Grapevine: Free film night

THERE WAS a lot of free entertainment available to the public on Jerusalem Day.

Film at the festival (photo credit: courtesy)
Film at the festival
(photo credit: courtesy)
THERE WAS a lot of free entertainment available to the public on Jerusalem Day, though the municipality could have picked a more suitable venue than King George Avenue for the street music that could be heard blocks away. If the stage had been set up at Independence Park, there would have been no need to divert bus routes and cause inconvenience.
Probably the best among the entertainment offerings was the free film night at the Ma’aleh School of Television, Film & the Arts on Shivtei Yisrael Street, which borders on a string of haredi neighborhoods. Screenings that started at 9 p.m. on Sunday night and went on till the wee hours were held inside and outside the building so that the many young people who flocked all over the place had several choices and flitted from one screening to another. The largest screen was in the downstairs plaza visible from the street. Dozens of haredi young men and women who would not venture into the premises but wanted to see the movies stood glued to the wrought-iron fence at street level. Two young married women had the courage to come downstairs but didn’t sit in the midst of the crowd. They took two chairs and sat right at the back.
Among the many offerings by the highly talented Ma’aleh students was a short Yiddish film A Maiseh (A Story), starring Shmulik Shiloh. The plot centers around the warm relationship between Mendel, an elderly Holocaust survivor confined to a wheelchair, and his Filipino caretaker Jose, who has learned to speak Yiddish and who makes a great cholent for Shabbat. Jose is an illegal immigrant, and Mendel’s straitlaced son is trying to persuade his father to get rid of him. But Mendel loves Jose and refuses. The best part is when the immigration police, who have been tipped off about Jose, come looking for him and he hides in the toilet. They want whoever it is to come out. Mendel tells them it’s his grandson “Yossele” and calls out to Jose in Yiddish to hurry because there are people who want to see him. Jose responds in Yiddish. The police, who have searched the premises, leave deciding that there is no illegal Filipino in the apartment. The name of the Filipino actor is missing from the credits, and one suspects that the person playing the role may have been an illegal, which is why his name was not published. The film was charming and prompted a lot of applause when it concluded.
■ APPLAUSE ALSO rang out on Saturday afternoon and evening at the Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue, which hosted the Ramatayim Choir, which had appeared at Friday night services, had gone to the Hanassi Synagogue for morning services on Saturday and was back at Hazvi Yisrael on Saturday afternoon. The choir was definitely in a Jerusalem Day mood and gave its all both in quality and quantity. The occasion was also a celebration of the fact that the congregation’s founding president, Prof. Hillel Blondheim, had been named a Distinguished Citizen of Jerusalem. His vision was praised by David Zwebner, Rabbi Avigdor Burstein and stalwart Reuven Asch, who was among the early congregants who had helped Blondheim to realize his vision. One of the rules on which Blondheim had insisted was that there be no talking during services, especially during Torah reading.
Speakers who congratulated him on his vision and his latest honor recalled that he used to walk around with a note on which he had written that talking is not permitted, and he would approach any offender and get him to read the note, which proved to be an effective means of silencing garrulous worshipers.
In referring to the guest speaker Jerusalem-born Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, who had been among the paratroopers who had captured the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, and who now heads the Temple Institute which he founded, Burstein played Hebrew anagrams, saying that only the transposition of a letter differentiated between lohem (fighter) and holem (dreamer).
Likewise, he said of Ariel’s Institute that it was the only institute in Israel worthy of the name because it prepared people in every way possible for the rebuilding of and service in the Third Temple. The word for “institute” in Hebrew is machon, and the word for “prepared” or “ready” is muchan.
■ Ariel, who as a child had visited the Western Wall with his grandfather, spoke of how different it is now to what it was then.
There was no plaza, just a dirt track across which the Arabs rode their donkeys, steering them among the Jewish worshipers. He also spoke of the emotions felt by soldiers both religious and secular in 1967 when they looked up and saw their commander Mordechai Gur and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the IDF, at the top of the Temple Mount.
In the days before that, said Ariel, everyone’s morale had been at a low ebb because of broadcasts coming out of Cairo and Amman stating that Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem were on fire and that Israel’s Air Force had been wiped out. “There was so much despondency that there was an atmosphere of Holocaust,” he recalled. It had hit him particularly hard because there had been 10 Holocaust survivors with numbers on their arms studying in his class in yeshiva. And then, suddenly, there was the miracle of victory. Later, they discovered that the Dome of the Rock had been a military base for Jordanian legionnaires whose camp beds, cannons, mortars and jeeps had been left behind when they fled to nearby houses. The Israelis found the legionnaires dressed in pajamas, trying to pretend that they were civilians.
■ GRIEF IS a very private thing, but in Israel it is both private and public in that fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism become part of the extended family of the nation, and scores if not hundreds of people attend their funerals. Even more people come to share the grief of the famous and, conversely, the famous are seldom permitted to grieve alone but are asked again and again to speak about their lost loved ones at public events. In the Grossman family, it is usually celebrated novelist David Grossman who speaks about his 20-year-old son Uri who was killed by an anti-tank missile towards the end of the Second Lebanon War. Grossman has also in part dealt with his bereavement by writing a non-autobiographical book Falling out of Time, which is about the pain of the loss of a child.
Less has been heard from Uri’s mother, Michal, who found some solace in Buddhism, and gave a workshop on this topic at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, where hundreds of bereaved mothers came together for an annual strengthening of the soul, hosted by the non-profit organization Or Lemishpaha (Light to the Family). Michal Grossman, a psychologist by profession, said that for 30 years she had listened to other people’s woes, but none of this had prepared her for the loss of her own son. When confronted with this void, she began to seek ways of communicating with the dead, while simultaneously carrying on with life as usual. In her search, she found comfort in Buddhism.
Among the other mothers present was Miriam Peretz, who has lost two sons: Eliraz, who was killed in the Gaza Strip two years ago; and Uriel, who was killed in Lebanon in 1998. Peretz has spoken extensively in Israel and abroad about the choices open to grieving parents and other relatives and, in her ringing tones, has told numerous audiences, “I chose life.”