May ’09 Spotlight

“Salma Zidane,” the main character in Eran Riklis’ beautiful new film Lemon Tree, is a Palestinian widow who has lived in a small house on the eastern edge of the green line for most of her life. But Salma’s quiet habits and lonely routines are immediately impacted when “Mira Navon” becomes her new neighbor. Mira and her husband are Israelis, and Mira’s husband is Israel’s Minister of Defense.

Both women are empty-nesters with children in America, and as the film progresses, this is one source of mutual empathy. Watching from windows on different sides of the fence that cuts through Salma’s lemon grove, they become allies if never quite friends.

Eran Riklis directed The Syrian Bride and produced Three Mothers (two films that have played to audience acclaim at recent Chicago film festivals), and Lemon Tree screenwriter Suha Arraf also wrote The Syrian Bride screenplay. Riklis and Arraf have developed a unique collaboration; their films are delicate and understated, with profound sympathy for female characters trapped at the edges of male conflict.

I know some critics have politicized this film, claiming it’s either pro-Palestinian and/or anti-Israeli but I vehemently disagree. When soldiers arrive to cut down Salma’s lemon trees, it’s not just a power play. Terrorists are, in fact, hiding weapons there, and they don’t care about Salma’s needs either. This film is a prayer for peace and the end of enmity.

Lemon Tree opens on May 1 at both of our local Landmark theatres: Century Centre (Chicago) and Renaissance Place (Highland Park). To read my interview with Hiam Abbass (the actress who plays Salma), visit:


“History sounds different when you know where to start listening.” That’s the motto of the Idelsohn Society (named in honor of Hava Nagila composer Abraham Zevi Idelsohn), and Idelsohn Society founder Josh Kun will soon be here to personally expand our aural horizons. Kun’s most recent book is And you Shall Know Us by the Trail of Our Vinyl (coauthored with Roger Bennett), and the multimedia presentation he has planned for us sounds fascinating.

Kun is associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Southern California, and I called him in LA for more details.

“Music is such an amazing tool,” Josh told me. “I can take an ‘LP’ [long playing record] from the ‘60s and play it for someone who bought it when it originally came out and someone who’s hearing it for the first time, and they might have completely different ideological takes on what this particular song means, but they have the song in common.”

“I’m from a transitional generation. I grew up with LPs and CDs, but now I’m a full user of MP3s and iPods. Hip hop culture embraces ‘crate digging’—going through record store crates to find pieces of old music, then cutting them up and recombining them to create new songs. In our book, Roger and I take old album covers and mix, match and recombine them to create new kinds of stories. So our project is really born out of a very contemporary sensibility: hunting and pecking through the past in order to construct our own identity.”

“There are so many stories that haven’t been told yet that really change the way we understand Jews in terms of multiple racial and ethnic histories of the United States,” he concluded. “So these LPs speak to a dynamic story of cross-cultural interaction, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to collectively share these songs together and try to understand what they mean.”

For more information about the Idelsohn Society, visit For more information about Kun’s program (scheduled for Wednesday May 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Morse Theatre in Rogers Park), visit


Was Georges Bizet’s tempestuous heroine “Carmen” a Converso? She’s always referred to as “a gypsy,” but there’s room for doubt. Bizet’s music teacher and father-in-law was Fromental Halévy (composer of the opera La Juive), and Ludovic Halévy, Bizet’s brother-in-law, wrote Carmen’s libretto (in collaboration with Henri Meilhac). Furthermore Carmen is set in Seville, the Spanish home of a prominent Jewish community from Biblical times right up to the point of expulsion in 1492.

These thoughts ran through my head as I watched Nancy Turano’s multifaceted ballet Carmen Act 1, brilliantly performed by Chicago’s Luna Negra Dance Theatre on March 28. Turano is the Artistic Director of the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble (NJDTE), and the coordinator of a Drew University program for dancers from Israel called “Crossing Borders.” Nancy has promised to let me know the next time she comes to Chicago so I can tell all of you. Meanwhile, for more information, visit


The Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest and the Petach Tikva Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International, will screen Desperado Square on Tuesday, May 12 at 6 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan and Randolph.

On the eve of his first Yahrzeit, Avram Mandabon comes to his son Nissim in a dream and asks him to reopen an old movie theatre that’s been boarded up since before Nissim’s birth. A good son knows better than to ignore instructions from the beyond, and soon the whole town is involved except Avram’s widow, Seniora. What secrets has “the Diva” been keeping all these years?

“I love this film for being funny, sensitive and sad, all at the same time,” CFIC committee member Ophira Ben-Arieh told me, and I agree. Desperado Square received five awards from the Israel Film Academy in 2000 (including Best Director and Best Music). Come to the free screening and watch this delightful film with friends, or get the DVD from Netflix and watch it at home. Either way, make sure you have tissues handy!


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

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