Mar ’10 Spotlight

“Me ken makhn der kholem greser vi di nakht.”

(“You Can Make the Dream Bigger than the Night.”)

New York journalist Eileen Douglas will be here in Chicago with her producing partner Ron Steinman to show two documentary films in celebration of Women’s History Month.

First up is My Grandfather’s House, Eileen’s first-person narrative about her search for roots in Eastern Europe. Growing up in Syracuse, New York, Eileen was very close with her mother’s father, but whenever she asked him about his family, all he would say was “they died in the War.” Never encouraged to dig deeper, Eileen thought his secrets were lost forever until she found albums filled with old pictures and letters written in Yiddish. “My family was subject to all of the insanity of the 20th century,” she says. “I can see now why my grandfather never talked.” After piecing clues together in Lithuania, Eileen brings her scattered cousins to Tel Aviv for a reunion, where they agree that “Alts is rekht.” And in this wise and heartwarming movie, it’s true: in the end, “Everything is OK.”

Next comes Luboml: My Heart Remembers about pre-War life in a thriving Polish market town. Despite Nazi destruction of the entire Jewish community in 1942, images of Luboml’s synagogues and sports teams, businesses and factories, theater and cinema are all preserved in family photos and archival footage. Former residents lovingly describe daily life in Luboml, where religious tradition and community life once coexisted for generations.

My Grandfather’s House will screen at the Harold Washington Library Center (at State and Congress) on Weds evening Mar 24 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM. Luboml will screen at Skokie Public Library (5215 Oakton) on Thurs afternoon Mar 25 from 12:15 PM to 2 PM. Both screenings will be introduced by Eileen, and end with Q&A sessions so audience members can address their questions directly to Eileen and Ron.

Both screenings are free and open to the public. No reservations are required, but seating is limited. Sponsoring organizations include Chicago YIVO as well as several local women’s organizations, with additional funding from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois. For more information, visit http://www.chicagoyivo.org

Also Playing

Next Theatre Company of Evanston has a daring new adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Return to Haifa. First published in 1968, Return to Haifa is the story of “Safiyeh” and “Ishmail,” a Palestinian couple who flee from their home in 1948, leaving their son behind in the chaos of displacement. Twenty years later, after the Six Day War reopens previously-closed borders, they learn that two Holocaust survivors, “Sarah” and “Jakob,” have raised the child as their own.

Although he knew that adaptations of Kanafani’s novella had already been staged in Israel, Next’s Artistic Director Jason Southerland wanted a less politicized version, so he asked playwright M.E.H. Lewis to start from scratch. If anything, the result now suffers from too much “balance,” as both mothers (played by Saren Nofs-Snyder and Diana Simonzadeh) fight for the soul of young “Moishe” (Miguel Cohen) by making long, heart-rending speeches enumerating their catastrophic losses. Meanwhile both husbands are soldiers. Safiyeh is alone in 1948 because “Ishmail” (Anish Jethmalani) is off fighting the Jews; “Jakob” (Daniel Cantor) leaves Sarah for the Sinai in 1956.

Nevertheless, while clearly still “a work in progress,” Southerland and Lewis have created a compelling drama that retains its allegorical edge. Next’s production of Return to Haifa runs through Mar 7. For tickets, call (847) 475-1875, or visit: www.NextTheatre.org.

Curtain Call

The first annual Limmud Chicago “Day of Jewish Learning” (held at Oakton Community College on Feb 14) was terrific. A hearty mazel tov to all 350+ participants: coordinators, speakers, and students of all ages, interests, and religious affiliations. To learn about plans for the 2011 program, visit: www.LimmudChicago.com

 

Tzivi’s DVD Collection

 

When Howard Zinn died in January at the age of 87, America lost one of the 20th Century’s best-known historians and the mishpokhe lost a mensch. After serving as a bombardier during WWII, Zinn devoted his life to civil rights and anti-war causes. When he took unpopular political stands (such as his early opposition to the Vietnam War), he did so with the full weight of history on his shoulders.

You don’t need to log onto Wikipedia to know this man was Jewish; the fact that both parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe is evident in every sentence that he wrote. Here are the final words of his autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic… If we remember those times and places… where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act… And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Documentary filmmakers Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller released a solid film version of Neutral in 2004, and it’s certainly an engrossing survey of Zinn’s life and times, but a more fitting tribute is The People Speak. Produced for the History Channel and now available on DVD, The People Speak is based on a program held at NYC’s venerable 92nd Street Y in 2003, celebrating the fact that sales of Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States had just crossed over the one million mark.

Zinn personally narrates as a stream of stars (including Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Sandra Oh, Sean Penn, and Marisa Tomei) read from the letters, poems, and speeches of great American “rebels, dissenters, and visionaries,” with musical accompaniment by the likes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. This is a thought-provoking and awe-inspiring ensemble of sounds and images!

Zinn married his wife “Roz” (born Roslyn Shechter) in 1944. Her parents were also Jewish immigrants. Partners in life and work right up to the time of her death in 2008, the Zinns leave behind two children, five grandchildren, and innumerable mitzvot. May their memories be for blessing.

*****

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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