Beneath the Helmet

MekonenLBeneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front is fascinating look at five young men undergoing rigorous paratrooper training in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).

Barely 18 years old and just out of high school, they are at a transformative moment in their lives. Who they meet along the way and how they react to the challenges that await will have a major impact on each and every future.

Beneath the Helmet is equally absorbing from two very different perspectives. On the one hand it is a very specific story about Israel and the people from many countries who make up the Jewish population of 21st Century Israel. How many non-Israelis know that a large number of Ethiopian Jews–like Mekonen Abeba (left)–now live in Israel? How many non-Israelis know that Jews from places as different as Peru and Switzerland join the IDF? If you think most Israeli Jews come from European backgrounds, then Beneath the Helmet will prove otherwise.

On the other hand, Beneath the Helmet is also a transnational, universal story about boys on the cusp of manhood, showing what motivates them, and how easily they can fall off track.


Top Photo: Mekonen Abeba

Photo Credits: Jerusalem U

Q: Does Beneath the Helmet pass the Bechdel Test?


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Felix & Meira


Award-winning Canadian film written & directed by Maxime Giroux. Two sad-sacks meet one day in the middle of a slushy Montreal winter and begin a life-altering relationship. Fine.

But long, drawn-out scenes of them staring longingly at each other hardly compensate for total lack of backstory and character individuation.

Who are these two people? What have they been doing with themselves before their hearts burst into flames at the deli?

It’s not enough to show that “Meira” (Hadas Yaron) comes from a Hasidic family. Plenty of women from Hasidic families live very happy lives. If we are to believe that Meira wants something different, then we must know more about her. FelixSolo

And “Felix” (Martin Dubreuil) has returned to Montreal to sit at his father’s deathbed. Fine again. But where was he before that? How old is Felix and how long has he been away?

Sorry to say, I couldn’t get a handle on this moody mess. I watched to the end, even though I quickly became bored and restless within the first few minutes, because that’s my job :-( Not yet seen by Rich. (JLH: 2.5/5)


Top Photo:  “Meira” (Hadas Yaron), a wife among other wives, wearing a proper dress and wig.

Middle Photo: “Felix” (Martin Dubreuil).

Bottom Photo: Meira at home with her husband “Shulem” (Luzer Twersky).

Q: Does Felix & Meira pass the Bechdel Test?

Not really. Besides Meira, the only female character with a substantive role is Felix’s sister “Caroline” (Anne-Elisabeth Bosse), but Meira and Caroline only have minimal contact with each other.

Meira also interacts with someone named “Ruth” (Melissa Weisz), but it hard to call these interactions conversations. Ruth mostly admonishes Meira, telling her to “straighten up and fly right” (as it were). Is she a relative? Is she someone related to Meira? Is she someone related to Shulem? Obviously Shulem trust Ruth because he leaves his child with Ruth when he goes to look for Meira… but no details are ever provided…

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mamele_postcardNational Jewish Film restores beloved Molly Picon film!

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My Italian Secret

Opened in NYC on 3/2715

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Woman in Gold

WOMAN IN GOLDAdele Bloch-Bauer died of meningitis in 1925 at the age of 42. As the wife of wealthy businessman Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, she was one of the most highly lauded hostesses of Viennese society in its period of greatest artistic and intellectual achievement. Among the luminaries who attended Adele’s salons are names still famous today, including musicians such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, and painters such as Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. In 1907, in the midst of his “Golden Phase,” painter Gustav Klimt, the founder of the movement known as the Vienna Secession, did his first portrait of her, and this one painting—“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”—has come to represent the entire period.

So where does this painting belong, now that Vienna Secession and all who were a part of it have passed into history? This is the challenging question taken up in the new drama Woman in Gold.

Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, all of their relatives and most of their friends were Jewish. It was, in fact, the astonishing wealth of self-made Jewish entrepreneurs which fueled the Vienna Secession. In 1925, when Adele died so tragically young, Jews had every reason to believe that they had built a permanent place for themselves in a modern Austrian nation newly born in the cataclysmic aftermath of World War I. But less than ten years later, the Nazi Party had assumed control of Germany, and three years after that Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss of March 1938. By the time Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer died in Switzerland in November 1945, the Jews of Vienna had either fled or perished in War World War II, and almost all of their property—including “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” and four other Klimt painting commissioned by and paid for by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer—had been conflscated.

So on one level, Woman in Gold is yet another film about the Holocaust (as if there can ever be too many). Structurally it is a court room drama which chronicles the efforts of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer’s surviving heirs to prove their claim to some of his expropriated property. But it is also more: Woman in Gold is really a meditation on the meaning of the term “restitution.” Once something is stolen, can it ever be restored?

Helen Mirren stars as fussy, feisty protagonist Maria Altmann, but the central character is actually her attorney E. Randol Schoenberg (aka “Randy”) played by Ryan Reynolds.

We meet Maria Altmann three times in the course of Woman in Gold. Early scenes show young Maria Bloch (played by actress Nellie Schilling) growing up in a world of luxury and refinement. Her mother Therese was Adele’s older sister, and Adele, who was childless, doted on her two nieces Louise (born in 1908) and Maria (born in 1916). The famous Klimt portrait of her aunt is already part of young Maria’s world, and the woman who posed for it, the real woman she knows personally, is always as perfectly adorned as Klimt painted her.

By 1937, when Maria (now played by Tatiana Maslany) marries handsome Fritz Altmann (Max Irons), Adele has become an icon as well as an omnipresent memory. Maria’s loving uncle Ferdinand gives her the necklace seen in the portrait as a wedding gift. Their wedding reception is a high society event with a dash of Klezmer. And then the bottom falls out of their world. Maria and Fritz flee, leaving everyone and everything behind them.

California, 1998. Louise has died, leaving letters from Uncle Ferdinand in the boxes now stored in Maria’s bungalow. Maybe Randy, the son of Maria’s friend Barbara, can take a look at these papers and give her some advice?

And so it begins. At first Randy is none too pleased. “Thanks, Mom,” he mutters to himself after promising Barbara that he will call Maria and do what he can. But then he googles, realizes the market value of the paintings in question, and sets his shoulder to the wheel. WOMAN IN GOLD

In the battle that ensues, Maria never changes. Mirren plays her as an archetypal “Yekke” (Yiddish slang for the kind of German Jew who is a bit too high-handed, dictatorial, and mercurial). Maria is always precise about both her diction and her appearance, and she is strict in her demeanor.

Randy, on the other hand, changes a great deal overtime. By the end, Randy has become a mensch, not only coming into his own as a man but also assuming his role as member of the Jewish community. E. Randol Schoenberg, it turns out, is not just any Schoenberg, he is the grandson of composer Arnold Schoenberg, and thus is heir to a cultural legacy as exalted as Maria’s own.

Maria and Randy make their case. This will not be big news to anyone who knows that “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” now hangs in the Neue Gallerie, a Manhattan museum devoted to 20th Century German and Austrian art. So the suspense lies not in the outcome but in the process. How does fighting for his own legacy change Randy’s view of himself? How does restoration of property lead to dignity reclaimed?

Woman in Gold is not a documentary, it is a narrative feature. In other words, a very complicated story is reduced to a runtime just under two hours. So have some of the facts of the matter been stretched? Definitely. But is the core solid? Yes.

When I reviewed Portrait of Wally, an excellent 2012 documentary by Andrew Shea that deals with similar issues, I felt there was closure in the return of an Egon Schiele painting to Vienna. I feel the same way about Woman in Gold even though the end result is the opposite. The Vienna of Adele Bloch-Bauer—the Jewish Vienna of the early 20th Century—can never be restored. That spirit, in so far as it lives anywhere, now lives in New York.

Woman in Gold opens today (April 1) at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema in Lincoln Park and on Friday (April 3) at the Landmark Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park. For schedule information, visit their website.

To learn more about the case, read Maria Altmann’s obituary in the 2/17/11 issue of The Economist, or watch the 2008 documentary Adele’s Wish.


Top Photo: Helen Mirren as “Maria Altmann” and Ryan Reynolds as “Randy Schoenberg” in Woman in Gold.

Middle Photo: Daniel Brühl as Austrian journalist “Hubertus Czernin.”

Bottom Photo: Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds stand in front of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (which now hangs at the Neue Gallerie in Manhattan).

Daniel Brühl as Austrian journalist “Hubertus Czernin.”

Photo credits: Robert Viglasky © The Weinstein Company

Posted on JUF Online on 4/1/15.

Q: Does Woman in Gold pass the Bechdel Test?



In what ways have some of the facts of the matter been stretched?

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Alas, new doc is not quite tasty enough to recommend :-(

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3/14: Yente/Yenta TBE

DSC_0738Todah Rabah, Sheynem Dank, and Thanks Much to all the Brooklyn Khaverim who attended my Women’s History Month lecture Yente/Yenta: How a Name Became a Noun at Temple Beth Emeth.

Once again, my sponsor was the TBE Sisterhood under the leadership of Sara West.

Here is the write-up that appeared in the April issue of Truth (TBE’s monthly newsletter):

“The March 14th lecture sponsored by the Temple Sisterhood featured an eye-opening discussion by Congregant Jan Lisa Huttner who presented an examination of the character Yente- the-Matchmaker, from the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. Jan explored how the name Yente (or Yenta) has evolved from being a person’s name to a noun meaning a person who meddles or is a gossip.

Jan took us on a journey of the origins of the Fiddler character tracing her roots from Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye stories (where she does not appear) to the starring role of a character Yente in Sholem Aleichem’s short story Dos Tepl (The Little Pot).

The name Yente has its origins in the Latin word “Gentil,” which is also the root for the English words “gentry” and “gentleman.”

The first Yente was performed by the imposing Bea Arthur in the 1964 Broadway production, but evolved in a reduced manner to the character as portrayed by the diminutive Molly Picon in Norman Jewison’s 1971 movie production.

Jan asserted that this change in the portrayal of Yente reflects broader questions about the role of women in popular culture.”

Click here to download my PowerPoint presentation as a pdf:



Top Photo: Showing off copies of my book Tevye’s Daughters: No Laughing Matter.

Bottom Photo: Hooray for Hubby Rich Miller at the control panel!

Photo Credits: Michael Rose (3/14/15)


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