Arts & Culture

We welcome you to send us any news you might have regarding the vibrant arts and culture scene here in Philadelphia. If you have books to review, theatre productions, music, or museum exhibits please feel free to contact Art & Culture Editor Lisa Grunberger at art@pjvoice.org.

From Barrack to Broadway

David Treatman (left) and Alan Koolik (right), Columbia University students and theater producers in New York City.

David Treatman, a 2016 graduate of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy,  and and his business partner, Alan Koolik, are two of the youngest producers on the New York theater scene. They are students at Columbia University: Treatman, a sophomore, and Koolik, a junior. [Read more…]

What Kinds of Jewish Jokes Are Okay to Laugh At?

Two old guys sharing a New York apartment panic about their rent going up and host a show centered around comedians and a tuna sandwich inside a deli. Ever read a sentence more Jewish? Oh, Hello, a Broadway show featuring this plot, just made it to Netflix. Watching it from a Jewish lens, I struggled between discomfort and uncontrollable laughter. [Read more…]

Independence Day Is an Occasion to Celebrate American Jewish Heroes

Haym Salomon Stamp. Photo: USPS.

Haym Salomon Stamp. Photo: USPS.

How many Jewish heroes of the Revolutionary War (or earlier) can you identify? You probably know that Haym Salomon was a key figure in financing the Revolution. Did you know that Francis Salvador was the first Jew to die in the American Revolution, on August 1, 1776, following the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You might know that Philadelphian Rebecca Gratz founded the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society and other relief organizations. Did you know that her family was prominent among revolutionaries here? We also have colonial recipes. [Read more…]

“Wonder Woman” — Controversy and Accolades

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Photo: Vox.

The Lasso of Truth (Wonder Woman’s weapon that transforms people into obedient truth tellers) says that DC Films’ “Wonder Woman,” directed by Patty Jenkins, is set to became one of the highest-grossing female-directed movies ever — even in the face of controversy.

The lead actress, Gal Gadot, is Israeli, which was cited as the reason for the film being banned in Lebanon. As is typical with some of Israel’s neighboring countries, Lebanon officially bans products from Israel. Although, according to Al Jazeera, “the principle of boycott is inconsistently enforced.” Previous movies in which Gadot played less central roles were shown in Lebanon. Last year’s release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which also starred Gadot, was not banned, despite an effort by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement.

Up until opening day, there was controversy over whether or not “Wonder Woman” would be shown in Lebanon.  The ban was announced days before the film was to premiere, despite Grand Cinemas saying eight hours earlier that it would not be banned and promoting it five days earlier. Yet multiple theaters still planned to show it. There was a protest on social media. Gal Gadot was criticized not only for being an Israeli, but also for serving in the IDF for two years and offering vocal support for the IDF on Facebook. According to The Washington Post, the movie was banned just two hours before the first showing was scheduled to begin. There has not been an official clarifying statement on this discrepancy. It is possible that because of Gadot’s leading role in “Wonder Woman,” there may have been  greater pressure to ban the movie. Variety reported that in addition to Lebanon, the movie was also cancelled in the relatively liberal countries of Algeria and Tunisia. The movie is being shown in Egypt, Morocco and the Arab Emirates.

Gal Gadot’s picture of her and her daughter, posted to her Facebook page with comments supporting IDF. Photo:  Architectguy.me.

Besides the Lebanon ban, “Wonder Woman” faced backlash when in October the main character was appointed U.N. honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls, with Gadot there to represent Wonder Woman. An issue arose when U.N. staffers voiced their concerns about the appointment, saying that it would be better to select a real person rather than a fictional character to the honorary position. The staffers also took umbrage with Wonder Woman’s sexualized image, saying that she was not a good role model for women and girls. Besides a protest at the appointment ceremony by dozens of U.N. staffers, a petition was also circulated, which has garnered almost 45,000 signatures.

Beyond the controversy surrounding it, the film itself was actually quite good. Compared to the more recent movies DC has put out, “Wonder Woman” was seen critically as the best among them, scoring an 8.1 on IMDB and a 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Conversely, it seems that so far “Wonder Woman” is set to perform below the other recent DC movies at the box office, pulling in a little over $466 million worldwide, whereas “Batman v Superman”, which got a 6.7 on IMDB and a 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, raked in over $870 million worldwide.

Rankings and box office earnings aside, “Wonder Woman” delivers a satisfying story. While the overall structure of the movie follows a similar formula to other superhero movies made by both Marvel and DC over the past decade, the execution of the movie makes the overall experience fun and interesting. For example, the characterization of Wonder Woman and her love interest, Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), helps to sell their romance and makes for a more engaging story.

The story structure is very similar to that of “Superman,” with a fish-out-of-water character trying to understand our strange rituals and customs. But unlike Superman, who grows up in our world, Wonder Woman does not get that luxury. She has to grapple with our rules, without any chance to get acclimated, which makes the story more interesting.

Unlike some of the bland and focus-tested DC movies that preceded it, “Wonder Woman” has more direction and purpose. While the plot is not overly complicated, it is unique enough to make it stand above the rest. What may also give this movie a fresh take is the female duo of director and lead, something that superhero movies have not seen since “Tank Girl” in 1995. With a steady stream of similar movies coming out, a mix-up in actors and directors is most welcome.

Film Chat: “The Wedding Plan”

Promoted during the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia, the film The Wedding Plan finally opened for American audiences, after having received three Ophir Awards, or Israeli Oscars. In Hebrew with English subtitles, the film was written and directed by Rama Burshtein, an Orthodox Israeli, and the creator of the award-winning 2012 film Fill the Void.

In “The Wedding Plan,” protagonist Michal is a 32-year-old religiously observant woman, who runs a mobile petting zoo. Excitedly planning for her upcoming wedding, she is shocked when her fiancé reluctantly admits that he doesn’t love her. Nevertheless, she decides to move forward with her wedding preparations, trusting that if God wants her to be married, He will find a husband for her. The wedding is scheduled for the last night of Hanukkah, leaving exactly one month for a new groom to materialize. Her family is doubtful, and even her rabbi wonders what will happen to Michal’s faith if she doesn’t find a groom under the chuppah.

An American director would have made this film into a romantic comedy, but Burshtein aimed for something deeper, more poignant. Her debut film, “Fill the Void,” is about a religious woman who must make a decision about whether or not to marry her late sister’s husband. Burshtein writes and directs stories set in the religious Jewish world, but which illuminate human emotions common to us all.

Film Chat With Michael Solomonov

The film In Search of Israeli Cuisine, featuring Chef Michael Solomonov, is being screened from March 31 to April 6 at the Ritz 5 in Philadelphia. In light of this special screening, we offer the following review of the film, written by Philadelphia Jewish Voice contributor Hannah Lee. This review was originally posted on Lee’s blog, A Cultural Mix, in March 2016, and also includes an overview of the post-film discussion. [Read more…]

Raise Your “Goblet of Fire” to “The Hogwarts Haggadah”

If you think your Passover Seder is missing that magic touch, perhaps Harry Potter and his friends can help you out. Moshe Rosenberg, author of Morality for Muggles: Ethics in the Bible and the World of Harry Potter, recently published his latest Jewish-Potter hybrid project, The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah.

For the kids (and let’s be honest, adults), who are fast asleep before you can finally eat at the Seder, The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah will be the spell that breaks the boredom curse. First, the Haggadah itself is aesthetically pleasing with Harry Potter and Passover illustrations, designed by Aviva Shur, that will keep the wondering eye on the page. In regards to the text, the Haggadah has a traditional layout so it can be used in lieu of your non-wizard copy. Rosenberg periodically stops the Passover story with quick nuggets of Jewish thoughts that are grounded in Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah. But right when you think you may be growing tired, he shifts to Harry Potter and how the J.K. Rowling series relates to the biblical story. [Read more…]

“The Cat, the Fish, and the Waiter:” a Trilingual Book

51hli3lI8qL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Marianna Bergues, a 17-year old Narberth native, has published a whimsical children’s book in English, Hebrew, and French. The Cat, the Fish, and the Waiter is a retelling of a French bedtime story that her father tucked her into bed with throughout her childhood.

It is a story of a French waiter who works in a café in Paris. He makes many friends while doing his job, and agrees to take care of some of their pets while they are away.

The charming illustrations, executed by Christian Bergues, convey what café life in Paris is like. The cat and the fish take the reader on a wonderful tour of Paris.

Ms. Bergues gives her readers a glimpse of what it is like to grow up in a multicultural and multilingual home. As it becomes more common for families to relocate, many families are becoming more international. Readers of all ages will enjoy this delightful story, and perhaps improve their Hebrew or French.

Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia This Entire Month

By Laurel Fairworth

2017 LogoThis year the Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia is all over the map in a theatrical way. Now in its 21st year, the festival kicked off on Saturday, March 4. The month-long film extravaganza, which runs through April 2, 2017, takes place in venues around the Philadelphia area including the Perelman at the Kimmel Center, the Ritz, the International House, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. [Read more…]