July ’09 Spotlight

South African scholar Veronica Belling will give three presentations here in Chicago this month. On July 7 and July 8, she will speak at the 44th Annual Convention of the Association of Jewish Libraries (meeting this year at the Sheraton Chicago on North Water Street); on July 9, her sponsor is the Chicago YIVO Society.

Tuesday’s AJL session is on Jewish Book Stores, with Belling joined by co-panelist Henry Hollander. Her title is “The End of an Era: Beinkinstadt, Cape Town’s Oldest Jewish Bookstore, Closes Down.” Established by Moshe Beinkinstadt in 1903, his bookstore remained in the hands of descendants for 105 years. Belling told me by e-mail that she will provide a mini-social history of Cape Town’s Jewish community through the prism of Beinkinstadt.

Wednesday’s AJL session is on Yiddish Theatre, with Belling joining co-panelists Zachary Baker and David Chack. Her title is “Yiddish Theater in South Africa.” Belling told me the contents of this presentation will be culled from her recently published monograph Yiddish Theatre in South Africa: a History from the late Nineteenth Century to 1960.

The Thursday program will be at Northbrook Public Library (beginning at 12:15 p.m.). This final appearance will be an extended “solo version” of the Yiddish Theatre presentation above. “Johannesburg and Cape Town were regular stops on the international Yiddish theatre circuit,” she told me, “and amateur groups proliferated throughout the 1920s and 1930s. A revival occurred in the 1950s with the establishment of the South African Yiddish Cultural Federation, and the arrival of Holocaust survivors (actors in search of a stage), and Yiddish theatre continued sporadically in South Africa until as late as 1983.”

To register for the AJL Convention, visit www.JewishLibraries.org. Per diem rates include all sessions for one day plus lunch. All Chicago YIVO’s “Summer Festival of Yiddish Culture” programs are free and open to the public. For more information, visit their new blog: http://ChicagoYivo.WordPress.com

FILM

Being Jewish in France is a three-hour documentary released in 2007 and recently acquired by the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University. After sold out screenings in New York, NCJF is now distributing it nationally. We can see it here in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street during a weeklong run from July 24 through July 30.

French director Yves Jeuland has set himself a huge task. Part I, “From the Dreyfus Affair to Vichy,” is a 73 minute chronicle of highs and lows from the point Jews officially became citizens of France to the point the French government collaborated in shipping its Jewish citizens to Nazi Death Camps (some still wearing metals received for service to the state during WWI). Part II, “Liberation to Today” spends another 112 minutes documenting what happened when the survivors returned, culminating in Ariel Sharon’s infamous 2004 speech urging French Jews to make aliyah.

Jeuland is to be commended for his impressive filmmaking skills, punctuating “talking head” interviews with rare news footage, photos, and film clips, but I think the whole would have been more effective had he focused his energies on the period after WWII.

While he does a masterful job of integrating the stories of Jews forced to leave Algeria and other North African countries newly liberated from colonial domination (resulting in an Ashkenazi/ Sephardi culture clash well known in Israel if not here), Jeuland says nothing at all about the trial of Klaus Barbie and makes only passing reference to the Suez Crisis in 1956.

The Siskel Center plans to show both parts together for a single admission price, but I doubt they’ll turn you away if you arrive just for Part II during the 15-minute intermission. The history of these years is not well-known here in the United States, and Jewish-Americans will benefit from learning more about how our post-WWII history compares to France’s specifically with respect to internal “identity politics” as well as support for Israel through multiple wars from Independence to the Second Intifada.

To order tickets, visit: www.SiskelFilmCenter.org. Also add Karin Albou’s award-winning film La Petite Jerusalem to your Netflix queue. Jeuland begins Part II with a scene from this haunting film about a Tunisian woman and her two daughters (both born in France), so it’s definitely relevant. To read my review, visit: http://www.films42.com/columns/Petite-Jerusalem.asp.

CURTAIN CALL

Sunday, June 7, found me at the Arts & Poetry Stage at this year’s Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest to hear four local authors read from a new collection called Where We Find Ourselves: Jewish Women around the World Write about Home.

Deborah Nodler Rosen announced “I found ‘home’ in a Mah-Jongg set,” and then began reading from her own contribution to the collection: “I am eight… I gather up the magical, mysterious Chinese ivory Mah-Jongg tiles and, exiled beneath the baby grand piano, build a gateless wall around myself.” (133-134)

Next Dina Elenbogen, best known for her poetry collection Apples of the Earth, read excerpts for her story “Independence Park: A Fiction.” “Now that I am a mother I want my own mother back, but she is gone… It is the eighth day, the Brit Mila of my son, the covenant of the flesh. Our living room is filled with uncles, brothers, fathers—our mothers are dead.” (38-39)

Julie Parson-Nesbitt followed up with her short, aching poem In Your Letter (written in response to a condolence card): “Suffering does not make you good. But it tears down everything you thought was true.” (207-208)

Closing out the program, Helen Degen Cohen read excerpts from her autobiographical novel The Edge of the Field. ”We were in this place [the Lida Ghetto] because we were Jewish. I had not understood it, this being Jewish… ‘Let’s go to the fence,’ I said, ‘and look at the field.’ Mirka said no… I stand at the edge of the field, looking through diamonds of space…” (27-33)

Forty-two authors of various ages and nationalities speak eloquently on four main topics: Displacement and Exile; Place and Memory; Language and Creativity; and Family and Tradition. To order your copy today!

*****

Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com. Visit www.juf.org for online copies of prior columns.

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