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Israel News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

A Long, Painful Summer: More Meditations On Israel

I love Israel. The landscape, the language, the food, the mix of old world culture and hi-tech innovative breakthroughs, the mix of east and west, its mix of deep spirituality, irreverent atheism, passionate doubt, and zany mysticism. I love the mix of brash chutzpah and soul-searching analytical reflectiveness. I love that Israelis buy more books per capita than any other country in the world.

Israel is in many ways where I became an adult. After living in Israel for a year during college, I moved back upon graduation.  It was there that I first lived in my own apartment, looked for a job, got a paycheck direct deposited into my account, and learned to cook for myself.  Israel was where I was able to explore my personal Judaism and realize that I didn’t have to go to rabbinic school in order to have a rich, fulfilling, Jewish life, and it was where I made the choice to not become a rabbi (yes, I later changed my mind again, but it was the right choice at the time).

IMG_2542Israel is my family, both metaphorically and literally.  I married into a large, warm Israeli family twenty-four years ago. They have truly become my family over these years.  When I worry abstractly about Israel, I worry concretely about them and their emotional and physical wellbeing.

And yet loving Israel doesn’t mean loving everything about it. Like any family, and I speak here of the metaphoric family, not my actual family, there are those members I tolerate just because they’re family. And then there are those I can’t even abide. They stand for all that I stand against. You know what that’s like. Just because they’re family doesn’t mean you have to like them.

It’s been a long, painful summer.

I confess that I’ve been in a social media semi-hibernation mode this summer.  I’ve felt paralyzed, powerless, unable to say or do anything helpful or productive. It’s been shocking to watch the conversation, both domestically and internationally, devolve into black and white rhetoric, often laced with ancient anti-semitic tropes. People I love have taken extreme and often ill-informed positions. Blame is thrown back and forth, with all sense of nuance and complexity absent from the conversation.

And conversation is probably the wrong word in any case. When accusations are tossed without context, and without reflection, that is not a conversation.

As things heated up in Israel, the CCAR made a quick decision to organize a solidarity mission to Israel in order to both show support to our friends, family, and colleagues in Israel, as well as to provide our members with a more nuanced sense of the reality there.

It was a somber time to be there, and of course the tension has only increased.  We set up meetings with a varied group of people in different parts of the country.  We met with Knesset members and soldiers, activists and negotiators, reporters and scholars. Many of those we spoke to while there voiced deep concern for the future of Israel’s soul, and worries about growing extremism on all sides.  A number of speakers  talked about the national soul-searching that must come when some semblance of stability is restored.

IMG_2135In a prayer service with our Israeli MARAM colleagues one morning, we read several new prayers written by Rabbi Yehoyada Amir.  One is a Mi Sheberach for those wounded, which speaks of the suffering of those of both nations who lie in sickbeds, and the other is a Mi Sheberach for the members of the IDF.  The service was followed by a conversation with our local colleagues, who shared what they are going through, trying to serve and support their communities while in the midst of fear and concern for their own families and still continuing their work in areas like human rights and peace.  Their stories were moving and powerful – and in some cases very painful.

Like so many of those we spoke to, our colleagues also talked about being torn up by the deaths and suffering of the Gazan civilians, even as they grieved the deaths of the young Israelis killed in the conflict.  In the face of fear and pain, they refuse to let go of empathy and give in to hate. They are living out what we are taught in Pirke Avot: in a place where there are no human beings, be a human being.

I am worried.  I worry on Israel’s behalf, and I worry about Israel.  I worry about what will happen to Israel, and I worry about the choices Israel will make.  Even as we witnessed the pain and worry of our colleagues and friends and relatives, we also were grateful to see flashes of hope here and there.  There are many who think that the questions being asked in the public sphere within Israel will lead to a better future.  Even in the midst of new waves of hatred, there are new partnerships being created by those seek peace and coexistence, and are concerned with issues of human rights. So I continue to hold on to hope in the midst of worry.

I would guess that I am not alone in struggling to articulate something meaningful about Israel for the coming high holy days, words that express both deep love for Israel along with concern, a sense of complexity, and a message of hope.

With issues this big and complicated, sometimes prayers and meditations are a helpful way to begin to get a hold of concepts that otherwise feel almost impossible to grasp.

Toward that end, I offer you some readings related to the events of this summer which you are welcome to use in your communities.  We ask only that you use them with attribution.  Please also see additional readings we posted earlier.

Here is a poem written by the liturgist Alden Solovy, inspired by a workshop he held with us during the CCAR trip.

IMG_2633These Ancient Stones

When these ancient stones whisper to us,
They yearn for our steadfast love.
They yearn for us to remember
How Israel walks through history,
With justice and wisdom,
With righteousness and mercy.

God of our fathers and mothers,
Let compassion enter the land.

When these ancient stones whisper to us,
They yearn for our devotion and our service.
They yearn for us to remember the vision of our ancestors,
Their strength,
Their love of God and
Their love for our people.

God of generations,
Let tranquility enter the land.

When these ancient stones speak to us,
They yearn for peace.
They yearn for us to learn
How to turn swords into plowshares,
And spears into pruning hooks.
They yearn for us to remember
That we have been outcast on foreign soil,
That we are bound by Torah to guard the land
And to protect the stranger in our midst.

God of all being,
Let joy enter the land
And gladness enter our hearts.

Two Readings by Rabbi Yehoyada Amir, the Acting Chairperson, MARAM – Israel Council of Reform Rabbis, translated by Ortal Bensky and CCAR staff. (See the Hebrew, posted earlier)

A Prayer for the Wounded

May the One who brought blessings to our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to our mothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bring blessings to the wounded of both nations who lie on their sickbeds. Instill in their caring physicians hearts of wisdom and good sense, in order to restore them to full health and give them encouragement. Bestow God’s holiness upon their relatives and loved ones in order to stand with them in this time of need and to give them love and faith. Strengthen their spirits to chose life in times of pain and suffering. Hear their prayers and fortify them so that they will continue to lead lives of health, creation, joy and blessings. And together we say: Amen.

 A Prayer for the Israel Defense Forces

May the One who brought blessings to our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to our mothers Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bless the soldiers of Israel’s Defense Forces, and all who stand guard in order to protect the Land of Israel. Give them strength against our enemies, and strengthen their spirit to preserve their highest values at this time of trial. Protect them from all troubles and afflictions, so that they will return in peace and joy to their families and friends, and may they prosper as human beings and citizens in their land.

Rabbi Hara Person is Publisher of CCAR Press and Director of Strategic Communications for the Central Conference of American Rabbis

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CCAR on the Road Israel News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

Prayers of Anguish: From Israel at a Time of War

We offer this selection of readings and prayers from the CCAR Israel Solidarity Mission for your use this Shabbat. Please use them with attribution.

 These first two prayers were written by liturgist Alden Solovy, inspired by the insights and yearnings of the rabbis who participated in the CCAR Israel Solidarity Mission.

 

When Peace Comes: A Meditation

When peace comes,

When the tunnels are gone and the walls come down,

When we sing together as brothers and sisters,

We will remember these days of sorrow and grief,

Of rockets and terror,

Of longing and despair,

As a memorial to those who were lost,

As a remembrance of our mourning,

As a monument to our yearning,

On the road to wholeness,

On the road to wisdom,

On the road to our days of rejoicing.

 

IMG_3454Oh you children of Abraham,

You sons and daughters of Sarah and Hagar,

What will you become?

How long before shalom and salaam

Echo in these hills,

In these valleys and on these shores,

As shouts of awe and amazement?

How long before we remember

To hold each other dear?

 

One God,

Maker of All,

Banish war from our midst.

Speedily bring forth justice, understanding and love.

Bind these wounds and heal our hearts.

On that day the children of Ishmael

And the children of Isaac

Will dance as one.

Joy will rise to heaven

And gladness will fill the earth.

 

We are One

My heart breaks when Jews profess their anger, loathing or distain for other Jews.

My heart breaks when Arabs profess their anger, loathing or distain for other Arabs.

My heart breaks when Jews profess their anger, loathing or distain for Arabs.

My heart breaks when Arabs profess their anger, loathing or distain for Jews.

 

Maker of Peace,

Heal our broken hearts with new vision,

New wisdom and new compassion,

So that we embrace each other with understanding,

With wonder and amazement,

And with love.

 

IMG_1244Wholeness is our journey,

And wholeness is our destination.

With Your loving hand,

God of Old,

We will find the path.

Let the Jewish people now say, “We are one.”

Let the Arab people now say, “We are one.”

Let Arabs and Jews now say together, “We are one.”

Let all people now say together, “We are one.”

 

The following prayers come from Rabbi Yehodaya Amir, the Acting Chairperson of MARAM – the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis. The CCAR Israel Solidarity Mission were introduced to these prayers during a t’filah experience with our Israeli colleagues this week in Tel Aviv. We hope to be able to offer English translations in the near future, but in the meantime, here is the original Hebrew.

שאלו שלום ירושלים

 

תְּפִלָּה בְּעַד עַמֵּנוּ וּבְעַד אַרְצֵנוּ

רִבּוֹן הָעוֹלָם, קַבֵּל נָא בְּרָצוֹן אֶת תְּפִלָּתֵנוּ לְמַעַן מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַמָּהּ. הָרֵק אֶת בִּרְכָתְךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ וְעַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ. הֲבִינֵנוּ מִשְׁפְּטֵי צִדְקֶךָ, וְתֵן בְּלִבֵּנוּ אֶת מוּסַר נְבִיאֶיךָ – “עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם אֱלֹהֶיךָ” (מיכה ו, ח).

הַעֲרֶה רוּחֲךָ עַל כָּל תּוֹשָׁבֵי אַרְצֵנוּ, טַע בָּנוּ סוֹבְלָנוּת וְכָבוֹד הֲדָדִי. עֲקֹר מִתּוֹכֵנוּ שִׂנְאָה, אַלִּימוּת, כְּפִיָּה וְנִצּוּל לְרָע.

פְּרֹשׂ אֶת סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמְךָ עַל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל תְּפוּצוֹתָיו. אָנָּא, תֵּן עֹז בְּנַפְשָׁם לָבוֹא לְאַרְצֵנוּ, וְיָשַׁבְנוּ בָּהּ שֶׁבֶת אַחִים גַּם-יָחַד.

אַמֵּץ אֶת לֵב חַיָּלֵינוּ, מָגִנֵּי אַרְצֵנוּ; וְהָיְתָה רוּחָם עַזָּה, וְנִשְׁקָם – טָהוֹר. שָׁמְרֵם בְּצֵל כְּנָפֶיךָ, הַנְחִילֵם יְשׁוּעָה וְגָבְרוּ עַל אוֹיְבֵינוּ. אַךְ, אָנָּא, תֵּן שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְהִתְבָּרְכוּ בָּהּ כָּל יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ, וְקַיֵּם בִּמְהֵרָה חֲזוֹן נְבִיאֶיךָ: “לֹא יִשָּׂא גּוֹי אֶל גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹא יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה” (ישׁעיהו ב, ד). אָמֵן.

מי שברך לפצועים

מי שברך אבותינו אברהם יצחק ויעקב ואימותינו שרה רבקה רחל ולאה הוא יברך את הפצועים בני שני העמים השוכבים על מיטת חוליים. ייתן ה’ בלב הרופאים המטפלים חכמת לב ושכל טוב, לסעדם לרפאם ולחזק את רוחם; ישרה האל מרוח קדשו על כל קרוביהם ואוהביהם לעמוד לימינם בעת מצוקתם ולהעניק להם אהבה ואמונה; יאמץ ה’ את רוחם לבחור בחיים גם בעת מכאוב וסבל; ישמע ה’ את קול התפילה ויחזקם למען יוסיפו ויידעו שנות בריאות ויצירה, שמחה וברכה. ונאמר: אמן.

מי שברך לחיילי צה”ל

מי שברך את אבותינו אברהם יצחק ויעקב, ואימותינו שרה רבקה רחל ולאה, הוא יברך את חיילי צה”ל ואנשי כוחות הביטחון הנלחמים למען בטחון ישראל ושלומה. יתן להם ה’ עוז לצאת חושים נגד אויבינו הקמים עלינו, ורוח איתנה לשמור על ערכיהם ועל צלמם בעת מבחן זו. יגן ה’ עליהם מכל צרה ומצוקה, למען ישובו בשלום ובשמחה אל משפחותיהם ואל חבריהם, ולמען ימשיכו ויפרחו כבני אדם וחוה וכאזרחי מדינתם.

 

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Books Passover Pesach Reform Judaism

CCAR Haggadot: A Feast of Haggadah Choices

I know, I know, Purim hasn’t even arrived yet, but Passover isn’t too far away and it’s never too early to begin to think about preparations.  One of the first questions that always comes up is which haggadah to use.  Here at the CCAR, we have a long history of publishing haggadot, and today we offer many different options.  Each one offers something a little bit different to meet the needs of your family or community.

It all began in 1892, which marks the beginning of Reform haggadot in North America. That was when the CCAR attempted to publish the first Union Prayer Book, in which a new haggadah was meant to be incorporated. That prayer book was ultimately and infamously rejected by the CCAR, and the haggadah was later published as a stand-alone volume (the subsequent UPB 2, which did pass the approval process, did not include the haggadah).

This early haggadah was an adaptation by Rabbi Isaac Moses of an even earlier Reform haggadah published in Bavaria in German by Rabbi Leopold Stein in 1841.  This original haggadah, as well as its subsequent adaptations and translations, was a contemporary rethinking of Passover for the Jews of the time.  As Dr. Richard Sarason writes, “While a strong affective connection to the seder ritual remains, there is a clear cognitive distancing from its premodern form and some of its content, which is either eliminated entirely or reshaped to conform to contemporary sensibilities. The passages of classical Rabbinic discourse are deleted, as are any angry or vengeful references to the gentiles” (Sarason, “The Haggadah and Reform Judaism” in The New Union Haggadah, CCAR Press, 2014).  Redemption is framed not as something far off in the future to which to yearn, but rather taking place in its audience’s own time as Jews gained political, social, and professional rights.  A revision, with slightly more Hebrew, was published in 1907/08.

Union HaggadahThe beloved gray hardcover known as the Union Haggadah, published in 1923, was a revision of this early 19th century haggadah (the image here is of the paperback facsimile version). This edition contains more Hebrew than the earlier versions, had a fuller version of the Exodus story, and also restored the traditional divisions of the seder.  But it still shared the original sensibility, looking not toward a future time of redemption but celebrating the freedom and liberty available to Jews in North America.  Generations of Reform Jews were raised on this version of the haggadah, as well as the revised version published following World War II. It was also appreciated for its gorgeous black and white artwork and elegant design, as well as the musical notation provided.  The CCAR Press has made a paperback version of this haggadah available.

PASSHAGG COVIn 1974 CCAR published A Passsover Haggadah, known familiarly as “the Baskin” though it should be known as the Bronstein-Baskin, created as it was under the editorial leadership of Rabbi Herbert Bronstein. This was the first full color haggadah from the Reform Movement, incorporating the striking art of Leonard Baskin.  A Passover Haggadah became an instant bestseller, as ubiquitous in Reform homes as The Union Haggadah once was.  This haggadah incorporates many supplementary readings and songs, drawing on the post-Holocaust Jewish experience as well as acknowledging the existence of and relationship with Israel.  It uses a much fuller Hebrew text than the  previous haggadot, a beautiful poetic style of English, adds back in much of the rabbinic commentary edited out in various editions of The Union Haggadah, and draws on many contemporary sources including Hebrew poetry.  This is an excellent haggadah for those who want a rich seder experience, with a tremendous amount of material to build upon.

Open Door-COVER-NEWThe Open Door, edited by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell and published in 2002, reflects further changes in the North American Jewish community.  This haggadah, with beautiful art by Ruth Weisberg, incorporates voices of those previously marginalized or left out, including women’s voice, GLBT voices, and those from non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities.  This haggadah is a great addition to any collection, offering new perspectives on familiar texts and opening the door for all those who want to enter.

STJCoverIn 2012 CCAR Press added another haggadah to our offerings.  Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family, edited by Alan Yoffie with gorgeous full color artwork by Mark Podwal, offers a welcoming and accessible approach to Passover.  This haggadah is especially a good fit for those who don’t know a lot about Passover rituals or practices but wants to get started, or those with non-Jewish family members and friends around the table.  All are warmly welcomed and included in the shared experience of moving from slavery to redemption, with Sharing the Journey follows the traditional steps of the seder in a joyous, streamlined, non-intimidating way.  All Hebrew is fully transliterated and gender inclusive. There are discussion questions and explanations throughout. This Haggadah is also a great choice for congregational seders, which could be accompanied by the forthcoming Visual T’filah version. A separate Leader’s Guide is available, including a 2 CD set, and the album is also available on iTunes, both with words and without, for singing along too.  There is also an iPad version of Sharing the Journey, and it will shortly be available as Visual T’filah, a terrific resource for congregational seders.  In addition, a selection of Podwal’s signed giclee prints of images from the book are available and make special very special gifts.

CCAR-UnionOur latest haggadah is a completely revised edition of the 1923 Union Haggadah.  This edition, The New Union Haggadah, is being created in consultation with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, with Rabbi Howard Berman as consulting editor and Rabbi Ben Zeidman as development editor.  This revision features beautiful updates of the original artwork, as well as some new full color art based on Passover images from stained glasses windows found in Reform synagogues across North America.  For those who still feel connected to the 1923 edition but want something slightly more contemporary, this is a perfect choice.  This edition preserves the beauty and elegance of the original, with its focus on the shared Jewish and American moral values and emphasis on liberty for all, while now offering full transliteration, gender inclusive language, and updates to the original such as Miriam’s cup and the option of an orange on the seder plate.  In addition, we are also offering a large print edition.

CHLDHAGG COVAnd then there’s A Children’s Haggadah,  by Howard Bogot and Robert Orkand, with illustrations by Devis Grebu.  This child-friendly haggadah features a vibrant fold-out section of the whole seder plate.   Designed especially for young people, this haggadah is a great choice for home seders with lots of young children, as well as for schools or community family seders.

There are many haggadot to choose from.  We’re proud to be able to offer a range of different options.  And of course there’s always the tradition of collecting many different haggadot, all the better to pick and choose the parts you like from each. Have fun making your choice, and chag sameach!

Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher and Director of CCAR Press

 

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News Reform Judaism

Cinema Judaica: The War Years – Part 4 Interview With the Author

CCAR Press is proud to be the ebook publisher of Cinema Judaica: The War Years, in partnership with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which organized the related exhibition.  Though a departure from the usual books published by CCAR Press, this was a wonderful opportunity for collaboration with one of our Movement partners, and one that provides unique and fascinating educational content for our members and their communities.  In anticipation of the launch of Cinema Judaica, we took the opportunity to sit down with the author, Ken Sutak. Cinema Judaica is available through iTunes or Amazon.  Read Parts 12, and 3 of this interview.  

CCAR Press: What, then, do you think we can learn from Cinema Judaica, The War Years about Jewish identity?

Ken Sutak: Several things, I hope, but I will mention only the three that seem most apparent to me.  First, that it is and was, from the inception of the American republic itself, an essential part of the overall basic American character, just as it is one of the glues that hold the many different threads that comprise the social fabric of America together.  At no time was this clearer in our history—at least in retrospect—than during the War Years.  This was especially true during that critical period of the Great Debate between isolationism and interventionism, when the fate of the remaining democracies including our own, along with the fate of the world, along with the fate of world Jewry, hung in the balance.  Second, that the literary concept of the oppressed but steadfast Jewish female protagonist, which was very popular in mid-Nineteenth Century America thanks to one much-loved novel by Sir Walter Scott and his apparent inspiration, the Philadelphia benefactress Rebecca Gratz, was resurrected by American films and their underlying literary sources during the War Years.   Moreover, that was done with considerable critical and commercial success.  As a free society that tries to institutionalize equal rights, we have been enjoying the bountiful fruits of that revival ever since, but it began during World War II.

CJ sample 12Take a closer look at Paulette Goddard’s Hannah character in The Great Dictator, at Margaret Sullavan’s persecuted yet resilient Jewish heroines in The Mortal Storm and So Ends Our Night, or Katherine Taylor’s sacrificial lioness of a Jewish literary prop, played by K. T. Stevens, who falls prey to the frenzy of a Nazi mob in Address Unknown–all but the famous Chaplin film having been based on best-selling interventionist novels published in the very late 1930s.  Cinema Judaica, The War Years does.   And third, that there is a logical reason why it was so easy, and natural, for Leon Uris and others before him to Americanize the Israeli struggle for independence for popular consumption in America during the 1950s.  When the lesser known postwar “exodus” films like My Father’s House, The Illegals, and Sword in the Desert are placed in the context of a capsule history of the War Years from start to finish, including the wartime events leading up to Israel’s own Declaration of Independence, it becomes apparent that the first Arab-Israeli War was the last installment—for the 1940s—of the Second World War.  In all of these areas, however, whether you are able to tap into visceral issues of identity or not, it is important to approach the context visually, not just narratively.  Which is part of the appeal of the Cinema Judaica exhibits, and now, we hope, the illustrated Cinema Judaica  books.

CP: Why is that?

KS: Because we respond emotionally to a visual work or component more readily than we do to a verbal or editorial one.  That’s why Harry Warner wanted to begin the American fight against Hitler and Hitlerism at the movies, on top of all the anti-Nazi journalism that was around at the same time.  That’s why  Warner Brothers produced Confessions of a Nazi Spy, the first openly anti-Nazi movie, and Sons of Liberty, a short biopic about Hyam Salomon that returned openly Jewish characters to the movies for the first time in five years, concurrently, for general release on the same bill in Warner Brothers theaters.  That’s why the German American Bund burned down one of the theaters showing Confessions, and why Hitler actually hanged some of the Polish theater owners who had showed Confessions in Poland from the rafters of their theaters.  It’s why the writers Meyer Levin and his wife-to-be Tereska Torres, he a former war correspondent with ready access to the press, she a former soldier in De Gaulle’s Free French Army, risked their lives to film a you-are-there docudrama movie called The Illegals which records an actual Aliyah Bet transmigration of Holocaust survivors from Poland to British Mandatory Palestine on a Haganah ship called “The Unafraid” during the last dangerous leg of the journey.  You have only to look at the online sample pages of Cinema Judaica, The War Years to see and feel what I mean.

Can anyone—Jewish or Gentile—look at a “star portrait” of Claude Rains as Hyam Solomon wearing a tricorn hat and a prayer shawl, opposite a pair of typical U.S. war bond drive posters featuring his fellow American patriots George Washington and John Paul Jones at their own battle stations, and not feel prideful in or of American Jews?  Or just consider the contrast between a complex editorial fact and a simple visual correlative in this starker example.  According to the statistics compiled by the Jewish Welfare Board Bureau of War Records, roughly 550,000 Jewish American men and women served in the American Armed Forces during World War II, out of roughly 11,000,000 Americans in total.  About 35,000 were surviving casualties of battle and approximately another 8000 were killed in action.  For a single ethnic group that represented somewhere between 3.4%  and 3.7% of the population of America at the time, that’s a fairly proportionate loss of life and limb and more than a proportionate participation in the wartime service of their country.  These statistics often surprise some people, especially younger Jews unfamiliar with the World War II history that their forebears lived through.  These statistics are cited in the narrative of Cinema Judiaca, The War Years.   Standing alone, though, they don’t necessarily carry an emotional wallop that brings fundamental feelings of identity to the surface.  However, I don’t think any audience, especially a Jewish audience, can watch the scene in The Sands of Iwo Jima where an American Marine, part of John Wayne’s multi-ethnic combat platoon, falls mortally wounded in battle with the Japanese and then recites the opening Hebrew words of the Shema before he dies on Mount Suribachi, and come away from that scene unmoved—or, if it’s a Jewish audience watching that scene, unaware that his or her Jewish identity is inextricably linked with the multi-ethnic and multi-religious identity of this country.  That’s the kind of War Years moment that grabs you by the throat and squeezes your most primal feelings up into the emotive lobes of your brain, like the effect of loud lightening in a storm.

CP: You just mentioned younger Jews, the ones that many of our congregations most wish to reach.  How can Jewish communities use Cinema Judaica to teach?

KS: Cinema Judaica is a useful educational aide, a visually appealing book available in alternate e-book or print book editions, with accurate summaries of otherwise unmanageable amounts of historical information subdivided into teachable subject headings, in order to achieve reasonably obtainable educational goals.  The earliest instance of the use of the term “Cinema Judaica” that I know of is in connection with a Jewish film festival in Los Angeles that shows Jewish-themed movies of the War Years period, like Gentleman’s Agreement, accompanied by a lecturer who discusses the all-important context.  Unless you can teach the context, you can’t teach anything about Jewish-themed films except movie trivia and filmmaking technicalities: the quality of the performances, the writing, the direction, the cinematography, the score.   Audiences for Cinema Judaica festivals in L.A., which also have included concerts of film music, do skew older.   Yet they also include the TCM type crowds that contain a lot of avid young film fans who are eager to see and learn everything they can about classic films.  So why can’t that same approach, times ten, times ninety, work for our synagogues, now that such an educational tool is available?  Plenty of synagogues sponsor their own Jewish film festival at least once a year, but these events rarely showcase old movies.  They tend to showcase new Israeli films as a rule, which is great, because the American synagogues have become an important outlet for Israeli filmmakers gaining exposure for their films, and Israeli filmmakers need that support.

But if you also want to introduce younger congregants, particularly those of Bar and Bat Mitzvah or high school age, to the unpleasant but must-know subject of anti-Semitism in America as it once manifested itself, then sponsor a Cinema Judaica screening and discussion, show the nine-minute  The House I Live In on a double bill with the ninety-minute Crossfire, and make sure the audience has a chance to read “The Postwar Anti-Semitism Films” section of Cinema Judaica, The War Years for the historical background information beforehand, or build a multi-part curriculum around it.  It’s perfect for that, especially in the visual culture in which young people are growing up.  It’s like the way a synagogue book group operates, but with two visual components added, one being the representative movie and other the tie-in book  which is colorfully illustrated with rare posters and trade ads of the period, and which you can download onto your iPad.  With the book, there’s no need for an outside lecturer to talk on the same subject and answer questions.  Similarly, if you wish to teach the complicated subject of the key events leading up to the formation of the State of Israel after the end of World War II, in a manageable way, then show the hour-long DVD of The Illegals, which you can license for a nominal fee from Ergo Media online,  and offer your audience an opportunity to read “The Postwar Exodus Films” section of Cinema Judaica, The War Years beforehand.   Same thing for teaching “The Great Debate” period, or the period when we were actively engaged in World War II as a nation engaged in a war of national survival.  Same thing for teaching “The Postwar Holocaust Films” if you wish to discuss how  Eastern European filmmakers, some of whom had been concentration camp inmates, took it upon themselves to portray the camps they had been in as soon as permitted after the war ended.  You’ve got a whole curriculum right there.

CP: How did you go about gathering all the material in the books, and over how long?

KS: In this case the material consists of three categories.  First there are the films themselves, together with the underlying novels, novellas, or magazine series installments, if any, that preceded the film productions, which had to be identified, located, viewed, and read.  Then there is the illustrative promotional material for the films.  Much of it is rare, if still obtainable, which most of it still was, and is.   Without enough of it the exhibits would not have been possible, nor the books as a practical matter, although for the books all I needed was high res photographic images.   Finally there are the secondary research sources, some of which are out of print, but findable, for both the movie history and the general wartime history, along with as many of the original distributor’s pressbooks for the films as could be found.   Pressbooks are primary movie memorabilia too, but of an informative, factual type.  It took me about four years of off and on effort to collect enough representative primary material—original posters, trade ads, pressbooks, rare scene stills or publicity photos, and the like—to mount a small War Years exhibit and the larger Epic Cycle exhibit, and to watch or learn more about all the films.  A lot of the exhibit items were located and obtained on Ebay, most of it inexpensively.  Some of them were purchased or borrowed from dealers, some of them were borrowed from personal collections, or lent by owners who had inherited them from family members.  It took another two years or so to plan and actually produce the original museum exhibits at HUC-JIR Museum.   During that time a book manuscript started to evolve, under the oversight of my agent, and it became the basis of the exhibit signage.  Throughout this time, and the lead-in time, I located copies of most of the films either on VHS or DVD or on the internet, and watched them whether or not I had seen them before in theaters or on TV.   I also read most of the underlying literary sources.

CJ sample 11However, the most time-consuming part of doing almost any book of an historical nature is reading, notating, and absorbing the essential facts in the secondary sources.   That was true for Cinema Judaica, The War Years though not so much for Cinema Judaica,The Epic Cycle, where I was already familiar with a lot of the underlying social and political history.  I am a fast writer but a slow reader.  Moreover, I make my living not as an occasional book writer but as an attorney.  I am a 24/7 litigator who doubles as an entertainment lawyer with a New York law firm. So all my research and writing on this two-book project had to be done during breaks from my litigations or my transactional work.   That took about another four years.   At the same time, because the books are broader than the exhibits, I was still gathering additional material for them.  Often, this entailed gathering information about whether or not any surviving copy of any poster from a particular film still existed, and if so where, or from whom I might acquire or license a photograph of it.  As you can tell from the acknowledgements at the end of  The War Years book, a lot of people contributed images of very rare posters, or surviving, sometimes one-of-a-kind photographs, or esoteric information about wartime events or filmmaking incidents that could not be come by otherwise.  Everyone who did so was enthused by the subject matter of Cinema Judaica, The War Years when I described it to them.  And very few asked for anything more than a contributor’s credit in return.  It was as though all these contributors of rare images for the book or rare artifacts for the museum exhibits wanted to be part of the overall project, almost to the same extent we are told by American social historians like Geoffrey Perrett that people wanted to be part of the war effort while the War Years were taking place.  To quote Perrett, “spirits soared.”  The actual visual stuff, real artifacts of that time period, not just the story they enhance, causes spirits to soar.  That said, I still had to go to Prague to track down the sole surviving copy of the original Czech poster for the 1949 Czech Holocaust film Daleka cesta, or Distant Journey, which like that film itself is owned by the National Film Archive in Prague.  The National Film Archive licensed its photograph of it to me for use in this book, which is the first time a color image of that surviving poster has been published.  I also had an unusual number of lucky breaks in locating some of the other rarest items.

CP: Such as?

KS: No film poster dealer in the United States, nor either of the two Jewish film archives in Israel, had ever seen or even heard of the window card poster for the 1947 film My Father’s House.   So I could only hope and pray that a surviving copy would show up on Ebay.  Then one day, one did.  It was the printer’s remainder, no less, in unused condition because that’s what one-of-a-kind printer’s remainders are, by definition.  Now it is part of the HUC-JIR Museum travel show.  I had no such luck locating any surviving poster for The Illegals, though. I don’t think there is one.  However, it turned out that Meyer Levin had taken some publicity photographs of the Times Square theater marquee when the film opened in New York City in July 1948.  Above the marquee had stood a big wall poster, and below it were some door panel posters.  Meyer’s son Mikael Levin, a career photography artist, gave me permission to publish some of his father’s photographs in the book. He also agreed to let the book’s graphic designer, John Bernstein, isolate the wall poster in the black and white photograph of the theater marquee and create a digital reconstruction of the wall poster with added colors for the book.  The owner of  Emovieposter.com, the online distributor of the print edition of the book, contributed nineteen images of rare posters from his archive.  One of them, the never-seen poster for the Warner Brothers’ Oscar-winning 1945 postwar short called Hitler Lives, which  warned Americans in that characteristic Warners’ style that Hitlerism would soon reappear again, only became possible to include in the layouts at the eleventh hour before the layouts were closed when an excellent condition copy of the poster miraculously showed up for auction out of the blue.  The images of the four impossibly rare and very valuable posters for the two Three Stooges anti-Nazi film shorts circa 1940 and 1941 were contributed by the Stoogeum, a specialized museum in Pennsylvania which is dedicated to exactly what its name implies.  Who would ever have thought that such a museum existed?

The two equally rare lobby cards for Sons of Liberty came from the collection of Ray Faiola, the noted soundtrack album producer and CBS executive.  The two rare original Walt Disney Productions cover artworks I came by accidentally, in conversations with a Disneyana collector in Canada and with a film memorabilia dealer in New York.   The latter happened to remember that he had a piece of pre-Pearl Harbor Disney anti-Nazi artwork buried in his warehouse in New Jersey which might be of interest to me.  As it turned out, it is one of only two known surviving copies, neither of them possessed by the Disney Archive.  Now it’s on display with the HUC-JIR Museum travel exhibit.   It is changing the way Walt Disney has heretofore been regarded in some Jewish circles, based on hearsay, because it proves that Disney sided with the interventionists against the isolationists before and during that congressional investigation I mentioned.  There is a rare original publicity photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt, from the photographer’s contact sheet, taken during the filming of her introduction to the U.S. release, presented by her son James through United Artists, of the 1940 British interventionist film Pastor Hall, which was based on the 1938 anti-Nazi play by Ernst Toller.  I came across it on ebay one day, where rare artifacts of uncertain historical significance just float by like flotsam sometimes.   That was also the case with what turned out to be a surviving original British publicity photograph for a key scene in the same film.  It was taken during the filming of the brutal concentration camp sequence in which Toller’s Lutheran protagonist wears a Jewish Star, prior to the Battle of Britain.  The on-set British photographer, Douglas Slocombe, subsequently became a famous cinematographer for movies like The Lion in Winter and the Indiana Jones trilogy.   Slocombe is now one hundred years old—no kidding.  He told me over the phone from London that he was stunned to learn that any of his photographs taken on the set of Pastor Hall had survived the Blitz, and that he was delighted that one of them was now on exhibit in the United States and going to be published in this book.   He asked me to send him a picture of his own photograph taken over seventy years ago because although he is blind now, he wanted his daughter to see it. In other words, there are a lot of images in Cinema Judaica, The War Years that no one, by and large, has had an opportunity to see anywhere else since the War Years ended.   I had an incredible run of  luck in being able to round them up in the nick of time before they could disappear from sight forever.

CP: So when will the second Cinema Judaica book, The Epic Cycle, make its appearance?

KS: Next year, probably.  John Bernstein, the New York graphic designer for art books who is responsible for the layouts and the eye-popping perfect color reproductions of Cinema Judaica, The War Years, will start laying out the text along with the Epic Cycle poster images as soon as we can start photographing another two hundred or more posters for inclusion.  A Cinema Judaica, The Epic Cycle travel exhibit has already started.  In the meantime, The War Years travel exhibit has proven to be much in demand among Jewish and secular venues alike.  And now those venues will be able to sell the print book edition of Cinema Judaica, The War Years on site, while the e-book edition from CCAR Press is available on iTunes and the print book edition is also available online from Emovieposter.com.

Read Parts 12, and 3 of this interview

You are invited to join us for a book launch, July 17th, 2013, from 6:00-7:30, at Hebrew Union College, 1 West 4th Street, NY, NY, 10012. Please bring ID.  

Ken Sutak is an attorney in New York with a specialization in entertainment law. In addition to the Cinema Judaica books, Ken Sutak has written or contributed to two legal books including The Great Motion Picture Soundtrack Robbery published by Archon, and two environmental reports published by the Mayor’s Council on the Environment in New York City.  Two of his famously long and influential film music essays, The Return of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Alamo Remembered, are available online (the latter with Technicolor scenes added) as internet republications by Pro Musica Sana and Cinemascore/SCN.  He is currently collaborating with the California-based writer Ken Dixon on another narrative-pictorial e-book, based on the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, for Emerald Chasm Entertainment.

Categories
Books News Reform Judaism

Cinema Judaica: The War Years – Part 3 Interview with the Author

CCAR Press is proud to be the ebook publisher of Cinema Judaica: The War Years, in partnership with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which organized the related exhibition.  Though a departure from the usual books published by CCAR Press, this was a wonderful opportunity for collaboration with one of our Movement partners, and one that provides unique and fascinating educational content for our members and their communities. In anticipation of the launch of Cinema Judaica, we took the opportunity to sit down with the author, Ken Sutak. Cinema Judaica is available through iTunes or Amazon.  Read Parts 123, and 4 of this interview.      

CCAR Press: You’ve been a great speaker on the Jewish lecture circuit since the time of the original Cinema Judaica exhibits in New York.  I want to ask you to step into your synagogue speaker shoes for a few moments in order to give our readers a sense of what it’s like to attend a Cinema Judaica lecture.  Let’s assume that you have just been asked at one of those functions to elaborate on the question of social impact versus political impact.

Ken Sutak: Okay.  Here goes.  Social impact is closely related to political impact.  In a democracy the social impact usually precedes the political impact.  President Roosevelt couldn’t get too far ahead of the American public, either. Whenever he had tried that before 1940, he was checkmated and his re-election prospects were seriously endangered.  He needed visible public support to sway a resistant Congress, and these bellwether movies wore their intentions to garner public support for military preparedness on their sleeves.  It is pretty clear for instance, as Cinema Judaica chronicles in an exciting way I hope, that the anti-Nazi films released by the major Hollywood studios from May 1939 through July 1941, especially the barrage from almost every major studio that began in June 1940, helped  Roosevelt push his key military preparedness programs through a divided Seventy-Seventh Congress, beginning in May 1940.  I am referring to the huge new ship-CJ Sample 8building and aircraft construction projects that operated on accelerated production schedules at breakneck speed, the Selective Service Act that established compulsory conscription without a Declaration of War, the Lend Lease bills that rearmed the British and later armed the Russians with war materials despite constant German U-boat threats to our Eastern coastline and numerous sinkings of our trans-Atlantic shipping.  This  informal relationship between the movie industry and the government during a time of national crisis enabled America to use the critical eighteen-month period before Pearl Harbor to prepare to wage an enormous two-ocean war with three Axis Powers in two hemispheres with multiple fronts that could not have been won by the Allies otherwise.

CP: Why is that?

KS: Because without the massive infusion of American-made tanks and other war materials that the British received in North Africa before the Battle of El Alamein in late 1942, and the Russians received before and during the Siege of Stalingrad at roughly the same time, North Africa would have fallen into Hitler’s hands.  For all military purposes, Germany would have won the war.  The Russians would have been overrun by Hitler’s Sixth Army  soon after Rommel’s Africa Corps had rolled its Panzer  divisions over Montgomery’s army and plowed through Egypt to reach Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, where the oil pipelines that supplied the Royal Navy and kept it afloat were located.   Then Rommel’s Africa Corps probably would have received the 180,000 German and Italian infantry reinforcements that Berlin actually dispatched to Tunis when Rommel was in retreat.   Together with the Africa Corps these augmented German forces would have been used to smash through the Caucasus in order to strike the main Russian Army on its southern flank and destroy it.   Hitler’s armed forces would then have been in position to prevent an invasion of Europe from any direction, and to reinforce the Japanese in the Pacific from both Egypt and Eastern Russia before American soldiers could even make their first landfall in Tunisia, where they were initially defeated as it was.  Meanwhile the Einsatzgruppen, the SS death squads that accounted for much of the actual killing of civilian populations in the Holocaust, would have continued their advance behind Hitler’s Sixth Army through Russia.  Additional Einsatzgruppen units had already been assembled by Berlin to follow Rommel’s advance into Egypt, Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East once Rommel had broken through the British and Australian lines at El Alamein, which would have extended the Holocaust into that region.  Now, that is what did not happen. Instead, the American war materials kept coming across the Atlantic in large amounts to resupply the British and the Russians because America had built so many ships to move them and so many factories to make them in the year and a half before Pearl Harbor happened.  And American reinforcements replete with more tanks and war materials were on their way to the North African front not far behind these critical supply ships because America  had instituted a nationwide draft with the bi-partisan support of both Roosevelt and his opponent Wendell Willkie even before the 1940 election took place.

As a consequence, Montgomery was able to repell Rommel’s advance in November 1942 and drive the Africa Corps back toward Tunisia. There the British, the Australian, and the newly arrived American forces converged on Rommel’s reinforced Africa Corps for several more months of fierce give and take battles in North Africa.  By the end of May 1943, Rommel’s once unbeatable army had surrendered, North Africa was in Allied hands instead of Hitler’s hands, and the Allies were in a position to invade Europe and win the war in Europe.  Of course, that would take another two years of tremendous joint efforts and extensive Allied casualties, starting with the Russian victories at Stalingrad and soon afterward Leningrad and then the invasion of southern Italy by the Americans and the British in July 1943.   Nevertheless, for the motion picture industry there is an important connection between what Warner Brothers began in May 1939 and what happened in May 1943 to turn the tide of the Second World War decisively in favor of the Allies.  We can infer a cause and effect relationship which culminated in that turning point because in August 1941 the isolationists both in and outside of the Seventy-Seventh Congress reacted to the movie studios’ role in this great military preparedness endeavor with an openly anti-Semitic congressional investigation of the studio executives’ alleged “warmongering” conspiracy with an interventionist President.  The ensuing hearings in the Senate then blew up in their faces and faded away by the end of October 1941.  That was because Americans, on the whole, having already moved from predominantly isolationist attitudes to predominantly interventionist attitudes over the preceding year and a half, rejected what the isolationists were up to by that time, just as they denounced the anti-Semitism in Charles Lindbergh’s ill-conceived September 11, 1941 Des Moines speech which was part of that whole circus.  For the period after the war was over, though, cause and effect relationships are not so readily apparent.

CJ Sample 9CP: Can you give me an example of that ambiguity?

KS: I can give you one that bridges both Cinema Judaica books and ties them together sequentially.  It is well known that anti-Semitism in America plummeted during the twelve-year period following the general release and wide popularity of the critically acclaimed 1947 film Gentleman’s Agreement.  One often discussed study of that dramatic drop attributes it to the social impact of this one great film.  But was there really such a cause and effect attributable to this one film, very influential though it certainly was?  Gentleman’s Agreement was one of four so-called “social films” released in the post-war period between September 1945 and 1948.  All of them are discussed and illustrated with several of their rare posters and other promotional materials in my book, after being placed in context.  Gentleman’s Agreement was the only one of the four that attacked White Anglo Saxon Protestant anti-Semitism, country-club anti-Semitism if you will.  The other three “social films”—The House I Live In, Crossfire, and Open Secret—attacked the kind of American anti-Semitism associated with Coughlinism or the German American Bund.  That was the kind that gave rise to some really hateful street violence against Jewish Americans in Boston, New York, Providence, and Chicago before or during the war, usually perpetrated by teenage youths.  Which type of American anti-Semitism dropped more precipitously or more noticeably in the ensuing twelve years?  Did the early postwar Jewish biblical or historical epics released in succession—Paramount’s Samson and Delilah in 1950, 20th Century Fox’s David and Bathsheba in 1951, and MGM’s Ivanhoe in 1952—contribute more or less to that vital achievement?  Each one of these epic films was either the biggest or second biggest box office success of its release year.

That means among other things that they all reached a very large mass audience because they possessed crossover appeal.   Did the ensuing phenomenal box office success of The Ten Commandments, released in October 1956 just before the start of the Sinai War between Israel and Nasser’s Egypt, have even greater influence?  Did the similarly huge box office success of Ben-Hur, which was released to unanimous critical and also interfaith acclaim in November 1959?   Did Exodus, another big epic film based on Leon Uris’s blockbuster historical novel, which followed the premiere of Ben-Hur thirteen months later into the same reserved-seat theaters that Ben-Hur vacated?  Like Ben-Hur, Exodus became a big popular culture event in 1960 and 1961, but the book paved the way for that by creating a popular sensation in 1958 and 1959.  The only thing that can be said for sure, I think, is that all these films achieved a very significant positive influence on American society by acting in combination, whether they were designed to do that or not.   They were part of a continuous process that started with the major studios promoting religious and ethnic universalism during the War Years. Then, once Judaism was recognized by postwar social commentators and accepted by most of the country as one of America’s three major religious faiths, together with Protestantism and Catholicism, these mainstream films quickly and quite self-assertively also evolved into popular examples of Jewish particularism.  Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca in Ivanhoe,  Charlton Heston as a very physical Moses, Heston again as a Star of David-wearing, mezuzah-kissing Judah Ben Hur, and Paul Newman as the Israeli superhero Ari Ben Canaan, repeatedly declared and even insisted throughout these crowd-pleasing spectacular films that they were proud and determined Jews.  More than that, they did so in the context of the biggest action epics of the 1950s.  Gentleman’s Agreement and the other “social films” of the late 1940s were aimed at–and for the most part connected with—a mixed audience of sophisticated adults in large cities.  The Jewish-themed biblical and historical epics that followed them were aimed at everybody, everywhere. Millions of American kids and adolescents saw them at an impressionable age, alongside millions of adults of all ages.  Altogether, from top to bottom, across every age group and every religious group, the postwar Jewish-themed films from 1945 to 1959 demonstrated that the process of remaking our nation, which started in the middle of the Second World War, was a continuous and ongoing one.  But just how much any one of them contributed to that process, no one can say for certain.

To be continued…  Part 4 of the interview will address, among other questions, what we can learn from Cinema Judaica, The War Years about Jewish identity.

You are invited to join us for a book launch, July 17th, 2013, from 6:00-7:30, at Hebrew Union College, 1 West 4th Street, NY, NY, 10012. Please bring ID.  

Ken Sutak is an attorney in New York with a specialization in entertainment law. In addition to the Cinema Judaica books, Ken Sutak has written or contributed to two legal books including The Great Motion Picture Soundtrack Robbery published by Archon, and two environmental reports published by the Mayor’s Council on the Environment in New York City.  Two of his famously long and influential film music essays, The Return of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Alamo Remembered, are available online (the latter with Technicolor scenes added) as internet republications by Pro Musica Sana and Cinemascore/SCN.  He is currently collaborating with the California-based writer Ken Dixon on another narrative-pictorial e-book, based on the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, for Emerald Chasm Entertainment.

Categories
Books News Reform Judaism

Cinema Judaica: The War Years – Part 2 Interview With the Author

CCAR Press is proud to be the ebook publisher of Cinema Judaica: The War Years, in partnership with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which organized the related exhibition.  Though a departure from the usual books published by CCAR Press, this was a wonderful opportunity for collaboration with one of our Movement partners, and one that provides unique and fascinating educational content for our members and their communities.  In anticipation of the launch of Cinema Judaica, we took the opportunity to sit down with the author, Ken Sutak. Cinema Judaica ebook is available through iTunes or Amazon.  Read Parts 123, and 4 of this interview.    

CCAR Press: What does Cinema Judaica, The War Years have to say about how Hollywood saw Jews and Jewish history during the period it covers?

KS: Perhaps the most important thing it says, implicitly, about the “Hollywood” aspect of your question is that we in our Jewish communities, especially, have to stop referring to Hollywood as a monothematic or monolithic force when it comes to promulgating or allegedly ignoring Jewish issues, Jewish images, or Jewish themes, which often overlap with general American issues, images, or themes.  Otherwise, we will continue to overlook the people of this period who did things that we should take pride in, or in some  cases, not.  Moreover, the motion picture industry figures who greenlighted or put together the films covered by the book did not so much portray Jewish history as they actually made Jewish history, which quickly became part of the broad swath of American cultural, political, and even military history of the period.

CCAR: Can you explain that distinction? 

CJ Sample 5KS: “Hollywood” in the 1930s and 1940s consisted of eight major studios.   Seven of them were owned and/or operated by largely Jewish studio executives.  They produced and/or distributed most of the movies Americans saw in their theaters during this period.  These eight major studios were surrounded by a constellation of smaller companies.   Many of the smaller studios were owned and/or operated largely by Gentiles.  Like Republic Picturess run by Herbert Yates which made mostly Saturday afternoon serials and low-budget westerns from 1935 to 1955.   Like tiny Walt Disney Productions run by the great popular culture innovator himself, which only made cartoons and animated features prior to 1950.   Like little Monogram Pictures, the crime movie factory, to name only three that also produced and released some surprising Jewish-themed films featured in the book.  These smaller studios were mostly dependent on five of the eight major studios for distribution of their own movies. They often took their production cues from what the majors made.  The so-called moguls, most of them Jewish, who owned and ran the majors displayed a wide variation in their attitudes toward placing Jewish characters, themes, or issues in their movies after Hitler came to power in the 1930s.  In addition to wanting to avoid bankruptcy once Jewish content was forbidden by Hitler’s henchman Joseph Goebbels in Europe, a major market, they had to be very careful about not getting too far ahead of their predominantly Protestant public in the US.  Not to mention their predominantly Catholic vetters and censors embedded in the Hays and Breen Offices.   That’s partly because their movies enjoyed no First Amendment protection  by decree of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915, and partly because there were Neutrality Laws in effect, and partly because there was open and sometimes virulent anti-Semitism in several sectors of the country.

By the end of January 1940, however, five months after World War II began with Hitler’s sudden invasion of Poland, these studio heads, their appointed censors, and their big domestic audience, of predominantly different faiths, all found themselves becoming bound together in an emerging, perhaps unexpected common cause, as usually happens in times of crisis in America, to the dismay of isolationists. Some of the Jewish studio chiefs, like Harry Warner and his brothers Jack and Albert, along with some of the Jewish independent producers like Walter Wanger  and Jesse Lasky, had been hellbent on fighting Hitler and National Socialism and all other forms of political fascism through some of their movies, to the extent they could get those movies made and released, from the beginning.  These were the boldest or the most driven producers, the people responsible for making classics like Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Foreign Correspondent, and Sergeant York.  On the opposite side of the commitment spectrum, others like Irving Thalberg at MGM could not have cared less.  In the middle ground at first were important figures like the Cohn brothers, Harry and Jack, at Columbia and Louis B. Mayer at MGM, and potentially aggressive leaders like Murray Silverman at United Artists and the lone Protestant studio chief, Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox.  Despite some hesitant starts, they all eventually threw the fortunes of their studios in with the Warner Brothers approach, releasing pivotal 1940 movies in the first half of that year like My Nazty Spy, The Mortal Storm, The Lion Has Wings, and I Married a Nazi.

Those early anti-Nazi movies rapidly broke down censorship barriers and opened the floodgates to more interventionist films.   Most people went to the movies several times a week in those days, so the national debate between interventionism and isolationism heated up.   All of these movies together with many similar ones were a big part of that national debate.  They were  designed to portray the pressing reasons, in stark visual terms as well as dramatic ones, why an unprepared America had to prepare pell-mell for an impending all-out war with Nazi Germany.  In time, and just in time as it turned out, most of the American public came to agree with them.  I think it is one of the great American war stories of the first half of the Twentieth Century.  But it has been largely overlooked because these predominantly Jewish studio chiefs weren’t fighting on the front lines alongside Eisenhower and Patton and MacArthur.   Jews and Jewish history were not only a part of this war story, they were a seminal part of it.  Much like Hyam Salomon played a seminal role in the Revolutionary War.

CCAR: How did these films impact on how America saw Jews and Judaism during this period?

CJ sample 7KS: That depends on which side of America we are talking about at any given point in time.  The 1930s were a very tough time, for a lot of people and for a lot of reasons.  By September 1939, when Nazi Germany crushed Poland in two weeks, there were over a hundred fascist groups operating in the United States.  Almost all of them hated Jews and Catholics alike.  Then huge changes affecting Jews and Judaism along with everybody and everthing else occurred in America during the period of 1939 to 1949.   Not just during the Great Debate period of 1939 through 1941, and not just during the postwar period, but smack in the middle period.  One writer on the Great Debate period and the middle period that I particularly admire is Geoffrey Perrett, although he too got the “Hollywood” part of the story wrong and dismisses it in a single paragraph. He also mistakenly placed the height of the Holocaust in Europe after the Germans began to lose the war, rather than before.   But we all make narrative mistakes, we’re human, and those mistakes don’t diminish the importance of his 1973 book entitled Days of Sadness Years of Triumph, The American People, 1939—1945.   In that book, Perrett calls the period of January 1943 through August 1945 the “Remaking of a Nation,” meaning our nation.  That was when the British, the Russians, and we latecomer Americans finally were able to go on the offensive in North Africa, the Soviet Union, and the Pacific, after taking terrible beatings everywhere.   So this was a very turbulent, fast-shifting time period to begin with, and the answer to your question will differ according to what timeslot in that spectrum the thrown dart falls on. The answer to your question also depends on how you go about measuring social impact, which is hard to do unless there is a political impact.

To be continued…  Part 3 of the interview will cover, among other things, the relationship of social impact to political impact. If you missed it, be sure to read Part 1 of the interview.

You are invited to join us for a book launch, July 17th, 2013, from 6:00-7:30, at Hebrew Union College, 1 West 4th Street, NY, NY, 10012. Please bring ID.  

Ken Sutak is an attorney in New York with a specialization in entertainment law. In addition to the Cinema Judaica books, Ken Sutak has written or contributed to two legal books including The Great Motion Picture Soundtrack Robbery published by Archon, and two environmental reports published by the Mayor’s Council on the Environment in New York City.  Two of his famously long and influential film music essays, The Return of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Alamo Remembered, are available online (the latter with Technicolor scenes added) as internet republications by Pro Musica Sana and Cinemascore/SCN.  He is currently collaborating with the California-based writer Ken Dixon on another narrative-pictorial e-book, based on the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, for Emerald Chasm Entertainment.

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Books General CCAR News Prayer Reform Judaism

Mishkan T’filah for Children: Interview with Artist Katie Lipsitt

We’re very excited about our new release, Mishkan T’filah for Children, edited and with texts by Michelle Shapiro Abraham with art by Katie Lipsitt.  We took this opportunity to speak to the artist about her work.

CCAR Press: Let’s start with an introduction.  Tell us about your background.

Katie Lipsitt: I was born in NYC and raised in Brooklyn. I went to Saint. Ann’s School (a private, secular school) and then Barnard College in Manhattan, where I truly discovered my love of making art!  After college I moved to Los Angeles to study fine art at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena and to be with my then-boyfriend/now husband. But after a year I found myself production designing student films at USC, and before you knew it, I left art school and was working full time as a set decorator in TV and Film! After having children, I became an elementary school art teacher, then became an art teacher at Environmental Charter middle school here in LA, and made more time to create my own collage art!

CP: How did you become interested in art?

KL: There was never a time that I wasn’t interested in making art! I grew up surrounded by artists and creative people. My mom was a fashion designer and is an artist. My Dad was a creative director of an ad agency. Being interested in art is just in my blood!

CP: Tell us about being chosen to do the art for MT for Children

69-weekday_Amida-t'filat_HaLevKL: When I was chosen to illustrate the Mishkan T’filah for Children, I was just THRILLED! My personal Jewish journey has been so enriched by sharing in my children’s experiences at Jewish preschool and later, Hebrew School. It felt so significant that I would get to make images for OTHER children to enjoy during prayer at religious school and family services.

 CP: What did you learn in the process?

KL: For the first time, I learned something about what the prayers actually MEAN. Now, when I’m in synagogue, I imagine my own illustrations and understand the services more deeply.

CP: What do you think is important about art in a prayerbook for children? What does it add to their prayer experience?

KL: I think that artwork in a prayerbook for children needs to be simple, bold and graphic. It needs to bring the essence of the words to life in a way a child can comprehend.

CP: It’s interesting to note that the people all have different skins tones and looks, and there aren’t any “traditional” families. Why did you choose this approach?

KL: I wanted the depiction of the children to reflect the more diverse Jewish community that one finds in the Reform Movement today. I wanted no child to feel excluded.  I wanted it to represent the reality of the families who belong to synagogues and are raising Jewish children.

CP: How did being a mother and a teacher impact on the choices you made in creating the art?

KL: Both of those helped me to truly imagine how a child would experience this prayerbook. I could imagine my own children’s reactions and associations to imagery, as well as those of my students.

CP: Can you describe the technique that you used to create the art?  And who are your artistic inspirations?

IMG_1391-1KL: The technique I used to create the illustrations was collage and where needed, a bit of watercolor, colored pencil and pen.  The simple, fluid lines of Henri Matisse’s late collages and the layered, bold cut paper technique of Romare Bearden were my artistic inspirations.

CP: Which is your favorite image and why?

My favorite image is the image of the girl reading a prayerbook. She looks so much like my daughter, Lucy, and she has the same intensity and focus that Lucy has when she is in T’filah!

 Katie Lipsitt is available for projects, workshops and programs in the Los Angeles Area: ktlip01@gmail.com

Mishkan T’filah for Children is available at a special discount of 25% through July 15th.

 

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Books News Reform Judaism

Cinema Judaica: The War Years – Part 1 Interview with the Author

CJ Cover
CCAR Press is proud to be the ebook publisher of Cinema Judaica: The War Years, in partnership with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which organized the related exhibition.  Though a departure from the usual books published by CCAR Press, this was a wonderful opportunity for collaboration with one of our Movement partners, and one that provides unique educational content for our members and their communities. As the print book was developed by another entity, we were able to lend our epublishing expertise to this project.  In anticipation of the launch of Cinema Judaica, we took the opportunity to sit down with the author, Ken Sutak. Cinema Judaica is available through iTunes or AmazonRead Parts 123, and 4 of this interview.    

CCAR Press: What is Cinema Judaica?

Ken Sutak: First of all it is a term used by collectors of old movie memorabilia—usually paper artifacts of a promotional nature—related to the Jewish-themed films that were made prior to, say, Woody Allen’s.  In this sense the term refers to these paper collectibles, which are perishable if not preserved, and in variable condition this far out from the dates of origin of the source films.  Old movie posters are the prime example.  Sometimes the term is used to refer to the source films themselves.   I adopted the term as a brand name for two popular culture poster exhibits that I produced for the Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion Museum in New York City during the Spring of 2007 and the Spring of 2008, on the subject of these films and their influence on contemporaneous American life.  The exhibits were divided between the period 1939 to 1949, which I called “The War Years,” and the period 1949-50 to 1971-72, which I called “The Epic Cycle.”  And now, the term Cinema Judaica is the common title of two books I have written, with different subtitles that track the exhibit titles.   Both of them are illustrated with high res color photos of several hundred of these paper artifacts combined. Together, the two  books cover the same narrative scope of the exhibits, but in more depth, with greater detail, and a lot more rare imagery than even the original exhibits could accommodate.  Since both exhibits were very popular, they have since been turned into  travel exhibits in the United States, available through the HUC-JIR Museum to other museums and similar institutions, where they tie into the books and vice-versa.

Sample CJ page 2CP: What got you interested in this topic?

KS: Being part of the baby boomer generation I have always been fascinated by the spectacular epic films of the 1950s and the 1960s, whether biblical or strictly historical, whether Jewish or Christian if biblical.  But I wasn’t very interested, or even much aware of, the Jewish-themed wartime films of the late 1930s and mid-1940s, until I put together a bunch of old movie posters from the postwar Jewish biblical films for display at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, where I am a longtime member.   I found that something was lacking.  I happened to show my agent, Kay McCauley, a list of these posters that I subsequently compiled for a proposed exhibit in Manhattan.  She immediately encouraged me to think of the project as a book.   But a book has to have a beginning, middle, and end.  Then you suggested that I should consider broadening the scope of the project to include the World War II period.  So that idea entered my thinking through a side door, or front one is more like it in terms of an overall Cinema Judaica chronology.  Originally, though, for both the proposed exhibit and the book that Kay encouraged me to write, the War Years material was just going to be a prologue to the Epic Cycle material.  Then Laura Kruger, the Curator of the HUC-JIR Museum who had invited me to produce the exhibit with her, decided that it should be divided into two parts, and presented as two exhibits one year apart.  Jean Rosensaft, the Director of HUC-JIR Museum, got behind this notion of presenting two sequential exhibits in a big way.  So Cinema Judaica, The War Years, being the smaller of the two planned exhibits, much like a preview to the larger, more majestic Epic Cycle exhibit to come, was presented first, as a lower floor exhibit presented concurrently with some unrelated exhibits on the main floor of the museum. 

CP: What was the reaction?

KS: What happened next surprised everyone, I think, especially me.  People attending the main attractions began to be drawn to the subject matter of the War Years exhibit downstairs, magnetically.  Whenever I dropped by, mesmerized museumgoers or some of the rabbinic students at HUC-JIR college would tell me that they were stunned by some of the posters or trade adds or rare stills on display, or by things they had learned from the signage.  In many cases, they had never heard of much less seen these Jewish-themed films that, altogether, related a gripping wartime story through a striking visual collaboration with the written signage that they had not been told before.  Meanwhile, what amounted to four other Jewish museums and two secular ones in the United States plus three in Europe had begun asking HUC to allow the War Years exhibit to travel.  A year later, the Epic Cycle poster exhibit came along as planned, taking over almost the entire main floor of the museum.   Those posters, which interwove the Jewish biblical films, Holocaust films, and War of Independence films of that period, with connective signage, just dazzled everyone who entered the building, and usually blew them away before they left.  At that point the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation provided grant money to cover the photography, graphic design, editorial, and printing costs of a tie-in book.  I was given carte blanche to decide what to do with it.  Ultimately, I decided to split it into two sequential books.

Sample page CJCP: Why did you want to write the “War Years” Cinema Judaica book first, instead of the more majestic, as you put it, “Epic Cycle” Cinema Judaica book?

KS: They were being written together.  I didn’t decide to spin off the War Years material into a separate book until I had researched as many prior writings on this subject matter as I could find, while tracking down and watching the films themselves.   I  discovered that there were almost as many wartime films of Jewish interest as there were Epic Cycle films of Jewish interest—about sixty films in each category.   That kind of division called for separate but equal treatment.  I also discovered that there was a lot of misinformation about this subject in circulation, in both the limited scholarly journal literature on the subject and in the broader film histories or social histories.   Not to mention what too many film critics in the present era had been saying erroneously about the presumed historical background or the predominantly Jewish movie studio heads of the time, whenever they occasionally revisited a prominent  Jewish-themed wartime film like The Great Dictator or The Mortal Storm.   I address, and correct, a lot of that misinformation in this book.   For the most part I do that just by trying to get the overall story that binds these Jewish-themed films together right, and by making sure that the Jewish studio heads, writers, directors, and in some cases actors and actresses who deserve credit for their contributions are named.  Many of these motion picture industry figures of the late 1930s and 1940s, even some of the most famous ones during that period, are now almost forgotten within our Jewish communities, if they are remembered at all. In many instances the reader will never have heard of them before.  I wanted their names to be recorded in one place, and one day remembered as a group, because they all played an important role, big or small, in this aspect of Jewish involvement in America’s wartime history, at a time when nearly the whole world was on fire, especially for Jews.  Plus, I saw an opportunity for producing a book on a sprawling subject that hadn’t been done before, except in bits and pieces or sections of other writers’ books, or in Jewish history journal articles on one isolated aspect or another of the subject matter, or in parts of documentaries, some of them off the mark.  I credit these previous writings at the end of my book.  And then of course there was the impetus of the rapidly vanishing primary materials that I needed to illustrate the book with, so that it would have the same popular appeal for general audiences as the museum exhibits.   Not to mention the advanced age of some of the people I wanted to consult for information or, possibly, rare artifacts to show.  In some instances, I already knew how hard it was going to be, and that it might be impossible, to locate even one surviving poster for a given film that needed to be included.  This was particularly true for the foreign Holocaust films that were only briefly available in the United States around  1949 or 1950, and the postwar “exodus” films that were produced and released independently, on small budgets, at approximately the same time.  So, for Cinema Judaica, The War Years, getting the book done and getting it out there, with contemporaneous imagery, was very much a matter of “It’s now or never.”

To be continued.  Part 2 of the interview will cover such questions as: “What does Cinema Judaica, The War Years have to say about how Hollywood saw Jews and Jewish history during the period it covers?”

You are invited to join us for a book launch, July 17th, 2013, from 6:00-7:30, at Hebrew Union College, 1 West 4th Street, NY, NY, 10012. Please bring ID.  

Ken Sutak is a litigation attorney in New York specializing in entertainment law. In addition to the Cinema Judaica books, Ken Sutak has written or contributed to two legal books including The Great Motion Picture Soundtrack Robbery published by Archon, and two environmental reports published by the Mayor’s Council on the Environment in New York City.  Two of his famously long and influential film music essays, The Return of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Alamo Remembered, are available online (the latter with Technicolor scenes added) as internet republications by Pro Musica Sana and Cinemascore/SCN.  He is currently collaborating with the California-based writer Ken Dixon on another narrative-pictorial e-book, based on the Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper, for Emerald Chasm Entertainment.

Categories
Books General CCAR Rabbis Reform Judaism

Fish Forks and Beer Mugs: Choosing the Right Technology for Publishing

The nature of the book has changed dramatically in recent years. From the old standard of signatures of paper, in multiples of 16, 24,or 32, bound between covers and filled with typeset text, we now have ebooks, and PDF’s, and audiobooks, and apps – and that’s just for starters.

There are so many choices about how to produce a book. And yet, the essence of a book in many ways remains unchanged. They remain transmitters of ideas, containers of human experience and expression.

As a publisher, I’m often asked about how we will use technology with any given project. My answer is very simple: In as many ways as possible. For while it’s true that the technology presents us, a publisher using Hebrew text, with real challenges, and while it’s also true that we also have real financial limitations, our goal is always to create as many different versions of a book as we can, taking into account what makes sense for that particular content. For even with all the options we have available today, publishing should not be driven by technology, but rather by content development.

Publishing is no longer focused on the physical manufacturing of objects. But just as has always been true in publishing, content has to be developed carefully, thoughtfully, and creatively. That is our central goal at the CCAR Press. First we need an idea that is right for our core market, an approach that aligns with our mission, and the right team of editors and/or writers. Each project has different specifications and uses, and so allows for different formats. There are technological options we can consider today that weren’t possible last year. Surely that will be the same next year as well, and so on. Some projects, like the Daily Blessing App, are not physical books at all. Some projects, like Mishkan T’filah, exist as a physical book, an App, and in Visual T’filah, and we will continue to develop other versions as technology and finances allow. Mishkan R’fuah: Where Healing Resides, is both a physical book and an ebook. And so on.

iT'filahThere’s a lot of talk in the publishing world about how people are choosing to read today. Publishers carefully study stats about how people are reading, and which demographic is doing what in which medium. But I’m not convinced it’s a competition between formats. Rather, it may be that the more formats, the more we can customize our personal reading experiences.

The other day I was listening to a book on Audible and the voice in my ear said, “In this audiobook you will learn…” which I found rather jarring. For me, the experience wasn’t about listening to an audiobook. I had simply chosen to listen to this specific book, rather than read it. I hadn’t shopped for an audiobook, I had shopped for this particular title. The fact that it was an audiobook was insignificant. The audiobook aspect of the experience was a doorway to step through, on the other side of which was the content of the book. What mattered ultimately was the content, not the format.

Growing up I learned that salad is eaten with one kind of fork, and the main course with another. Dessert might be eaten with yet another. Later I learned that fish has its own kind of fork, and even later was introduced to such specialty items as pickle forks and olive forks.  Think too about glasses – this kind for water, this kind for white wine, this kind for red, and a frosted mug for beer. Each was created to best serve the experience of imbibing that particular food or drink, but in the end, the purpose is all the same: to convey the food or the liquid to your mouth.

So too with different book formats in this age of multiple choice. As a reader, I find myself choosing different formats depending on the content and context. I prefer printed books for poetry, for Torah commentaries, and for cookbooks. Yet I read fiction almost entirely on my iPad. I listen to non-fiction business books on my phone. It’s not a competition between the formats, but rather a matter of which one I prefer for the particular content.

The questions about how to best use technology in publishing are challenging and enormous. Publishers of all shapes and sizes are required to constantly keep learning new skills, and consider new options. But the core of publishing is still about content. For publishers, technology is not the goal, it is merely the means.

Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher of CCAR Press

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Books General CCAR News Prayer Rabbis Reform Judaism

Moving Trucks, Pallets, and the Jewish Future

Things I never thought my rabbinic school education would prepare me to do:

  1. Study sales figures on spread sheets
  2. Spend time considering the merits of 50 # or 60# paper
  3. Ask questions like “how many pallets will fit on the loading dock?”
  4. Regularly use terms like kerning, analytics, DRM (digital rights management) or FOB (freight on board).

As rabbis, we all have similar lists, even if the details are different. In the course of our careers, we’ve all acquired practical skills for which our pastoral and text-based educations did not prepare us.

Right now CCAR Press is in the process of a move from one warehouse to another. Carefully moving hundreds of pallets holding thousands of books, as well as all the associated customer and sales data, is no small task. The move itself has been preceded by months of planning, preparation and negotiations.  As you can imagine, there have been many meetings. Many, many meetings. We are eternally grateful to our wonderful, pro-bono lawyers from Proskauer and Rose.

The level of detail involved is staggering. Luckily the CCAR is blessed with a great team of staff members working hard to track all the details and put everything in place, from the categorization of customer types to the transfer of AR data to establishing the discount schedule to writing the wording that will go out on order confirmation emails. Like all of us, there are those moments when I jokingly say: and for this I went to rabbinic school?

photo-30Yet just like any rabbi who spends time rearranging chairs in the sanctuary, there’s a bigger end goal here. It’s not about the chairs or the trucks or the spreadsheets, it’s about what we do in order to fulfill our mission and plan for the future.  The point of this warehouse move isn’t to become a specialist in sales, fulfillment, and distribution. All of this work of transferring pallets and boxes and data is really about providing rabbis, cantors, educators, chaplains, congregants, and students with the material they need.  What drives all of this is the core mission of the CCAR:

The CCAR enriches and strengthens the Jewish community by empowering Reform Rabbis to provide religious, spiritual and organizational leadership as it:

      • Fosters excellence in Reform Rabbis
      • Enhances Reform Rabbis’ professional and personal lives
      • Amplifies the voice of the Reform Rabbinate in the Reform Movement, the Jewish community and the world in which we live.

The CCAR Press supports the overall mission of the CCAR buy providing high quality publications for our members and for the Jewish community. Moving to a better, more up-to-date, efficient warehouse is thus one piece of the How, not the What.

We all know change doesn’t happen in an instant – there will surely be some bumps on the road as we transition to new software and processes. Converting to a new on-line ordering system is going to take some time.  But we are sure that once it’s all properly in place, we will be able to serve our customers much better than we have been able to do up to now.

We also know that the balance is shifting from traditional p-books (printed books) to newer forms of content transmission.  There is much we are doing everyday to meet these ever-changing needs.  We now offer e-books for various devices, PDF downloads and apps, and will continue to offer more and more every year.  In the meantime, many people still want p-books, especially for liturgical purposes, and so we must house them somewhere and ship them out somehow.

All of us in the Jewish world are thinking about the Jewish future.  How can we best prepare for the needs of the future?  How can we meet the challenges of the future?  What skills should we be learning?  What questions should we be asking?  What changes should we be making?  Here at the Press, this warehouse move is one way that we’re working on building the Jewish future, by improving the way that we provide you with the resources that you will use to strengthen, teach, unify, and inspire the Jewish community.  This is especially important as we begin to plan for the printing, ordering, and shipping of Mishkan HaNefeshthe new CCAR Machzor.  As our trucks load up and pull out onto the highway, taking Mishkan T’filah and all our other publications to their new, state-of-the-art home, they’re carrying our future on those pallets.

 Rabbi Hara Person is the Publisher of CCAR Press

Find some good bargains at our Clean-Out-the-Warehouse Sale, 3 days only!