March ’11 Spotlight

The Chicago YIVO Society is hosting three local screenings of Monique Schwarz’s fascinating documentary Mamadrama this month. Screenings on Wednesday, March 23 (6:30 p.m. at Harold Washington Library Center in the Chicago Loop) and Thursday, March 24 (1 p.m. at Northbrook Public Library) are free and open to the public. A third screening on Sunday, March 27 is open to all participants in Chicago’s second annual Limmud.

Growing up in Australia in the late 60s, Schwarz (the daughter of Holocaust survivors) saw American films which puzzled her. “The Jewish mothers that I know and love are sexy, smart, and strong,” she says, “but I have never seen this mother in Hollywood movies, and I set out to find out why.”

The common stereotype of the Jewish mother is “a woman who is loud, obnoxious, domineering, and emasculating,” says film critic Michael Medved during his onscreen interview, but Schwarz is determined to push back. In Mamadrama, she juxtaposes clips from mid-century American films like Next Stop Greenwich Village, Portnoy’s Complaint, and Torch Song Trilogy with clips from well-known Israeli films made at roughly the same time (e.g., Noa at 17), as well as classic Yiddish films (e.g., A Letter to Mother). Additional commentary comes from film scholars like Patricia Erens and J. Hoberman.

For complete program information, visit:

More Films

ARZA and AZM will co-host a screening of Aviya’s Summer (Ha Kayitz Shel Aviya) on Thursday, March 24 at 7 p.m. as part of their “Israeli Movie Night” series. I saw Aviya’s Summer years ago at the 1989 Chicago International Film Festival, and it made an indelible impression. Winner of multiple international awards, Aviya’s Summer is always mentioned in academic texts on Israeli cinema, and it is one of the films Monique Schwarz features in Mamadrama.

Aviya’s Summer is a heartbreaking depiction of life in the infant state of Israel, where hard times for all left little room for pity. Gila Almagor (“the Israeli Meryl Streep”) wrote the autobiographical screenplay, and stars here as her mother “Henya,” a mentally-ill Holocaust survivor ridiculed by neighbors and totally unable to care for her daughter “Aviya” (Kaipu Cohen) no matter how much she tries. This look backwards reminds us of the effort required to make Israel the strong nation it is today.

For program details, visit the calendar page on the Temple Judea Mizpah (Skokie) website:


Yasmin Levy returns to the Old Town School of Folk Music in Lincoln Square on Wednesday, March 16 to sing from her newest collection of Sephardic songs. Speaking of Levy’s first Chicago appearance in 2009, OTSFM programmer Alisa Baum told me: “Everyone who was here said she was one of the best performers they’d ever seen. She is a rising star [on the world music scene].”

Levy’s Turkish-born father Isaac was a Jerusalem cantor dedicated to preserving Ladino tradition. By the time of his death (when Yasmin was just an infant), he had already published four books of romantic songs and ten books of liturgical songs. “Forty years from now, people won’t speak this language and the only way for it to survive is through the Sephardic songs,” Levy told an interviewer in 2006. “I will sing Ladino songs for the rest of my life—for the Jewish people, my father and the world.”

I’ve listened to Levy’s award-winning CD La Juderia several times since receiving OTSFM’s press release, and I’m eager to see her live performance. To order tickets, call the OTSFM box office at (773) 728-6000, or visit their website:

Levy will be accompanied by Yemen Blues, an Israeli band on its first American tour, but note that the workshop originally planned for Thursday has been cancelled due to scheduling conflicts.

Tzivi’s DVD Collection

Stuck inside during February’s “snowpocalypse”, my husband and I turned to The Teaching Company, spending many happy hours learning about the Dead Sea Scrolls from Jodi Magness, one of their newest professors. The Holy Land Revealed is the first set of lectures I’ve done on DVD. (The other three Teaching Company courses I’ve written about in this column were CD sets.)

Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, began her archeological studies as an undergraduate at Hebrew University, and she is currently planning a new dig in the northern Galilee near Capernaum and Migdal. She is an engaging guide, and I’m sure her 36 lectures (filled with diagrams, maps, and field photos) will be interesting any time of year. To order your set, visit:

Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) is an award-winning Chicago critic/columnist. Visit Jan’s new blog,, for a complete online archive of all JUF News columns plus additional interviews and reviews. Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to

Posted: 3/8/2011 3:50:36 PM
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