Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story in Indianapolis

This weekend we played in a theater in Indianapolis. Here's the review from the local paper the Indianapolis Star:

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story
Robert Hammerle
by Robert Hammerle
Posted: Jul 28, 2008 in Things to do, Culture, Movies

Tags: documentary, Zypora Spaisman, South Keystone Art Cinema
"B" Rating by Robert W. Hammerle

Seeing "Yiddish Theater: A Love Story" at the South Keystone Art Cinema was meaningful on two levels. First of all, director Dan Katzir has made a heartfelt documentary centering around Zypora Spaisman, an oxygenarian actress trying to save the last surviving Yiddish theater in New York at the end of the 20th century.

On a second level, I could not help but notice the irony in a documentary about the attempts to save the last theater of its kind playing in a movie venue that is the last of its kind here in Indianapolis. South Keystone is a treasure in its own right.

Unlike its upscale counterpart, namely the Landmark Art Cinema at Keystone at the Crossing, you won't find this theater prostituting itself commercially by showing films that can be seen in any other cinema chain in town. South Keystone is a truly independent movie theater in every sense of the word, and it deserves our patronage.

As for the "Yiddish Theater" itself, it is a moving account about the singular dedication of the beautiful and determined Ms. Spaisman. 84 years of age, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust that claimed over 100 members of her family, she has an inspiring story to tell about her life in the "Yiddish Theater."

Because Hitler and his satanic extermination machine were so effective, a large portion of the Yiddish artistic community in Eastern Europe was wiped forever from this earth. Survivors like Zypora dedicated themselves simultaneously to keeping a dying language and art form alive.

She is simply a marvel, as are many of the other older actors who are trying to stave off the closing of their theater. In particular, Zypora's account of the death of her beloved husband whose bedside she left so that she could make rehearsals brings tears to her eyes, as it will yours.

In Zypora we see the true meaning of life. As nice as they are, personal satisfaction in life is not found in public fame or material possessions. Truly wealthy people in this life never give up or give in. They have a personal dedication and spirit to persevere through any crisis that defines the human spirit at its highest level.

SPOILER ALERT Zypora fought for her beloved "Yiddish Theater" to her last breath, only to die thinking that she ultimately failed. However, her tenacious drive survived the grave, as shown in the scene where the Governor of New York gave a $200,000 check to her son who made sure that the "Yiddish Theater" will survive into the future.

Mazel Tov, Zypora. While you now belong to the ages, your beloved theater survives to this da

Friday, July 25, 2008


Our new film: "Praying in her own voice" is about to have it's official premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
But already we were lucky to get a wonderful review of the film in the LA Jewish Journal following our sneek peak in LA.
Here's the review.
Thank you Danielle Berin for the kind and warm words.

June 26, 2008

Women fight for equal Western Wall rights, Democrats for Israel leader moves up
By Danielle Berrin

Should women have equal prayer rights at the Kotel?

It's a question of profound religious, spiritual and political complexities that a new documentary, "Praying in Her Own Voice," by filmmaker Yael Katzir, dares to ask but doesn't attempt to answer.

As it stands, Israeli law has prevented the organization, Women of the Wall, and other gatherings of women from holding organized prayer groups -- reading Torah and wearing tallit, tefillin and kippah -- in the women's section of the Western Wall's main plaza.

Women of the Wall has been challenging the religious establishment since 1989, fighting for the right to conduct an organized prayer service at the most significant worship site in Israel.

The penalty for defiance? Violators face seven years of prison.

The documentary follows the women as they gather once a month on Rosh Chodesh to form a minyan and pray at the Kotel. Disapproving onlookers have thrown chairs at them, spat at them and disrupted their prayer with verbal and physical assaults.

Sometimes the women huddle tightly together, forming a bulwark against other hostile religious Jews -- and by extension, the chief rabbinate of Israel, which governs the Western Wall. Other times, they give up and retire to their "alternate" prayer site, Robinson's Arch, far removed from the public gathering at the holiest Jewish relic in Jerusalem.

"I have traveled around the world, and I have prayed with tallit and tefillin on trains in Japan, on airplanes going to Prague and to France, and the only place where I'm actually scared to put a tallit over my head and pray -- lest I get hit over the head with a chair or have feces thrown at me -- is at the Kotel, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem," Rabbi Sharon Brous proclaims in the film's opening line.

Brous is one of six L.A.-area female rabbis interviewed in the film, which includes Rabbis Laura Geller, Denise Eger, Lisa Edwards, Lynn Brody and Naomi Levy, who support the movement for religious freedom in Israel.

After the screening, part of the 23rd Israel Film Festival, was a panel discussion with Edwards and Brody and the film's producers, Dan Katzir and Ravit Markus, which raised issues from the film before an audibly impassioned crowd.

Edwards recounted visiting Israel in 1989, when the first women's prayer gathering took place at the Wall. She said she had to defend her choice to wear a head covering when a self-identified Orthodox woman literally cried out from her seat, "I feel a woman's place is behind her man. I could never put on a kippah. I could never put on a tallis. That is for my husband and my brothers."

Edwards' experience was an unironic echo of the film, and the Orthodox woman a vehemently dissenting voice that cast a dose of reality on an empathetic audience, a minor example of just how uphill this battle will be.

The Israeli government, which has seen its Supreme Court concede turf to the Women of the Wall only to repeal its decision when squeezed by Charedi political parties, appears quite helpless to resolve the swelling religious conflict.

What's missing in the film -- and the movement -- is commentary from Torah scholars who might challenge the law, using halacha not to defend but affirm a woman's place in Jewish religious life.