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