My Kinda Town

SophieSlidesTodah Rabah, Sheynem Dank, and Huge Thanks to everyone who came to Northbrook Public Library on 8/13, Harold Washington Library Center on 8/14, and/or Wilmette Public Library on 8/19 to hear the sixth in my annual series of lectures on Fiddler on the Roof for the Chicago YIVO Society’s “Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture.”

This year’s lecture was called My Fiddler: From Grodna to Broadway in honor of my grandmother–my mother’s mother–Sophie Slotnick Hecht.

Upon reflection, I have finally realized that my Gramma Heckie laid the foundation for all of the “traditions” which guide me in my own life today while she chopped the gefilte fish, ground the liver, and fried up stacks and stacks of latkes.

My Gramma Heckie  didn’t exactly “teach me to cook,” but she did let me sit there  in her kitchen while she slaved away on behalf of our family, and the things she taught me are beyond measure.

To all my friends in Metro Chicago: I love you all, I miss you all, and I am tremendously grateful for all of your unflagging encouragement and support!!!

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Click here to view my Metro Chicago presentation as a pdf –> 14Aug11YIVO

Thanks also to Jeff Marden who worked so hard behind-the-scenes to get the word out :-)

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Inside

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WPL: Thank You!

Todah Rabah, Sheynem Dank, and Huge Thanks to everyone at Wilmette Public Library who helped to make my 8/19 lecture possible and to everyone who came to cheer me on :-)

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HWLC: Thank You!

Todah Rabah, Sheynem Dank, and Huge Thanks to everyone at Harold Washington Library Center who helped to make my 8/14 lecture possible and to everyone who came to cheer me on :-)

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NPL: Thank You!

Todah Rabah, Sheynem Dank, and Huge Thanks to everyone at Northbrook Public Library who helped to make my 8/13 lecture possible and to everyone who came to cheer me on :-)

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How FIDDLER has become…

HeaderCropJUFOSincere thanks to Paul Wieder of the JUF News for this new post about my August lecture series for the Chicago YIVO Society’s annual Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture :-)

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September 22, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Broadway performance of Fiddler on the Roof.

But first, in August, Jan Lisa Huttner will present her new lecture on the musical. The talk will be part of Chicago YIVO Society’s 2014 Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture. (Light Opera Works, in Evanston, also is staging a revival in August to honor the musical’s milestone.)

Since “My Fiddler: From Grodna to Brooklyn” is her sixth annual presentation on the subject, she says, “The topic is: Why has all this mattered so much to me?” She will explain her personal reasons for spending so many years transfixed by all the sources, synergies, and subtle nuances of this great theatrical classic.

Her previous talks have covered the female characters in the story, like Yente and Hodel, and the musical’s choreographer, Jerome Robbins. She has also covered the musical extensively on her blog, Second City Tzivi (titled after her Hebrew name), as well as JUF News and other publications.

She explains her lecture’s subtitle, “From Grodna to Brooklyn” by-how else-telling a story. “That’s what my Bubbie used to say when I’d ask, ‘Where are you from, Bubbie?’ She’d reply, ‘I was born in Grodna in Russia-Poland.’ That always made me laugh. Where is that? Since this is my personal story, I’d like to stick with ‘Grodna,'” she adds, noting that it has been spelled every way from “Grodno” to “Hrodna” over the centuries.

Huttner’s interest was sparked, she says, not by the stories themselves, but by Chagall’s painting of a fiddler on a roof, titled The Green Musician. She began to investigate all aspects of the Fiddler story, from early Yiddish films, to the stage musical and the movie version thereof… from the source, Shalom Aleichem’s Tevye stories, to the author’s own life.

She is especially mindful of the differences between the short story, stage, and film versions, noting how they shift the story’s focus on various characters and even its overall message. For one, Huttner asserts that the main character is not Tevye, whom she relegates to narrator status, but his daughter Hodel, who is “the only one to leave Anatevka, and is not driven out.” For another difference, Yente is not even in the original stories. Her conclusion? “There is no one Fiddler.”

Huttner also remarks on the events in the world, especially the Jewish world, during the various incarnations of the story. The 1939 Yiddish film version, for instance, was released “in the shadow of Kristallnacht.” Further, the Tevye stories themselves reflect the changes in the life and times of their author. The eight stories are published together now, but were in fact written over a span of 20 years.

Huttner notes that she has been studying Fiddler for 15 years now, reading everything from performance reviews to scholarly analyses to biographies of all major artists involved. Not surprisingly, she notes that her own perceptions of the tale have changed over time, due to events in her own life and deepening familiarity with the plot, characters, and background. She summarizes this revelation by quoting the movie itself: “The more I looked, the more I saw.”

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“My Fiddler: From Grodna to Brooklyn” will be given three times: on Aug. 13 at the Northbrook Public Library; on Aug. 14 at the Harold Washington Library; and Aug. 19 at the Wilmette Public Library. Huttner blogs on Fiddler and other Jewish films at http://secondcitytzivi.com/.

Click HERE to see the complete schedule for this year’s Chicago YIVO Society Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture!

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Posted: 7/28/2014 2:27:54 PM

Photo Credit: Gaylen Ross (7/11/14)

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WISH I WAS HERE

WISH I WAS HEREZach Braff stars in a film (co-written with his brother Adam) that is mostly about father/son and brother/brother relationships, and yet these scenes quickly turn into pablum.

Ironically even though they are both on the sidelines, the most resonant scenes belong to Kate Hudson as wife/mother, and Joey King (who steals the show in the daughter role). (JLH: 3/5)

Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Not yet seen by Rich.

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Wish I Was Here is Zach Braff’s disappointing follow-up to his lovely 2004 Indie hit Garden State. Once again, Braff not only stars and directs, but he’s also written the screenplay (this time in collaboration with his brother Adam Braff).

The film begins with “Aidan” (Zach Braff) living an idyllic suburban life with his wife “Sarah” (Kate Hudson) and their two kids, “Grace” (Joey King) and “Tucker” (Pierce Gagnon). But in a turnabout of typical Middle Class expectations, it is not Aiden but Sarah who is the family’s main source of income. Kate puts on her business clothes and heads out to an office every day. Meanwhile Aidan—in casual clothes—struggles to find success as an actor.

But all is not well. One morning at breakfast, Sarah tells Aidan that he needs to get in touch with his father right away. Grace and Tucker go to a Jewish Day School, and Aidan’s father “Gabe” (Mandy Patinkin), who has always covered their tuition bills, has fallen behind on his payments.

When the reluctant son finally visits his father, Gabe informs Aidan that his cancer (which was in remission) is now virulent and he intends to use whatever money he has left on treatments, even if they are “alternative” and therefore against medical advice, and even if that means the tuition bills will go forever unpaid.

The conversation between Gabe and Aidan makes it clear that Aiden has never had too much love for the school, and he only sent his kids there because Gabe wanted them to go and was willing to foot the bill. But to please Sarah, Aiden goes to the school to makes his case… and the Senior Rabbi promptly shoots him down. He is filled with scorn when Aidan asks for tzedakah – a word Aidan only knows because he had asked Grace to coach him before the meeting – Aidan must settle down, get a real job, and assume responsibility for his family!

Sad to say, the whole scene looks like it was stolen from the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-nominated film A Serious Man: the Rabbi’s office, the way the Rabbi sits dwarfed by his big desk, it all looks so familiar. Did Braff intend to bow in homage? Whatever he was thinking, he made a mistake. A Serious Man is a parody; it is set in the past and it has a satirical tone. Wish I Was Here, by contrast, is emotional, sentimental, and even mawkish. “What is this?” I kept asking myself, with my teeth set on edge. “What is Braff trying to say here about the way Observant Jews look and act in 2014?”

But in truth, all this “Jewish stuff” amounts to nothing more than a plot hook. Since his kids can no longer attend their Day School and they don’t want to start at the local public school in the middle of the year, Sarah decides the only option is to home school them. And since she has to go to her office every day, “the teacher” who will take on these new home schooling responsibilities will be Aiden. Say what?!?

The Senior Rabbi comes to the hospital to console Gabe, presumably to help him reconcile himself to the fact that he is dying. He scoots around the hospital on a Segway, bumping into walls like a pompous fool. But he will not keep the grandchildren of this dying man in school for a few more months after all those years of paid tuition? Better he should lord it over the son, and teach him lessons about manhood just when the son is finally facing his long-buried Daddy issues? Oy!

But that would be taking what’s on screen much too seriously. Here’s the real point of it all: without this clumsy set-up, how would Braff justify all the cute bonding scenes he needs for his trailers? “Home Schooling” turns into test drives in sports cars and fence painting sessions in the back yard. Feh!

And yet, somehow one person does shine though all of this: Kate Hudson. Her relationship with Aiden — her husband — is totally by the book, and her work life is a joke. But she has two lovely scenes that almost make sitting through Wish I Was Here worthwhile.WISH I WAS HERE

The first is a scene with Grace – her daughter – set at bedtime. Grace, emulating her school friends, has fallen head-first into the Modern Orthodox lifestyle. Grace is already in bed. Sarah enters Grace’s bedroom cautiously and offers her daughter some new clothes, gently suggesting that since she no longer attends the Day School, Grace might want to start wearing clothes that are a bit less “modest.” After all, Sarah reminds her, Grace will be heading off to the local public school at the beginning of the next term… Young Joey King, as Grace, responds perfectly and this tiny scene between the two actresses is a gem.

Later Sarah goes to the hospital by herself to visit Gabe. Gabe is in bed. These scenes are mirror images of one another. Once again, Sarah positions herself at the side of the bed. And once again, Many Patinkin, as Gabe, responds perfectly. “Think of how you want to be remembered,” says Sarah to Gabe. The words are simple enough, but the acting is superb.

Truth be told, seeing Kate Hudson in Wish I Was Here was a big relief for me. Hudson was awful in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but now I no longer blame her. Now I think she was just poorly cast. If this part as Sarah is a career rejuvenator for Kate Hudson, then great. Otherwise, I have nothing good to say about Wish I Was Here.

WISH I WAS HERE

Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (8/04/14)

Top Photo: Zach Braff as “Aidan” with his daughter “Grace” (Joey King) seen here in her “modest” Modern Orthodox outfit.

Middle Photo: Kate Hudson as “Sarah.”

Bottom Photo: Sarah and Grace discuss the future. This scene is a gem :-)

Photo Credits: Merie Weismiller Wallace

NOTE: The press kit contained no photos of Mandy Patinkin.

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5774: Shabbat Pinchas

7/11/14: Our wonderful Rabbi (Rabbi Heidi Hoover) is away on a well-earned vacation, so Services at Temple Beth Emeth are lay-lead for the month of July. Knowing of my interest in the Daughters of Zelophehad, I was invited to do tonight’s D’var Torah on Parsha Pinchas (the weekly portion in which the Daughters of Zelophehad make their first appearance).

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Tonight we read from Parsha Pinchas which is in The Book of Numbers.

We are in that part of the Torah—on the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho—where “the Lord said to Moses and to Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, ‘Take a census of the whole Israelite community from the age of twenty years up, by their ancestral houses, all Israelites able to bear arms.’

When we reach the Descendants of Manasseh (the son of Joseph), the text says:

KlausnerSculpture“Now Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons, only daughters. The names of Zelophehad’s daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.”

A few paragraphs later, we read these names again:

“The daughters of Zelophehad, of Manassite family—son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph—came forward. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.”

“They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, ‘Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against the Lord, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!’

Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them.’

‘Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.’”

The first thing I want to say about this is that I only found out about the Daughters of Zelophehad a couple of years ago. As a lifelong Jewish Feminist, I thought I knew the women of the Torah pretty well. But somehow I don’t remember hearing anyone talk about the Daughters of Zelophehad before overhearing a snippet of conversation about them one day when I was waiting for my husband Richard while he was in Torah study.

And for all my research on Fiddler on the Roof, which by that time had been going on for almost a decade, no one ever thought to tell me there were five daughters mentioned multiple times by name in the Book of Numbers!!!

Now I realize that the discussion in this parsha is focused on male genealogy. In fact, the whole paragraph I read from above is as follows:

‘Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter. If he has no daughter, you shall assign his property to his brothers. If he has no brothers, you shall assign his property to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, you shall assign his property to his nearest relative in his own clan, and he shall inherit it.’ This shall be the law of procedure for the Israelites, in accordance with the Lord’s command to Moses.’”

But still, any women who has read her Jane Austen must surely be startled:

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them.’

‘Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.’”

Wow! And just think of the sheer chutzpah of these daughters: “They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said ‘Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!’

Wow again!

Of course there is some subsequent pushback. A few chapters later, in Parsha Mas’ei, the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad ends as follows:

“The family heads in the clan of the descendants of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh, one of the Josephite clans, came forward and appealed to Moses and the chieftains, family heads of the Israelites. They said, “The Lord commanded my lord to assign the land to the Israelites as shares by lot, and my lord was further commanded by the Lord to assign the share of our kinsman Zelophehad to his daughters.

Now, if they marry persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they marry; thus our allotted portion will be diminished. And even when the Israelites observe the jubilee, their share will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their share will be cut off from the ancestral portion of our tribe.”

So Moses, at the Lord’s bidding, instructed the Israelites, saying: “The plea of the Josephite tribe is just. This is what the Lord has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: They may marry anyone they wish, provided they marry into a clan of their father’s tribe. No inheritance of the Israelites may pass over from one tribe to another, but the Israelites must remain bound each to the ancestral portion of his tribe. Every daughter among the Israelite tribes who inherits a share must marry someone from a clan of her father’s tribe, in order that every Israelite may keep his ancestral share. Thus no inheritance shall pass over from one tribe to another, but the Israelite tribes shall remain bound each to its portion.”

The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord had commanded Moses: Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, Zelophehad’s daughters, were married to sons of their uncles, marrying into clans of descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph; and so their share remained in the tribe of their father’s clan.

These are the commandments and regulations that the Lord enjoined upon the Israelites, through Moses, on the steppes of Moab, at the Jordan near Jericho.”

But here are two things I want you to notice. First, all five names are to be read three times—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah—so they are known to us as individuals and not just as the daughters of a father whose name was Zelophehad.

And second, Moses specifically says: “They may marry anyone they wish, provided they marry into a clan of their father’s tribe.”

These women—and the women after them—have the property, so the power to choose remains in their hands… at least until they make a choice of husband.

This is not what we were told was our “Tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof, where the daughters explicitly say: “And who does Mama teach, to mend and tends and fix, preparing me to marry whoever Poppa picks?” 

So my reading of the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad has lead me to ask, once again: Who decides? We can find so many things written in the Torah, and yet even while claiming to be guided only by Scripture, some people take it on themselves to decide that some teachings are more important than others.

Take Gay Marriage, for example. To many it is an anathema. Why? Because homosexual relations are prohibited in the Bible. Some people would have other people killed—or at least imprisoned—because they are homosexuals. Why? Because it’s in the Bible.

But it’s perfectly fine to disempower women and rob them of their patrimony, even though that’s not only “in the Bible,” it is said to be HaShem talking directly to Moses: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just!”

Yet even now, a group in England called The Hares is trying to overturn the rules by which property is passed down in moneyed British families. They have brought what they call “Lady Mary’s Case” (in honor of Lady Mary Crawley of DOWNTON ABBEY to the House of Lords… but so far no one seems to care…

Last week, we learned about Balaam’s donkey. Rembrandt did a famous painting about this creature and rightly so. But why didn’t Rembrandt—or for that matter any other famous male painter—choose the Daughters of Zelophehad—who are mentioned three times by name—as a fit subject?

I leave that to you as an Open Question for discussion at tonight’s Oneg Shabbat.

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Those are the final words of my prepared text, but now I want to add a bit more.

I am well aware that the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad appears in the context of a census: “the Lord said to Moses and to Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, ‘Take a census of the whole Israelite community from the age of twenty years up, by their ancestral houses, all Israelites able to bear arms.’”

And as the end of this first paragraph of the parsha makes clear, the purpose of this census is to prepare the sons of the sons of Jacob for a military takeover of the Promised Land. These words weighed heavily on me in the days since last Friday (when Adrienne and I agreed that I would do this week’s D’var Torah). With everything happening in the Middle East this past week, with all the deaths and the injuries and the bombs falling relentlessly on our beloved Israel, I asked myself if it would be frivolous to talk about the Daughters of Zelophehad? I asked myself if I should say something instead about the current situation? But what could I say? Discussing the current situation in the Middle East is way above my pay grade!

So I decided to stick with the Daughters of Zelophehad, and now I see that was a blessing. I didn’t know—when I arrived tonight—that our Sanctuary would be off-limits due to construction. I didn’t know—when I invited some personal friends both within our Beth Emeth family as well as from other parts of our city to join us tonight—that we would all be squeezing into this little room. But now I think this brings us all closer to what is happening all over Israel and across the Jewish world tonight as other people in other places make do in makeshift locations of their own.

Studying our weekly Torah portion—which this week includes the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad—this is what we do. This is part of what has keep us strong over the centuries. Whatever happens around us, we must “Keep on Keeping On.”

Shabbat Shalom.

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To download a copy of my D’var Torah as a pdf, follow this link: 14July11DvarTorah

Credits: My most sincere thanks to sculptor Judith Klausner and painter Iris Wexler for granting me permission to use copies of their work to illustrate my own thoughts on the Daughters of Zelophehad.

My friend Gaylen Ross took the photo of me giving my Sholem Aleichem bobblehead doll a tour of the Beth Emeth Sanctuary after the Oneg Shabbat :-)

Click HERE to read my presentation “Tevye’s Daughters: No Laughing Matter” for the Temple Beth Emeth Sisterhood (in which the Daughters of Zelophehad play a prominent role).

The translation I used for this D’var Torah was taken from the JPS Tanakh.

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