PJFF Film: “Germans & Jews”

Considered among the most democratic societies in the world, Germany is home to Europe’s fastest growing Jewish population. In fact, about half of the 200,000 Jews who reside in Germany today — making up .2% of its total population — are Israelis who have obtained German passports or work visas. So what’s it like being Jewish in a country with such a harrowing Jewish past? That’s exactly what filmmaker Janina Quint and producer Tal Recanati set out to discover.

Amassing personal stories from German Jews, non-Jewish Germans, Israelis and German-Jewish Americans, Quint and Recanati offer viewers a nonjudgmental window into modern-day Germany and uncover a broad spectrum of perspectives. Touching on the effects of post-Holocaust guilt in East and West Germany, the film reveals Germany’s multifaceted social structure and its efforts against anti-Semitism and antisocialist sentiment. Quint and Recanati have a stake in their story and recognize the need to bring these uncomfortable yet necessary conversations out from the privacy of German living rooms and offices into the public sphere. What begins as a dialogue between two friends quickly grows into an insightful and evocative documentary that beautifully captures Germany’s attempts toward reconciliation and transformation.

This film — in English and German with English subtitles — was an official selection of the Greenwich International Film Festival and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

The guest speakers at this screening of the film are Noah Isenberg (moderator), professor of Culture and Media at New School’s Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts; Nitzan Lebovic, associate professor of history and Apter Chair of Holocaust Studies and Ethical Values at Lehigh University; and Tal Recanati, the film’s producer.

Buy tickets here.

The Greek Crisis: Who Is to Blame?

Greek_debt_and_EU_average_since_1977A grim future faces the Greeks, including the Jewish community that has lived there since ancient times: Already suffering with at least 25% unemployment, the bailout offered them today puts them to a choice between greater austerity within the euro zone or even greater austerity if they go it alone.

Greece has done the unthinkable, missing a payment on its sovereign debt and facing further missed payments in the near future. Its banks are in lockdown and internal commerce is near a standstill for lack of cash. But less clear is the question, who or what is to blame? Is Greece the victim of its own wastrel ways, or the selfishness of its wealthier euro partners, or an inherent flaw in the euro itself?

Before Greeks voted against the bailout offer from other nations, Greece’s then Foreign Minister Varoufakis accused the euro-zone nations of economic aggression. He said Greece’s creditors wanted to “instill fear” and blamed them for the government having to close the banks:

What they’re doing with Greece has a name — terrorism. What Brussels and the troika want today is for the yes (vote) to win so they could humiliate the Greeks.

The Greeks voted no, as their government urged, decisively rejecting the bailout offer with its requirement of additional austerity. Varoufakis immediately resigned his office to make room for a new finance minister, presumably to take a harder line in renewed bailout negotiations.

On the opposite side, the widely read German newspaper Das Bild headlined the vote “Nein. No more bailouts for the greedy Greeks.”

With more composure, the Chicago Tribune trumpeted, “Greeks vote no, now they must go,” a reference to “Grexit,” the possible departure of Greece from the euro zone nations and reestablishment of the drachma, its own currency.

Europe is clearly divided on this issue, with Germany leading the hard-liners.

The Greeks have received two supposed bailouts from euro zone nations in five years. The funds came primarily from Germany and France, the largest economies running on the euro, and from the International Monetary Fund, which we in the U.S. invented and support heavily. But critics point out that the amounts were sufficient mainly to make payments on the Greek debt, leaving little or nothing to invest in improvements to the Greek economy.

The austerity rejected in the Greek vote included provisions we in the U.S. would consider minimally necessary to run a nation: Unpaid taxes are 89% of Greek tax receipts, versus less than 3% in Germany. Greeks frequently retire at age 50, not 65, or 67 or later, as in the U.S. And since becoming a member of the 19-nation euro zone, Greece has been on a borrowing binge. The bailout included requirements that Greece reform its tax system and lower its pension costs, and calling on it to work down its debt.

Of course, for a government the availability of credit is like candy to a baby. But the euro nations have agreed to limit their borrowing. Greece owes more than 175% of its gross national product (GNP), and its debt service is less than 3% of its GNP, because interest rates are held so low within the euro zone. (A similar argument could be made for the U.S.: The national bank, the Fed, holds down the cost of the national debt by keeping interest rates down.)

The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, preached the economic gospel:

A currency union in which one partner says, ‘I don’t care, I won’t do anything and I won’t stick to anything which has been agreed,’ cannot work… Trust and dependability are a basic condition when it comes to institutions.

Since the current government in Athens took power on Jan. 25, things have worsened “by the day and by the hour,” Schauble said.

The Washington Post has a different opinion:

As the culmination of Europe’s 60-year project toward greater and greater integration, the euro was a political masterstroke. It was also an economic albatross. And it’s one that wasn’t hard to see coming. Plenty of economists, including Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, warned that it wouldn’t work for countries with different economic needs to share a single monetary policy but not a fiscal policy.

At any given time, money would be either be too tight or too loose for some members, and there wouldn’t be anything — like unemployment insurance — to balance it out. The euro, in other words, is a paper monument to peace and prosperity that has made the latter impossible for some countries.

New Work by Philadelphia Cantor Premiers in Germany

Hazzan Jack Kessler

Hazzan Jack Kessler

The Interreligioser Chor (Interfaith Choir) of Frankfurt, Germany commissioned and performed a setting of Psalm 90 for choir and Hazzan by Philadelphia-based Hazzan Jack Kessler.

The premiere performances were held on On June 1, 2015 at the Gemeindezentrums in Frankfurt am Main, and June 4 at the große Halle in Stuttgart. The Hazzan/soloist was Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the well known singer of Yiddish repertoire who is Cantor of the Egalitarian Minyan of Frankfurt, ordained in 2015 as Hazzan through the ALEPH Cantorial Program.

The Interfaith Choir of Frankfurt was founded in 2012 with the goal of opening new avenues of interfaith dialogue through music. Led by Protestant Church Cantor (organist and choir director) Bettina Strübel and Hazzan Daniel Kempin, the all-volunteer choir presents two psalm projects each year. Each concert is a program of multiple settings of one Psalm from different faith traditions. This year Psalm 90 תְּפִלָּה לְמֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים A prayer of Moses, the man of God, was the featured Psalm.

The Psalms are an important bridge between Judaism and Christianity. For centuries musicians of both religions have created a wealth of new musical settings for liturgical use as well as for the concert stage.

The choir has also attracted Muslim singers, who know the Psalms as “az-Zabur.” Rehearsals as well as concerts offer a platform for intensive interfaith exploration of music and theology. During the concerts music is interspersed with interfaith podium discussions on the featured psalm.

Said Hazzan Kessler; “Psalm 90 presents a range of challenges to the composer, especially when commissioned to compose a for presentation of the entire Psalm, not merely excerpts. It is one of the longest psalms. The text moves through a series of moods: recognition of God as eternal supreme Presence; exploration of the humility needed to receive the Presence; fear of God’s anger; and finally a majestic call for God’s grace. In this piece the hazzan begins unaccompanied, with a stirring a cappella solo and each section opens with a dramatic call to the chorus. Then the chorus responds with a musical expansion of the text. The last section of the piece is a reprise of one of the opening themes of the piece in contrapuntal treatment by solo quartet, and the coda is sung by the hazzan, once again with the unaccompanied voice alone.”

Bettina Strübel, director of the Interrelgioser Choir: “Your composition was the highlight of the program. Some of the chorus members have expressed sadness that the Psalm 90 project is over, as they loved rehearsing this piece. The audience responded with tremendous enthusiasm.”

Hazzan Daniel Kempin, soloist for the premiere performances added: “This is powerful and affecting music! I was deeply moved by the way you explored the different moods of the Psalm. After the end, where my voice sings the finale by myself alone, there was a moment of magical silence in the hall before great applause!

Hazzan Jack Kessler was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and went on to have a twenty-year congregational career. He has a Master’s degree in voice from Boston Conservatory and pursued studies in composition in the graduate department of Brandeis University. A lyric baritone, he has performed opera, oratorio, and premiered new works, in addition to his ongoing career as a singer of hazzanut, the cantorial art, and other musical projects. He directs the Cantorial Program of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal for which he teaches the multi-year core hazzanut curriculum and coaches students in the cantorial art.

Amazing Reunion Of Holocaust Survivors After 50 Years!

Henry Stern was one of the fortunate ones.  In 1937, his family embarked on the last boat of Jewish refugees to leave Germany legally.  They sailed for New York.  The family settled in Opelika, Alabama.  As news of the Holocaust trickled out, Henry never stopped hoping that some of the relatives left behind had somehow survived.  In 2004, with the aid of the internet, he succeeded.  Here is an amazing clip of Mr. Stern’s reunion with his cousin Fred Hertz.

Increased Sanctions Continue to Pressure Iran’s Economy

— Max Samis

It has been several weeks since President Barack Obama first increased sanctions on Iran, effectively cutting off Iran’s central bank from the global economy. To this point, the evidence is overwhelming that these sanctions have had a strong effect on Iran’s economy and government.

Previously a major importer of steel, Iranian steel traders have found their business “grinding to a halt.”

More after the jump.
According to Reuters:

Iranian buyers cannot obtain dollars or euros, forcing them to offer letters of credit in alternative currencies such as the Indian rupee, Korean won and Russian rubles.

Most steel traders, wary of currency risk and taxation issues, are not willing to accept this form of payment.

‘Now you can really feel the effects of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe…It is very difficult to do any business with Iran at the moment,’ a steel trader at a Swiss metals trading house said.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Iranian oil flow has taken a massive hit. Reuters wrote:

Iran could be forced to place unsold barrels into floating storage or even shut in production in the second half of this year, the IEA said on Friday in its monthly Oil Market Report.

‘International sanctions targeting Iran’s existing oil exports do not come into effect until July 1, but they are already having an impact on crude trade flows in Europe, Asia and the Middle East,’ it said.

‘Although there are five months before restrictions on existing contracts take effect, European customers have already curtailed imports of Iranian crude and Asian buyers are lining up alternative sources of supply,’ the IEA said, adding that European customers were likely to look to Russia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia for replacement barrels.

Bloomberg added that owners of over 100 supertankers have now said they will stop loading oil supplies from Iran.

In an interview with Haaretz, Dennis Ross, Obama’s former Middle East advisor, stated that ‘The fact is [Iran’s] currency has devalued by half in the last six weeks… I’d say sanctions are working, if that’s the case.’ Haaretz wrote:

These sanctions, Ross said, are the crippling sanctions Israel has called for, and can affect Iran’s behavior. When the Iranians feel they are under sufficient pressure, they look for a way to reduce it, Ross said, and right now they are under pressure they have not been under before. ‘It’s not an accident that suddenly they want to meet with the P5 +1,’ Ross said, referring to the forum of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

Ross also stated his belief that sanctions are forcing Iran to the negotiating table in an op-ed in The New York Times. Ross wrote:

Iran cannot do business with or obtain credit from any reputable international bank, nor can it easily insure its ships or find energy investors. According to Iran’s oil ministry, the energy sector needs more than $100 billion in investments to revitalize its aging infrastructure; it now faces a severe shortfall.

New American penalties on Iran’s central bank and those doing business with it have helped trigger an enormous currency devaluation. In the last six weeks, the Iranian rial has declined dramatically against the dollar, adding to the economic woes Iran is now confronting…

Now, with Iran feeling the pressure, its leaders suddenly seem prepared to talk. Of course, Iran’s government might try to draw out talks while pursuing their nuclear program. But if that is their strategy, they will face even more onerous pressures, when a planned European boycott of their oil begins on July 1.

As sanctions continue to take effect, international pressure will only continue to increase against Iran’s nuclear program.  

UN Commemorates Racist Durban Racism Conference

— Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International condemns the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. That event, in Durban, South Africa, was a forum overshadowed by rabid anti-Israel sentiment and deserves to be remembered as embodying the worst aspects of the United Nations.

The vote results included 104 nations in favor of the resolution, 22 against, and 33 abstentions.

B’nai B’rith International commends those nations voting against the commemoration: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Netherlands, Palau, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Particularly disappointing was the near unanimous bloc of Latin American nations voting in favor of the resolution.

More after the jump.
The proposal to celebrate the original Durban conference has been championed by Arab and other largely non-democratic states, many with records characterized by mistreatment of minorities that have used their collective numbers to push through many anti-Israel resolutions at the world body. Though it is now only in its early planning stages, the Durban commemoration has been scheduled for a time when world leaders are expected in New York in September 2011, and just after the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

“It is tragic that more nations don’t publicly recognize and condemn Durban as the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish free-for-all it truly was,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “Our delegates joined other non-governmental organizations in walking out of the conference in 2000 and again during Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel diatribe during the 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva. The prospects for anything positive to take place at a 10-year commemoration are no better.”

The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, with its Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), implied that Israel alone is a racist nation. Even worse than the U.N. proceedings were the NGO forum and street scenes that saw horrific expressions of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

“The original Durban conference attempted to validate the perverse theory that Zionism is racism,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “Durban’s legacy of hate, intolerance, and double standards should never be forgotten, and should certainly never be celebrated.”

Following the proposal to commemorate Durban, Canada was the first country to unequivocally state it would not attend such an event. B’nai B’rith is calling on all countries not to participate in “Durban III.”