PJFF Film: “The Tenth Man”

Regarded as Argentina’s Woody Allen, writer-director Daniel Burman (“Lost Embrace”) has constructed a seductively humorous film drawing from his own memories of coming of age in Buenos Aires’ heavily populated 11th district (el Once). Winning Best Actor and the nomination for Best International Narrative Feature at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, “The Tenth Man,” in Spanish with English subtitles, is Burman’s 16th film to date and his second feature to be shot on location in the Argentinian capital’s oldest Jewish neighborhood.

Just in time for the Purim holiday and a pending meat shortage, Ariel (Alan Sabbagh), an affable and slightly pudgy New York City economist who lives with his dancer girlfriend, returns to his Argentinian-Jewish roots in Buenos Aires. Usher, Ariel’s father and the macher behind the Foundation (the Jewish welfare organization in el Once) — while only reachable by phone — eagerly summons his son for favors and random errands. Running the Foundation in his godlike manner, Usher implores Ariel to work with Eva, his nearly mute Orthodox assistant. Amidst much chaos, the two develop an unusual friendship that arouses Ariel’s piety and inspires him to revisit the Jewish identity he long left behind.

Daniel Ortega’s documentary-style camerawork and Margarita Tambornino’s seamless production design aid Burman in rendering a realistic portrait of contemporary Jewish life in Buenos Aires. Burman’s wryly amusing sense of humor and knack for illuminating heavy topics with ease make “The Tenth Man” among the most enjoyable festival films this year.

Guest Speaker at the Screening: Gary Kramer, film critic for Salon.com, Slant, Fandor, Gay City News, Philadelphia Gay News, San Francisco Bay Times, Cineaste and Film International

Buy tickets here.

Thanksgivukkah Pie: Don McLean, the Jewish Version

A hilarious and catchy musical tribute to Hanukkah and Thanksgiving by Benji Lovitt. (Follow Benji on Twitter and Facebook.)

Editing: Victor Paru.
Filming and Vocal Recording: Yosef Adest.

Happy holidays!

Lyrics follow the jump — sing along!
Lyrics (including bonus verse which didn’t make the final cut):

A long, long time ago,
I can still remember how that oil used to last a while.
And I knew if it made it eight.
Then Jews would get to celebrate
And then we’d be rejoicing with a smile.

But this year’s just unprecedented.
A holiday that’s so demented.
Chanukkah plus turkey.
It doesn’t get more quirky.

I can’t remember if I cried
From Jewish and American pride.
My apple pie is extra fried.
The day the chags collide.

So try my new Thanksgivukkah pie.
It’s delicious, not nutritious, and it’s so good you’ll cry.
Like soofganyot, it is super deep-fried.
So don’t eat more than one or you’ll die, don’t eat more than one or you’ll die.

Would you like some pumpkin pie
Topped with chocolate gelt stacked really high
Cause your bubbe baked the dough
Or latkes topped with cranberry
And mashed potatoes with sour cream.
We remember stories from so long ago.

Now I know that you love Maccabees
But save some room for mac and cheese.
The football game’s tonight.
We can watch by candlelight, oooh.

So wontcha sit right back, kick off your shoes
Cause it’s happy times for US Jews.
So tell your friends and spread the news.
The day the chags collide.

So try my new Thanksgivukkah pie.
It’s delicious, not nutritious, and it’s so good you’ll cry.
Like soofganyot, it is super deep-fried.
So don’t eat more than one or you’ll die, don’t eat more than one or you’ll die.

Now the Pilgrims stood up to the Greeks
And the Maccabees threw such a feast
Or maybe I mixed up my facts.

When we eat the dreidel, it gobbles loud
And we spin the turkey which wobbles proud.
I think I’ve lost my mind, got to relax.

Let’s appreciate this special day
With the Macy’s Hanukkah Parade.
The floats are on the go.
Nes gadol haya po….SHAAAAAM!

So gather round with all your friends.
Sing Maoz Tzur until the end.
And stuff yourself, I recommend.
The day the chags collide.

Old Joke

There is an old Jewish joke that runs like this.

The Synagogue President greets the Rabbi with a hearty handshake. “You will be pleased to know, Rabbi, that last night the board of directors voted 8-5 in favor of wishing you a happy birthday.”

In that spirit, we have two articles related to Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th Birthday Bash: one for and one against.


Interview: the Show That Proves That Women are Funny

— by Lisa Grunberger

I had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Childs, Artistic Director of 1812 Productions, Philadelphia’s All Comedy Theatre Company, about her new comedy, which she wrote and directed, It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project. It’s My Party began in 2010 with two questions: how do women use comedy and how does the usage change as they age. Through collage, cabaret, and stand-up Childs investigates gender stereotypes that lock women into certain roles, such as the ditz, the vamp, and the old maid.  

In some ways, the play responds to Christopher Hitchens’ provocative comment in a Vanity Fair article years ago, claiming that women aren’t funny. The first act of this compelling show had the audience laughing on the opening night last Wedensday. The all-woman ensemble includes comedic veterans of the Philadelphia theatre. The play incorporates original and devised music by the cast and the musical director Monica Stephenson, and features a set by 1812 Productions’ designer Lance Kniskern.

Full interview after the jump.

It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project
Playing at: Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St.
Through: Sunday, May 19.
Tickets: $22 to $38.
Information: 215-592-9560 or 1812 Productions’ website.

Q: Tell me how The Women and Comedy Project came about? What was your process? There are African-American Women, white women, an Asian woman, and a diverse age-range. No Latinas and or Jewish women — how did you make casting decisions and were questions of ethnicity important in your thought process?

JC: I interviewed over 100 women all along the East coast, pulling together anecdotes, stories and personal experiences. I wanted it to be racially and age diverse, but I was more interested in exploring the brains, heart and sous of these women. It would have become a different show if there was one woman representative of each “flavor” or ethnic background.  

Q: How did you arrive at the three act structure of the play?

JC: I could have written a linear 90 minute script, but I gave myself permission to stretch the form and it was very liberating.

Q: Can you briefly describe each act and what you had in mind?

JC: The first act, which I call ‘The Lecture,’ represents the youngest age, say women in their 20s who I found use humor to gain attention. It’s an age when you don’t have your own voice and you use stereotypes and imitations to find your comedic voice.  

The second Act, called ‘The Ritual,’ represents women in their 30s and 40s, when women discover that comedy can save your soul. You can use humor as a weapon to fight and survive.

Q: This is where we hear the women sharing their stories. Were these stories autobiographical or were they a composite or synthesis of the many interviews you did?

JC: They were the actresses’ own stories, that we had “workshopped.”

Q: In the second act, we hear one of the characters tell a story about learning she has breast cancer, which her mother had died of. Was this the actress’s own story, and couldn’t this be seen as potentially not funny? Or as simply “empowering” and therapeutic to share but not necessarily art or theatrically interesting?

JC: It is her own story, and I’m surprised that that’s confusing to people. I was reading about the comedienne Tig Notaro and how she was diagnosed with cancer right after her mom died, and she was so funny. It’s about owning what happens to you and not apologizing for it, and that can be funny.

Q: Tell me about the third act of the play.

JC: The third act, called ‘The Rave,’ is about the oldest age, women in their 70s, and it’s about being audacious. In naming it “the rave” I’m referencing the rave dances, but also the association with stark raving mad and the rave as a rant. By this age, women don’t care anymore. If you want to wear polka-dots, stripes and mismatched shoes, so be it. My daughter is 9 and my mother is in her 70s, and I see similarities in their not caring about what other people think.

Q: How, if at all, do you think about audience?

JC: Comedy is about audience. I think it is extremely important to connect with the audience, which I think of as the last character in the play. The show isn’t finished until there is laughter. Only then is the rhythm complete. I mean, if a joke is told in a forest and no one is there to hear it, is it funny?

Q: One of the characters says “I’m too radiant for irony.” What did you learn during your interviews about women, humor and irony, and how did this get translated into the show?

JC: I was surprised that no woman I interviewed thought she was funny. When I asked them to sing a rap I had written during the auditions — and this was a rap about being smart and beautiful and sexy — the women were tentative. Some feared that people will not like them if they sing a song like this. But this is exactly what the play is exploring — I want women to take ownership of their own goofiness. To find a way to say “this is what I want.”

Q: The danger is sounding too sincere or sentimental in this approach, right? Too much like Jack Handy’s “deep thoughts.”

JC: It’s a fine line. More and more people employ irony and cynical humor on the stage, but it’s the death of theatre if we presume that you can’t be hurt, that there’s no vulnerability. Part of comedy is precisely this threat of being vulnerable. I see sincerity and openness as being a lot braver than coming up with snarky comments. it was important to me to create something that felt honest and honored the interviewees’ stories.

Book Chat: Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life

— by Hannah Lee

During this graduation season, you might need some guidance in selecting suitable gifts.  In the past, I’ve bestowed books of graduation speeches, which fascinate me, and I’ve given Harlan Cohen’s The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College (which delighted the recipient because her mother did, indeed, have a naked roommate).  Now, I write to tout the whimsy and insight of Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life, edited by Smith Magazine in partnership with Reboot, a non-profit with a mission of triggering discussions about Jewish identity, community, and meaning.

Now known as “flash fiction,” the six-word story derives its literary genesis from lore that Ernest Hemingway won a bet with the challenge to write a novel in just six words with the following: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  A reviewer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called this style an American haiku.  Smith Magazine has trademarked its Six-Word Memoirs series; this newest addition is a much quicker read than a graduation speech!

More after the jump.
Here are my six personal favorites from the book:

Less oy. More joy.  Learn.  Celebrate
— Deborah Lipstadt

Be a mensch; pass it on.
— Marsha Stein

World is narrow bridge, be brave!
— Marci Bellows

I was in need.  Heard: Hineini.
— Elissa Froman

Israel means “to wrestle.”  Explains everything.
— Tiffany Shlain

Like Zusya, trying to be me.
— Rabbi Steven Rubenstein

Publisher’s note: Hillel and Shammai were both asked by a gentile to explain the Torah while he stood on one foot. Shammai dismissed the man for expecting to be able to summarize Jewish thought so briefly, but Hillel the Elder rose to the challenge and said “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn” (Shabbos 31a) Accordingly, the expression expression al regel achat (on one foot) has entered modern Hebrew as an expression of extreme brevity showing that the six-word memoir is not as new a concept as one might have thought. In fact, in Hebrew, Hillel’s summary of the Torah is just five words:

דעלך סני – לחברך לא תעביד
What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.

Jon Stewart’s Jewish problem revisited

— by Ilan Chaim

I’ve learned to expect the best in political satire from The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. Even his over-the-top bits can be relied upon to be funny, precisely because of their underlying sophistication. Where the laughter stops, however, are the fortunately rare occasions when Stewart overextends himself by stumbling into the unfunny realm of religious satire.

The case in point is his April 9 segment pitting Easter against Passover, most of which I found offensive as a Jew. While the premise was not necessarily a terrible idea, the punch lines trivialized nearly every important concept of the Jewish festival of freedom for the sake of a few cheap laughs. That the studio audience ate it up is no indication of its funniness — it’s a known fact that The Daily Show audience laughs at anything.

More after the jump.
Before going further, a full disclosure: I have watched The Daily Show for years and am a great fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian who happens to be Jewish. Stewart displays great wit and is a constant delight skewering such easy targets as the Fox network. There is also a serious side to the show in many of his interviews, whose subjects are not allowed merely to plug their books, but also deal with serious issues that are a showcase for Stewart’s considerable intellect.

Stewart makes no secret of his Jewishness; indeed, he seems proud to acknowledge it as far as it goes — which is not very deep. It is when he plays his very tenuous Jewish affiliation for laughs that bothers me.

In one bit of the episode in question, a clip is shown of life-size cartoon and adventure characters gathered for the White House Easter egg hunt. This is contrasted with a stationary shot of the White House Seder. Christians get The Avengers, while Jews get matza ball soup.

Seders are boring? Unlike the White House Easter Bunny he celebrates because of its theological connection to the resurrection of Jesus, Stewart dismisses as boring the Seder ceremony that is the first celebration in human history of freedom from slavery. That seems fair, as long as it gets a laugh.

Then he goes personal.

As the father of mixed faith children who are exposed to both Christian and Jewish holidays, I can’t help but feel that we Jews are getting our asses kicked out here.

Why is this the case? Stewart explains that the Jews have already lost the battle between Christmas and Hanuka, because Christians are celebrating the birth of their savior, while Jews are “acknowledging oil lasting longer than it would normally last” — not marking the first holiday in human history to celebrate religious freedom.

The key, Stewart goes on to assert, is the children. The Christians have learned that, if you get the children, you win. What are the lessons for the children? Christian children see that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is represented by a basketful of Easter eggs, chocolate, and other goodies, while those poor Jewish children get to celebrate their freedom from slavery with a Seder plate containing horseradish, among other unsavory things. Chocolate Easter eggs are a fun way to evoke resurrection, but there are evidently few laughs to be generated by an herb used to remind Jews of the bitterness of slavery. Maybe a matza joke instead?

The point of this unfortunate bit is that Christian kids get to eat candy on Easter, while Jewish kids get to munch on the contents of the Seder plate. The fact that the Seder plate is not eaten from, but used to symbolize the parts of the Exodus-for children, as well as adults-means that this was just another phony prop Stewart used to get laughs from people who don’t know any better.

Does Stewart really know any better, when he presents that “mixed faith child” with a choice between candy or “a bone from a dead baby lamb”? And reminds him, “Don’t worry, we used its blood to mark the door.” That gets a real rise from the studio audience. So does dipping the (non-chocolate) Jewish egg in saltwater, because “It represents the tears of your ancestors.” Har har har.

There is a weakly funny comparison of how Christians got Tim Tebow to make an appearance on Easter, while the Jews can only come up with the Prophet Elijah, who “can’t even be bothered to show up.” Another humorous moment in this segment is the Passover-theme water park. Similar ideas have even been tried in Israel.

But it’s Stewart’s suggestion for how Jews should “step it up a notch” to compete with the Easter bunny that crosses the line from assimilated and irreverent to just ignorant and offensive, by adopting a new mascot: “Passover Pete, the guitar playing, pizza eating lion.” He does acknowledge that, “technically, you’re not allowed to eat pizza during Passover,” but says we should just suspend disbelief and proceed to the next product in his new, improved Jewish tradition.

This is a fictitious new Jewish video game for Passover called “Red Sea Redemption-The Wandering.” A short clip of the fictional game follows with — what else? — Stewart’s signature voiceover in a phony Yiddish accent.

Stewart has every right to be a secular, assimilated, or unaffiliated Jew. But he cannot have it both ways. When he plays Jews for laughs by affecting a faux-Borscht Belt Yiddish accent and especially when he makes accompanying cowering gestures, he does a disservice to his avowed people.

When Stewart does what he supposes to be a funny “Jewish” shtick, he is performing nothing less than the equivalent of a black comedian playing Stepin Fetchit.

It is Stewart’s own exceptional talent and obvious intellectual curiosity that make his vulgar Jewish references all the more embarrassing. This occurred most recently last fall, when he did a bit about the Israeli UN delegation not being present for President Barack Obama’s General Assembly speech. The Daily Show camera focused on the empty Israeli seats as Stewart proceeded to make a mocking-not self-mocking-reference to some obscure Jewish holiday called Succot, which was the reason why Israeli diplomats were absent.

Contrary to his even cursory preparation for book interviews, his Jewish references display Jewish illiteracy. Stewart regularly plays Jewish holidays, High Holy Days, and observances for laughs, which he easily draws from an always amused studio audience. He seems to think these supposedly comic references show the gentile world what a regular funny guy he is — and he is often brilliantly funny. What is not a laughing matter, however, is seeing a comedian who happens to be Jewish portray Jews by the worst kind of stereotypes.

The writer is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post.