June ’10 Spotlight

Eshkol Nevo came to Chicago recently to read from his award-winning 2004 novel Homesick. Just released in English, Homesick is the first offering in the new “Hebrew Literature Series” published by Dalkey Archive Press (in collaboration with the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature in Bnei Brak, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, and the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign).

Amir studies psychology in Tel Aviv. Noa studies photography in Jerusalem. Young and passionate, they decide to rent a small apartment together in Maoz Ziyon. What they want is a love nest between the poles; what they get is a community. In the course of 374 pages, Nevo deconstructs Maoz Ziyon culturally, historically, politically and sociologically, but also emotionally, romantically, and sexually, and he deliberately leaves things unresolved at the end to create “a bomb that keeps ticking in the heart of the reader.”

“You don’t get answers,” he explained when I saw him at the Chicago Cultural Center, “but you can get your boundaries broadened. In Israel, for my readers, ‘the other’ was a Palestinian construction worker, but in Europe, and maybe in American, ‘the other’ is the Israeli.”

Since I began my “Tzivi’s Spotlight” columns in 2005, I have read dozens of books, including novels by world-renown Jewish authors like Amos Oz and Philip Roth, but I cannot think of a contemporary novel that moved me more deeply than Homesick. “Homesickness is a global phenomenon,” Nevo said. “Everyone is homesick nowadays.” 

The day after I saw him, Nevo met with students at UIUC. Asked if he considers his book life-affirming, Nevo said: “For me, it’s very hopeful, with a lot of human understanding going on, human warmth. For the reader, it’s a Rorschach Test.” To watch the one hour video from this wide-ranging dialogue, visit: http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/book/?GCOI=15647100077420

One Night Only

Ashe Emet Synagogue on North Broadway will host a concert on Monday June 14 organized by the Women Cantors Network. Beginning with a nucleus of twelve in 1982, WCN has grown into an international organization of over 300.

The theme for this year’s annual conference, the first one coordinated by Chicago members, is “Diversity: Celebrating Our Many Voices” (Kolot M’guvanim). Songs will be performed in English, Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish, featuring special guests Alberto Mizrahi and the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation choir. I went to a preview performance and the music was glorious.

To purchase tickets, contact Raquel Johnson at (773) 868-5125 or visit: http://www.AnsheEmet.org/?p=4073.

Opening Soon

Two ambitious Indie films open in Metro Chicago this month. The first is Holy Rollers written by Antonio Macia and directed by Kevin Asch. Based on actual events widely reported in 1999, Holy Rollers stars Jesse Eisenberg as “Sam Gold.” When the film opens, Sam is living with his family in Brooklyn’s insular Hasidic community. His parents want him to be a Rabbi, but Sam is too restless. Neighbor “Yosef” (Justin Bartha) introduces him to an Israeli hustler named “Jackie” (Danny Abeckaser), and Sam lets Jackie convince him that his business (smuggling “medicines” from Amsterdam) is well-intentioned. Falling ever deeper into Jackie’s world increases the gulf between Sam, his conscience, and his community.

Although the criminal element provides narrative drive, Holy Rollers is about Sam’s spiritual journey— where is his place in the world and what are his options? Near the end, Sam, now estranged from his family, is approached on the street by a Chabadnik who wants him to wrap tefillin. Saying prayers for the first time in months, Sam’s desperate longing for acceptance is heartbreaking.

Holy Rollers opens June 4th at Landmark’s Century Centre in Lincoln Park and Renaissance Place in Highland Park.

Daddy Longlegs begins a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street on June 11. Written and directed on a microbudget by brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, Daddy Longlegs is a semi-autobiographical memory piece about their father Albert (nephew of famous Israeli architect Moshe Safdie). Actor Ronald Bronstein (called “Lenny” in the film) brilliantly portrays a loving man too fragmented to be a responsible parent.

The Safdie Brothers will be onsite for Q&A discussions after all Friday (6/11) and Saturday (6/12) screenings. For tickets, visit: http://www.SiskelFilmCenter.org

*****

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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