Grapevine: Jerusalem Cinematheque

THE Jerusalem Cinematheque, once again has a new director in the person of Noa Regev.

By
September 19, 2013 22:13
Jerusalem Cinematheque

Jerusalem Cinematheque. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Municipal bureaucracy threatens to put an end to Yung Yidish activities in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. The bottom line – as in many organizations and institutions that are doing good work – is lack of financial resources.

In the case of Yung Yidish, which was originally founded in Jerusalem by Yiddish actor and singer Mendy Cahan, it’s even worse than that – because the Tel Aviv Municipality has imposed a lien on the organization’s bank account for non-payment of rates and taxes. It’s not that Yung Yidish is ignoring its obligations. It’s simply that there was disagreement between Yung Yidish and municipal officials over the interpretation of an old city bylaw and the definition of culture.

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Twenty years ago, when the current central bus station was opened, it was difficult to rent out all the commercial space. Over time, groups of migrant workers took over some of the vacant space to open food and clothing stores, and places of worship and entertainment in accordance with their respective cultures. Even with these mini open ghettoes, there was still a lot of vacant space left over, and the Tel Aviv Municipality encouraged artists to come fill the void and turn it into a kind of cultural center.

Yung Yidish had been looking for an appropriate Tel Aviv venue for some time and this was totally appropriate, since it would mean that people coming from out of town or the outer suburbs could easily get to their destination – by simply riding up the escalator to the fifth floor. To promote its concept, the municipality offered the incentive of discounts on rates and taxes.

Yung Yidish therefore took 400 square meters of ugly concrete space without electricity or running water, in what was touted as the artists’ compound. It put in water and electricity, remodeled the place to make it look like a home in a legendary European shtetl and began a series of activities that have attracted people from all over, primarily immigrants from Russia and Soviet bloc countries – who may be secular in their lifestyles, but are deeply interested in their Yiddish cultural roots. Once it started operating it approached the municipality for the promised discount, only to be told that Yung Yidish does not come under the category of artists, despite the fact that so many of its members are performing artists. The only artists that the municipality was prepared to recognize were painters and sculptors – meaning that Yung Yidish didn’t qualify.

The original raison d’etre of Yung Yidish was the collection of old Yiddish books and manuscripts from deceased estates and elsewhere, in order to provide a permanent home for these vital components of Jewish culture and keep them from being destroyed. Their familiarity with old books and manuscripts made it relatively easy for some of the people at Yung Yidish to research old bylaws. In paragraph five of the 1938 municipal and government taxes order, still unamended from the days of the British Mandate, they found a clause relating to property used as a nonprofit institution which has exhibits of cultural value that are constantly on view to the public for purposes of education, study or pleasure. Such property is exempt from taxes altogether.

Based on these findings Yung Yidish applied for an exemption, but the application was rejected by the Tel Aviv Municipality, which refused to recognize the organization’s status – saying the law applies only to museums that are recognized by the government.

Yung Yidish filed a protest appeal, and was turned down yet again. Finally, in 2011, the municipality suggested that Yung Yidish file a discount request as an organization that operates for the good of society. To be recognized as such it had to be approved by the Interior Ministry. This was relatively easy in comparison to previous bureaucratic hassles. Yung Yidish, with its newly approved status again filed for a discount, which after a six-month wait, was finally approved – but not retroactively.

The discount, it turned out, applied only from January, 2012 – despite the fact that Yung Yidish had maintained a consistent modus operandi. Moreover, during all the years of wrangling, Yung Yidish had paid out more than NIS 170,000 in city taxes, which was far in excess of what it would have paid had it received the discount when it first applied.

Now, the argument is over a retroactive discount, and because Yung Yidish is short of funds and is fighting for a moral principle, it has not kept up with payments of late – with the result that the municipality sent in a bailiff to confiscate the organization’s assets, including an old vinyl record player which Yung Yidish had received on loan from a collector of old Yiddish records, David Margulis, so that visitors could hear the original recordings.

The alleged debt that Yung Yidish owes to the municipality is mounting as interest is added. The “debt” will soon reach astronomical proportions, and as a result, an organization that has done so much to preserve and enhance Yiddish culture may have to close its doors.

Meanwhile, the Yung Yidish book center and library in a cellar in the capital’s Romema neighborhood continues to function, as do the Saturday night klezmer sessions there. There was a tiny glimmer of light for Yung Yidish during the period in which Tsila Godrov chaired the National Authority for Yiddish, in which capacity she was extremely helpful. But she stepped down recently, and so far she has not been replaced.

■ THIS PAST Tuesday, members of the cast and the production crew of the espionage drama Bethlehem gathered in the capital for a screening of the film at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which is less than five minutes by car from Bethlehem – yet a world away. The riveting film, which has won accolades abroad, including the top award at the Venice Film Festival, has been nominated in 12 categories of the Ophir Awards, which will take place on September 28 in Haifa in conjunction with the Haifa International Film Festival.

The Hebrew blurb on the Jerusalem Cinematheque invitation said that the best way to operate with a source is to be as close to that person as possible. The storyline is about Razi, an Israeli secret service intelligence officer and his teenage informant, Sanfur, whose brother is the commander of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in Bethlehem. The relations between Razi and Sanfur, and Sanfur and his brother are complicated by mixed loyalties, giving audiences some sense of the complexities of human relationships and ideological beliefs in the region, without favoring either the Israeli or the Palestinian positions.

Yuval Adler, who directed the film, has been nominated for Best Director; and together with Ali Waked has also been nominated for Best Screenplay.

This is Adler’s debut film, and as such it may be earning him a little too much too soon. Hopefully, his feet are firmly planted on the ground.

Other nominations for the film include: Best Feature Film, producer Talia Kleinhendler; Best Actor, Shadi Mar’i; Best Supporting Actor, Tzachi Halevy; Best Cinematography, Yaron Scharf; Best Editing, Ron Omer; Best Casting, Liron Zohar and Naama Zaltzman; Best Production Design, Yoav Sinai; Best Makeup, Orly Ronen; Best Original Music, Yishai Eder; Best Original Soundtrack, Avi Mizrahi and Ashi Milo.

■ APROPOS THE Jerusalem Cinematheque, it once again has a new director in the person of Noa Regev, the director of the Holon Cinematheque, who was shortlisted among 12 other finalists from among scores of applications. This was in the wake of the resignation of Alesia Weston, who resigned after only a year on the job, when she discovered that the NIS 11 million deficit was far in excess of what she had been told. The decision to appoint Regev was not unanimous, and there are some veteran cinematheque employees who may be cheesed off at being overlooked in favor of an outsider – even if that person has cinematheque experience from elsewhere.

When the cinematheque’s first director, Lia Van Leer, and her late husband, Wim, founded cinematheques in Haifa and Jerusalem, they may not have realized what an impact this would have in other parts of the country.

Now, even Dimona has a cinematheque, which is having trouble remaining financially afloat but is fortunate that two of its former residents, brothers Leon and Moshe Edry, are big shots in the film industry. The Edrys have contributed to a fund supporting the cinematheque, as has another very affluent former resident, Yardena Ovadia – who is known for her generous philanthropy in Israel and in Equatorial Guinea.

■ UP UNTIL the introduction in February of last year of the President’s Medal of Distinction, the highest civilian award in Israel was the Israel Prize, which is awarded each year at a ceremony at the close of Independence Day festivities. Other prestigious awards, such as the Wolf Prize, the Dan David Prize, the Rothschild Prize and the Emet Prize, are all made annually at more or less set times of the year. But ever since President Shimon Peres decided in February 2012 to follow examples of other countries, the awards have been presented according to a helter-skelter chronology – sometimes to suit the schedules of recipients, but otherwise without rhyme or reason for the timeframe.

Moreover, when Israeli recipients of national awards from foreign countries can’t travel abroad to receive their awards from the monarch, president, prime minister or some other government minister, a small reception is held at the residence of the ambassador of the donor’s country. But in Israel – pardon the political incorrectness – Muhammad must come to the mountain.

Therefore, we can expect to see filmmaker Steven Spielberg and Elie Wiesel, whose prolific writings have shaken the conscience of the world, coming to Israel some time soon. Wiesel is here at least once a year; Spielberg will have a dual reason for coming, as he has a niece living in Tel Aviv. Then again, it’s quite possible that Peres, whose most frequently visited destinations are France, Italy and the US – not necessarily in that order – will be in New York toward the end of the year and there is also a possibility that the awards ceremony will be held there as well. The Israeli recipients are military hero Avigdor Kahalani, medical networker Rabbi Elimelech Firer, physicist Dr. Harry Zvi Tabor and road safety campaigner Avi Naor.

■ DIFFERENT PEOPLE celebrate the Jewish New Year differently.

Harry Wall, who for several years headed the Israel office of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, has in his various community roles traveled widely in the Jewish world. This new year, he launched his new blog, www.JewishDiscoveries.com – a travelogue of various Jewish communities he has visited and filmed along with articles and photos by other Jewish travelers, aimed at giving people interested in Jewish life around the world a broader, behind-the-headlines picture of Jews and Judaism.

For starters, there are videos of “A Walk in the Marais – the Jewish Heart of Paris”; the remarkable revival of Jewish life in Poland, and a charismatic chef preparing Sephardic dishes in Segovia, Spain. In coming weeks and months, more videos will be posted of visits to Buenos Aires, Budapest, Rome, Prague and Vilnius.

There will also be some great nosh, including the best Tel Aviv street food and a presentation of Italian-Jewish cuisine from Rome’s Ghetto.

Wall, who has been back in the US for quite some time, welcomes the interest and comments of old friends in Israel. For this purpose, there is also a Jewish Discoveries Facebook page.

Only a few days after Harry notified friends they could become virtual travel companions in the Jewish world, he suffered an emotional setback with the death of his father, Dr. Norman Wall, who as a member of the US Army Medical Corps during World War II established a field hospital in Palestine, thereby creating the foundations for what later became Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

History pays more attention to the British presence in the region at the time than it does to the American.

Thus, it is not generally known that due to the concerns of Allied Forces about a possible German invasion by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps under his command, the Americans, in response to a British request for medical aid in the event of war, came to Palestine in 1943 to set up a field hospital so as to be ready to instantly care for the wounded.

Dr. Norman Wall’s military unit also established field hospitals in Cairo, Khartoum, Eritrea and Addis Ababa.

In 1945, the field hospital at what is now known as Tel Hashomer, replete with operating rooms and medical supplies, was turned over to the British. Following the establishment of the state, it was taken over by the IDF Medical Corps, which was then under the direction of Dr. Chaim Sheba.

Dr. Wall, who died this week at age 99 at his home in Florida, maintained a devoted and abiding interest in the State of Israel – as does his son, Harry, whose brother, Jay, lives in Israel together with children and grandchildren.

So many people whose names are not known to the general public have left remarkable legacies in and for Israel. Dr. Wall was one of them.

■ CURRENTLY AN acerbic columnist for Haaretz , former education and environment minister Yossi Sarid, who was an MK for more than 30 years, now has an axe to grind against the committee approving candidates for the board of directors of Bank Leumi.

A report in TheMarker, the financial supplement of Haaretz, says that Sarid, who applied to become a director of the bank, learned last week from reading their supplement that his application had been rejected.

His name did not appear among the 11 candidates recommended by the committee as being suitable to take on the role of director. Of the 11, five will sit on the board and one will be an external director – and Sarid did not make the short list.

As a longtime politician, Sarid has learned to take a hard knock on the chin, but contends that in this case, he was hit below the belt. There were 180 applicants, and Sarid would have understood that some were more qualified than he for the position of director. However, he was not even invited to appear before the committee, which was headed by retired Supreme Court justice Ayala Procaccia. For that matter, only 31 of the 180 applicants were invited to appear before the committee, and now Sarid is demanding to see the protocols of the committee’s meetings to determine why his application was rejected outright.

Sarid is known for not being a yes-man, and there is little doubt that his presence on the board would have served to rock the complacency of the Bank Leumi boat. Unless his demand is met, there is little likelihood that the public will ever know why the former education minister didn’t make the grade.

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