Mar’06 Spotlight

Shuli and Mali Rand, stars in the new Israeli film Ushpizin, will be here on March 26 to show a short film on the making of Ushpizin and then take questions from the audience.  When he came to Chicago last fall, I asked Ushpizin director Gidi Dar to describe his goals. “There is a big conflict in the whole world now, not just the Jewish world, between liberalism and fundamentalism,” he said. “It’s a war between two contradicting points of view. The Israeli ‘seculars’ have specific political problems with ultra-Orthodox people: ‘They don’t go to the army, they don’t do this, they don’t do that…’ But I believe this is superficial; I believe the deeper reasons lie somewhere in the beginnings of Zionism.”

“The big desire in Zionism is to become normal,” he continued. “Zionism is about muscles: warriors working the land. But we’re not normal no matter what, and it’s very abnormal to want us to be normal. Look at how we built this country [Israel]. There is no precedent for this! People from all over the world decide that this is their one nation, and they build, in 50 years, this country, but at the same time they try to kill its history.”

“I want to use film technique, the technology of emotions, to make people identify with something that normally they won’t identify with, and through this identification, I want to start bridging the gap between Israelis and our past,” he concluded. “I’m not a religious person, but I think a place that has no past will have no future.”

The Sunday evening program will include a dinner at the DoubleTree Skokie. For more information visit or call (847) 982-5465.


Chicago cabaret artist Joan Curto performs Of Thee I Sing, Ira: The Lyrics of Ira Gershwin at Davenport’s Piano Bar every Saturday night at 8 in March.

Ira says a lot in very succinct and simple ways,” Joan told me. “He was a wordsmith, a very studious guy who did a lot of research. He liked to write lyrics the way people actually spoke, and he liked to play with sounds (like ‘s’wonderful’).” “I don’t know what was in the water when their parents emigrated from Russia,” she mused, “but Jewish kids like Ira grew into the men who created ‘the Great American Songbook’!”

Davenport’s is located at 1383 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. For more information, visit For reservations call (773) 278-1830.

Chicago Nextbook will host Naama Goldstein and Lara Vapnyar on March 21 as part of their “Readings & Performances” series. The title “I Have Only Just Arrived: New Voices” reflects their wide travels and shared dislocation. Goldstein was 3 when her family left Boston and moved to Petakh Tikva in the ‘80s, whereas Vapnyar’s family emigrated to the United States from Russia in the ‘90s.

Goldstein’s collection of short stories, The Place Will Comfort You, is divided into two sections: Olim (Ascending) and VeYordim (And Descending). In part one, Jewish-Americans arrive in Israel expecting to blend in, but find themselves surprisingly disoriented: “Shouts spatter the schoolyard with a spectrum of accents. Faces and limbs paint blurs of brown and tan and pink against the background of concrete. You’re pale and you have a pale sound. When your father and I brought you here, your mother says, oh boy. We didn’t even speak the language. Transitioning on that scope, she says, it takes conviction and persistence.” In part two, her characters return to the United States, but still find little peace.

Most of the stories in Vapnyar’s collection, There are Jews in My House, are set in Russia, although one (called Mistress) is set in New York. In the title story, two women meet at work and bond. They share secrets, cook together, and shop: “The dresses were made of light cotton, dark blue with specks of white and red. They had short sleeves, low necklines, and fringed hems. ‘We are twins!’ Raya cried when they both looked in the mirror…”

But of course they are not twins, and when the Nazis occupy their town, Galina must decide if she will shelter her Jewish friend, and Raya must live with her sudden dependence on a former equal. The quick unraveling of their intimate relationship, told with spare eloquence, left me in tears.

The program begins at 7 p.m. at the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace St. in Chicago. For information, reservations, and directions, visit


Spertus wrapped up their Second City Jewsical weekend with an outstanding group discussion on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 22. Panelists Aaron Freeman, Nate Herman, Sheldon Patinkin, Bernie Sahlins, and Joyce Sloane attacked the topic “Jewish Humor: A Look Back and A Look Forward” with relish, sparring with one another, telling their own favorite jokes, and tossing audience questions from one end of the table to the other for over two hours. For more information about Jewsical, visit


When Liev Schreiber’s terrific adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s award-winning novel Everything is Illuminated was released in theaters last September, the critics yawned and most classified it derisively as “yet another” Holocaust movie. But Illuminated is not about the Holocaust per se, it’s about knowledge of the Holocaust and how that knowledge is to be transmitted to new generations once the survivors are gone.

Haunted by his grandmother’s ghosts, Jewish American college student “Jonathan” has lived his entire life in the shadow of the Holocaust. Told that a Ukrainian woman named Augustine saved his grandfather from the Nazis, Jonathan travels into “the black hole” to find her. His translator “Alex,” a Ukrainian student, knows virtually nothing about the Holocaust, and to the extent that he does, he thinks Jews and Ukrainians were both equal victims of Nazi aggression. When Jonathan tells Alex that his grandmother thinks he’s in Prague, Alex is dumbfounded. “I couldn’t even tell her I was coming to Ukraine,” Jonathan explains. “The Ukrainians back then were terrible to the Jews. They were almost as bad as the Nazis.” “This is not true. Say that you are mistaken,” Alex begs him.

As they search for Augustine, Jonathan discovers a lush pastoral country far different from the battle-scarred moonscapes of his imagination, but for Alex each mile they travel reveals new secrets buried beneath the fecund farmlands. Lovers of Foer’s novel will be dismayed to hear that the history of the Trachimbrod shtetl is gone, but Schreiber decided that the most important story here is the one about the future, and I agree. Illuminated arrives on DVD on March 21.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (3/1/06)

Tziviah bat Yisroel v’Hudah (Jan Lisa Huttner) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples ( Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to

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