“Denial” Puts Holocaust Denial on Trial

Movie review by Deborah Baer Mozes

There can come a time in life when a person must take a stand, be a leader, or as in Deborah Lipstadt’s case, become Boadicea, the Warrior Queen from British history. This is the core of “Denial,” David Hare’s riveting courtroom drama and screenplay adaptation of Deborah Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier. [Read more…]

Gettysburg Address Applied to the Election

Gettysburg applied to Election. Credit: Pablo Arcuschin.

Gettysburg Address applied to Election. Credit: Pablo Arcuschin.

The words of the Gettysburg Address together with fascinating whiteboard illustrations are applied to the Presidential Election in this video. It is a thought provoking take on the divisions in our society. “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The video for the presidential elections has been prepared by a young Israeli animator, Pablo Arcuschin, 31. His firm, Whiteboard Animation of Tel Aviv, brings Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to life to encourage Americans of all political persuasions to get involved and make their voices heard on election day.

A Tale of Two Readings: Lisa Grunberger to Read From Her Work

Philadelphia’s arts and culture life is, to use Ernest Hemingway’s felicitous phrase, “a moveable feast.” Writer and award-winning poet Lisa Grunberger has contributed to this life of art and culture since she moved to Philadelphia nine years ago.

Lisa Grunberger

Lisa Grunberger

Grunberger, the Arts & Culture editor of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, is an assistant professor of English at Temple University. She has published two books: the poetry collection Born Knowing, and the modern Jewish folktale Yiddish Yoga: Ruthie’s Adventures in Love, Loss and the Lotus Position. Grunberger will be presenting her works in Philadelphia at both a poetry reading (October 8) and a book reading (October 15). [Read more…]

Philip Roth’s “Indignation” Now a Film: An Interview With Director James Schamus

By Lisa Grunberger (with research support by Robert G. Margolis)

“Nobody has anything to worry about from a book.” — Philip Roth, in a conversation about his novel “Indignation”

“Take care, philosophers and friends, of knowledge, and beware of martyrdom!” — Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil”

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

I said to screenwriter and director James Schamus, as we began to discuss his directorial debut, a theatrical film version of Philip Roth’s novel Indignation: “The movie deserves the disclaimer: ‘No words by Philip Roth were harmed during the making of this movie.'” [Read more…]

Theater Review: ‘The Christians’ Has Little More Than Atmosphere

the christians-421

Erika LaVonn and Paul Deboy in “The Christians.”

Lucas Hnath’s “The Christians,” directed by Timothy Bond, is a juvenile undramatic portrait of a mega church and its Pastor. Playing at the Wilma Theatre through May 29th, the play tells the story of Pastor Paul, the founder of a successful super church who delivers a sermon (perhaps not incidentally on the day the church, after 10 years, is debt-free) wherein he changes his theological belief on the existence of hell.

After telling a story about a young boy, not a Christian, who heroically saves his own sister by running into a burning building, Pastor Paul concludes from this parable, that this boy will live on in heaven. Hell, Pastor Paul teaches, from the original Greek, is a dumping ground, not an actual place of eternal damnation.

This sermon, delivered by actor Paul Deboy, to his chorus, his congregants (the audience), his wife, (Erika LaVonn) and assistant Pastor Joshua (Delance Minefee), catalyzes his downfall as church membership declines and Pastor Joshua starts his own successful church. The rest of the play vaguely explores this theological controversy in a decidedly dilettantish manner, throwing around biblical verses in a cursory way that does not reflect deeply on the issues Hnath raises.

During the play’s opening sequence, the audience is entertained by a chorus of 19 singers (all local Philadelphians under the direction of Michael Keck) who sing evangelical songs (indeed I saw one audience member sing along clearly comforted by the play so far) with lyrics such as “build your hopes on things eternal/hold his hand, God’s unchanging hand.” The set, artfully designed by Matt Saunders, reproduces the super church environment.

But Hnath’s investigation of the theological concepts of hell, heaven, belief and faith fall short, lacking much substance. There is little, if any genuine drama in the play – Pastor Paul knows exactly what he wants and seems fearless and even arrogant in his manner. His tone and voice are reminiscent of Garrison Keillor from the Lake Wobegon live radio show – a preternaturally calm tone with a sing-songy cadence that does not suggest any struggle with his new belief on sin and the after-life. Pastor Paul seems almost too sure of his theological beliefs and feels talk-show-hosty and condescending to his parishioners.

Hnath too easily settles for a high concept to the detriment of much substance in this undramatic portrayal of a minister and his church. When his wife leaves him at the end of the play, because she does indeed believe in hell and finds his beliefs anathema, there is no pathos, the characters remain hollow, not even rising to the level of ideological talking heads.

The play is more often than not manipulative in its use of music and religion and relies too heavily on them to achieve some higher emotional effect. Nothing seems to be at stake for Pastor Paul who seems at peace in his newfound theological convictions, willing to pay the price (his church, his family) for his beliefs. When he repeats the line “I have a powerful urge to communicate with you, but I find the distance between us insurmountable,” it sounds more like an advertising slogan or something easily blurbed by a reviewer than a deeply felt piece of writing.

“The Christians” is playing now through May 29 at the Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street. Tickets are between $10 and $25. Information: 215-546-7824.

Book Review: “The Devil’s Diary”

Topping the highlights of an exciting career as an FBI agent, Robert Wittman would include his adventure tracking down the long-lost private journal of Alfred Rosenberg, the man who, as the Nazi Party’s chief ideologue, laid the philosophical foundations for the Holocaust.  He spoke at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr.

The Devil’s Diary is a game-changing true World War II narrative wrapped in a riveting detective story.  Wittman and his co-author, journalist David Kinney, mine the diary’s long-hidden contents to create a ground-breaking, page-turning account of the Nazi rise to power, the Final Solution, and Germany’s brutal occupation of the Soviet Union.

 There is also local historical resonance for the book.  Dr. Robert Kempner, the Jewish refugee from Germany who served with the American prosecutors at the Nuremburg trials, owned a house in Landsdowne, PA  and he spirited away 29 boxes of original documentation (“weighing more than 8,000 pounds”) from governmental jurisdiction.  Also, in case you wonder about the lineage for Alfred Rosenberg, the “devil” in the book title, Kempner kept Rosenberg’s personal ahnentafel, a family tree drawn up to prove that he had no Jewish relatives.

When asked how is life after retiring from the FBI and Wittman responded that it’s better!  He now does private investigative work and, whereas, the FBI only handles criminal cases, he can now handle civil cases such as for Rosenberg’s diary. Both of his sons have helped with his investigative work, including the Rosenberg case, but they’ve both moved on to separate careers.  So, does he need a student intern?  Yes, but risks are rather high, so he has not hired any other students.

HaShoah Book: “Fever at Dawn”

In the new book, Fever at Dawn, a fictionalized account of his parents’ courtship, the Hungarian film director Péter Gárdos writes that after surviving the worst of the Nazi death camps, Lili Reich wanted to convert out of Judaism (as if it would have mattered to the Nazis). Her suitor, Miklós Gárdos, was an atheist anyway, so he sought out a Catholic priest in a remote little church to do so. They had started out as pen pals, after Miklós sought out all the Hungarian women recuperating in Sweden, under age 30.

Rabbi Emil Kronheim heard about their intent, through the letters of Lili’s friend, and he arrived to stop them with a creative offer: he would marry them under a chuppah in a synagogue in Stockholm. He’ll foot the bill for the ceremony, the clothes, and a reception for their friends. He even promised the Red Cross would be obligated to provide them with a room of their own afterwards. They accepted.

I believe the facts are all true, but the conversations are re-created from their diaries. A delightful story and an unique take on the Holocaust memoirs.

Technion Produces 2-Minute “High-Tech Hagaddah”

With lights, music and very few words, Israel’s Technion university has produced a two-minute “high-tech Hagaddah.”

The video uses breakdancing by Dvir Rosen, motion graphics, and an innovative laser light show. It is participating in the New Jersey Jewish Standard’s funniest Passover video contest.

Last year, the Technion built a seder Rube Goldberg machine.

NMAJH Celebrates 5 Years on Independence Mall

The National Museum of American Jewish History marks the fifth anniversary of its iconic building on Independence Mall by taking a fresh look at its core exhibition, which tells the story of more than 360 years of Jewish life. This includes new objects, as well as new insights into existing displays: [Read more…]