Cedar’s Oscar loss is still our gain

Crushing high hopes that Israel might take home its first Academy Award, The Counterfeiters, an Austrian film about a master forger forced to work for Nazis in a concentration camp, won the foreign-language Oscar last Sunday.

Though disappointing to many here, the result was not entirely surprising. The Jerusalem Post film critic Hannah Brown had predicted a win for Counterfeiters,, citing the long history of Holocaust-themed films that have done well in the foreign language film category. Even Joseph Cedar, director of Israel’s entry, Beaufort, seemed to keep his hopes in check at a symposium prior to the ceremony, saying he was “happy just to have been nominated. I’m not even thinking about winning.”

After being chosen from among 65 foreign language entries, Beaufort found itself competing against four other finalists, from Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia and Austria. The winning filmmaker, Stefan Ruzowitzky, also focused on a Jewish theme – the moral dilemma facing a group of Jewish concentration camp inmates who were forced to turn out massive amounts of forged currency to undermine the Allied war effort or face the deadly consequences of refusing.

In his acceptance speech, Ruzowitzky acknowledged some of the Jewish movie directors of his country’s past.

“There have been some great Austrian filmmakers working here, thinking of Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Otto Preminger, most of them had to leave my country because of the Nazis, so it sort of makes sense that the first Austrian movie to win an Oscar is about the Nazis’ crimes.”

In an earlier interview with JTA, Ruzowitzky went further. “My grandparents on both sides were Nazis, or Nazi sympathizers, so I felt a special responsibility to deal with the Holocaust era,” he said. “I felt an equal responsibility not to exercise moral judgment on the Jews who collaborated in [the forgery].”

Though Israel’s hopes were dashed by The Counterfeiter’s win, Cedar’s star won’t suffer as a result. Earning an Oscar nomination has elevated him to a new status – he’s become a sort of mascot for the country, not unlike Gal Fridman, whose Olympic windsurfing win in Athens made him the man of the year in 2004. Beaufort’s nomination, Israel’s first after a 23 year hiatus, makes Cedar the hottest director on the scene here.

Of course, Beaufort’s ,nomination wasn’t a shoe-in either. In September, the Israel Film Academy picked Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit as top picture of the year, making it the country’s automatic entry in the Oscar race. But in a semi-expected upset, the film was disqualified for breaching academy guidelines. More than half of the dialogue in such films must be in the country’s own language, and The Band’s Visit mostly featured characters communicating in broken English. The technicality gave runner-up Beaufort its big chance.

Cedar proved his worth on his first two films (Time of Favor and Campfire were both voted Israel’s top films in 2001 and 2004, respectively). And interest and faith in his success encouraged more than a few celebrities to book flights to Los Angeles.

Beaufort’s Oscar party at LA’s Avalon club included guests like Israeli pop idol Ninette Tayeb and more than a dozen Israeli television reporters and hosts, among them Eli Yatzpan and news anchors Aharon Barnea and Gil Tamary. Hosted by the Israeli consulate, the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and the StandwithUs organization, the party was also attended by 10 Sderot teenagers, who were in LA to put on a benefit concert in support of their hometown. Over 350 people rallied for the film at the Avalon, but seemed to take the loss well. “We have shown that Israel can make very good movies,” Beaufort actor Eli Eltonyo told the cheering crowd, “and we will prove it again next time.”

Given the much-hyped renaissance in the Israeli movie industry over the past few years, there is no reason not to believe that an Oscar win shouldn’t be expected in the near future. And with Cedar’s track record, there’s a good chance he may be the one receiving it.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post. The Post’s Los Angeles correspondent Tom Tugend contributed to this report.

My friend, Tom Lantos

Throughout his distinguished political career, Californian congressman and former Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos, was firmly committed to Israel and the Jewish people.Tom Lantos was truly one of a kind in the US Congress. His passing is an incalculable loss not only for his constituents, the US Congress, and the United States, his adopted country, but for Israel.



I first befriended Tom before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980. Even back then, I was impressed by his incredible life story – surviving the Nazi occupation of Hungary and the Holocaust, coming to the US on an academic scholarship, earning a doctorate in economics, and making a name for himself in California.



I first encountered Tom’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people in 1976 when he called on me at AIPAC to discuss the Democratic presidential primary elections. At the time, almost all pro-Israel Democrats were, for good reasons, backing Henry M. (“Scoop”) Jackson. After our meeting, Tom wisely decided to help Sen. Frank Church because of his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.



Over the next three decades during his 27 years in Congress, Tom’s contributions to Israel and the Jewish people were unparalleled. It was not only his considerable intellect and unique personal story that differentiated him from his 434 House colleagues, but the way he approached them.



Tom was definitely Old World when it came to his manners and charm. He didn’t keep a desk in his office so that he could treat his guests as if they were in his own living room. Unfailingly polite and attentive, he treated his Democratic and Republican colleagues with equal respect, forging strong bipartisan bonds that endured even after partisan rancor became the order of the day on Capitol Hill.



And then there was the energy and devotion he applied to all of his causes, and the relationships he cultivated with foreign leaders, which culminated in his ascension to the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Tom was thus able to influence policies affecting Israel positively more than any other single Member of Congress. For example, his strong working and personal relationship with former Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, now ranking Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, led to the kind of effective bipartisan legislative actions that are rarely seen in Washington’s present acrimonious environment.



Prior to that, he was able to work harmoniously with the late Republican chairman Henry Hyde, someone whose background and views on a host of issues were so different than Tom’s. During this period, Hyde essentially left one particular geographic area up to Tom.



Tom’s activities involving Middle East policies and US-Israel relations dovetailed beautifully with the outstanding leadership he provided in championing human rights. He founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to highlight abuses worldwide, taking a leadership role and thereby increasing his credibility on Israel-related matters.



Not only did he highlight anti-Semitism, but genocide and, more recently, Darfur. In this cause he enlisted his wife, Annette, who worked on human rights issues on a daily basis, and had her own desk in his offices. But whether it was Tom’s closeness to Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or his intimate conversations with President George W. Bush, Tom’s overriding passion has always been his support for a secure Israel as being not only in the best geopolitical interests of the United States, but also one of our nation’s highest moral callings.



Tom’s admirers spanned both the American political spectrum from Left to Right, and also the often-fractious organized American Jewish community. This is quite a remarkable accomplishment considering the differences of opinion (and animosity), which unfortunately exist today as Israel engages in the latest peace process, and confronts threats from Hamas and Hizbullah on its borders, and the growing menace of Iran.



Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has stated that, “the State of Israel owes a great debt to Lantos.” She is certainly correct. However, much of the good that Tom accomplished in his 27 years in Congress to assist Israel’s well-being has gone unrecorded. Very few are fully aware of all of Tom’s efforts behind the scenes to benefit Israel and the Jewish people.



On a personal level, I will miss our wide-ranging conversations, where we exchanged information, probed each other’s views and even engaged in the latest political gossip, of which there was always an abundance on Capitol Hill. But the backdrop invariably was how it all affected Israel.



It was during one of our meetings last spring when Tom suggested that my 16-year-old daughter intern in his office last summer. I thought she might be too young to take full advantage of this opportunity. As it turned out, it was an experience she will always treasure. It gave her the opportunity to be close to a great man, and an opportunity which I hope she takes advantage of later on in her life.



My friend, Tom Lantos, was someone who was truly able to make a difference. That is why he will be missed by so many, and particularly those of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.

My friend, Tom Lantos

Throughout his distinguished political career, Californian congressman and former Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos, was firmly committed to Israel and the Jewish people.Tom Lantos was truly one of a kind in the US Congress. His passing is an incalculable loss not only for his constituents, the US Congress, and the United States, his adopted country, but for Israel.



I first befriended Tom before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980. Even back then, I was impressed by his incredible life story – surviving the Nazi occupation of Hungary and the Holocaust, coming to the US on an academic scholarship, earning a doctorate in economics, and making a name for himself in California.



I first encountered Tom’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people in 1976 when he called on me at AIPAC to discuss the Democratic presidential primary elections. At the time, almost all pro-Israel Democrats were, for good reasons, backing Henry M. (“Scoop”) Jackson. After our meeting, Tom wisely decided to help Sen. Frank Church because of his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.



Over the next three decades during his 27 years in Congress, Tom’s contributions to Israel and the Jewish people were unparalleled. It was not only his considerable intellect and unique personal story that differentiated him from his 434 House colleagues, but the way he approached them.



Tom was definitely Old World when it came to his manners and charm. He didn’t keep a desk in his office so that he could treat his guests as if they were in his own living room. Unfailingly polite and attentive, he treated his Democratic and Republican colleagues with equal respect, forging strong bipartisan bonds that endured even after partisan rancor became the order of the day on Capitol Hill.



And then there was the energy and devotion he applied to all of his causes, and the relationships he cultivated with foreign leaders, which culminated in his ascension to the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Tom was thus able to influence policies affecting Israel positively more than any other single Member of Congress. For example, his strong working and personal relationship with former Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, now ranking Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, led to the kind of effective bipartisan legislative actions that are rarely seen in Washington’s present acrimonious environment.



Prior to that, he was able to work harmoniously with the late Republican chairman Henry Hyde, someone whose background and views on a host of issues were so different than Tom’s. During this period, Hyde essentially left one particular geographic area up to Tom.



Tom’s activities involving Middle East policies and US-Israel relations dovetailed beautifully with the outstanding leadership he provided in championing human rights. He founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to highlight abuses worldwide, taking a leadership role and thereby increasing his credibility on Israel-related matters.



Not only did he highlight anti-Semitism, but genocide and, more recently, Darfur. In this cause he enlisted his wife, Annette, who worked on human rights issues on a daily basis, and had her own desk in his offices. But whether it was Tom’s closeness to Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or his intimate conversations with President George W. Bush, Tom’s overriding passion has always been his support for a secure Israel as being not only in the best geopolitical interests of the United States, but also one of our nation’s highest moral callings.



Tom’s admirers spanned both the American political spectrum from Left to Right, and also the often-fractious organized American Jewish community. This is quite a remarkable accomplishment considering the differences of opinion (and animosity), which unfortunately exist today as Israel engages in the latest peace process, and confronts threats from Hamas and Hizbullah on its borders, and the growing menace of Iran.



Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has stated that, “the State of Israel owes a great debt to Lantos.” She is certainly correct. However, much of the good that Tom accomplished in his 27 years in Congress to assist Israel’s well-being has gone unrecorded. Very few are fully aware of all of Tom’s efforts behind the scenes to benefit Israel and the Jewish people.



On a personal level, I will miss our wide-ranging conversations, where we exchanged information, probed each other’s views and even engaged in the latest political gossip, of which there was always an abundance on Capitol Hill. But the backdrop invariably was how it all affected Israel.



It was during one of our meetings last spring when Tom suggested that my 16-year-old daughter intern in his office last summer. I thought she might be too young to take full advantage of this opportunity. As it turned out, it was an experience she will always treasure. It gave her the opportunity to be close to a great man, and an opportunity which I hope she takes advantage of later on in her life.



My friend, Tom Lantos, was someone who was truly able to make a difference. That is why he will be missed by so many, and particularly those of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.

My friend, Tom Lantos

Throughout his distinguished political career, Californian congressman and former Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos, was firmly committed to Israel and the Jewish people.Tom Lantos was truly one of a kind in the US Congress. His passing is an incalculable loss not only for his constituents, the US Congress, and the United States, his adopted country, but for Israel.



I first befriended Tom before he was elected to the House of Representatives in 1980. Even back then, I was impressed by his incredible life story – surviving the Nazi occupation of Hungary and the Holocaust, coming to the US on an academic scholarship, earning a doctorate in economics, and making a name for himself in California.



I first encountered Tom’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people in 1976 when he called on me at AIPAC to discuss the Democratic presidential primary elections. At the time, almost all pro-Israel Democrats were, for good reasons, backing Henry M. (“Scoop”) Jackson. After our meeting, Tom wisely decided to help Sen. Frank Church because of his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.



Over the next three decades during his 27 years in Congress, Tom’s contributions to Israel and the Jewish people were unparalleled. It was not only his considerable intellect and unique personal story that differentiated him from his 434 House colleagues, but the way he approached them.



Tom was definitely Old World when it came to his manners and charm. He didn’t keep a desk in his office so that he could treat his guests as if they were in his own living room. Unfailingly polite and attentive, he treated his Democratic and Republican colleagues with equal respect, forging strong bipartisan bonds that endured even after partisan rancor became the order of the day on Capitol Hill.



And then there was the energy and devotion he applied to all of his causes, and the relationships he cultivated with foreign leaders, which culminated in his ascension to the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Tom was thus able to influence policies affecting Israel positively more than any other single Member of Congress. For example, his strong working and personal relationship with former Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, now ranking Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, led to the kind of effective bipartisan legislative actions that are rarely seen in Washington’s present acrimonious environment.



Prior to that, he was able to work harmoniously with the late Republican chairman Henry Hyde, someone whose background and views on a host of issues were so different than Tom’s. During this period, Hyde essentially left one particular geographic area up to Tom.



Tom’s activities involving Middle East policies and US-Israel relations dovetailed beautifully with the outstanding leadership he provided in championing human rights. He founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to highlight abuses worldwide, taking a leadership role and thereby increasing his credibility on Israel-related matters.



Not only did he highlight anti-Semitism, but genocide and, more recently, Darfur. In this cause he enlisted his wife, Annette, who worked on human rights issues on a daily basis, and had her own desk in his offices. But whether it was Tom’s closeness to Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or his intimate conversations with President George W. Bush, Tom’s overriding passion has always been his support for a secure Israel as being not only in the best geopolitical interests of the United States, but also one of our nation’s highest moral callings.



Tom’s admirers spanned both the American political spectrum from Left to Right, and also the often-fractious organized American Jewish community. This is quite a remarkable accomplishment considering the differences of opinion (and animosity), which unfortunately exist today as Israel engages in the latest peace process, and confronts threats from Hamas and Hizbullah on its borders, and the growing menace of Iran.



Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has stated that, “the State of Israel owes a great debt to Lantos.” She is certainly correct. However, much of the good that Tom accomplished in his 27 years in Congress to assist Israel’s well-being has gone unrecorded. Very few are fully aware of all of Tom’s efforts behind the scenes to benefit Israel and the Jewish people.



On a personal level, I will miss our wide-ranging conversations, where we exchanged information, probed each other’s views and even engaged in the latest political gossip, of which there was always an abundance on Capitol Hill. But the backdrop invariably was how it all affected Israel.



It was during one of our meetings last spring when Tom suggested that my 16-year-old daughter intern in his office last summer. I thought she might be too young to take full advantage of this opportunity. As it turned out, it was an experience she will always treasure. It gave her the opportunity to be close to a great man, and an opportunity which I hope she takes advantage of later on in her life.



My friend, Tom Lantos, was someone who was truly able to make a difference. That is why he will be missed by so many, and particularly those of us who had the privilege of knowing and working with him.

Eilat – home of sun, sea and symphonies

Once little more than a seaside resort, Eilat is rapidly becoming home to some of the country’s most exciting cultural events.The average Israeli or, for that matter, foreign tourist generally thinks of Eilat in terms of a sun-kissed fun-filled resort where the only potential minefields are over-exposure to the sun and splashing out on too many VAT-free shopping sprees. If that includes you, you’d only be partly right. The Red Sea town, it seems, is rapidly becoming something of a major cultural center too. And, if the recent Red Sea Classical Festival is anything to go by, Eilat is putting its money where its mouth is.



Consider just some of the cultural events that now take place down south: The long-running Red Sea Jazz Festival, which has become a permanent end-of-summer vacation feature over its 21 years, the annual Chamber Music Festival, the Teimaniada and the aforementioned four-day classical bash, sponsored by the Isrotel hotel chain. Add to that list, a burgeoning film festival, several sports events and a new theater festival and you start to get the emerging cultural picture.



“The classical music festival is a good example of what we are trying to do here,” says Red Sea Tourism Administration director Yossi Anni. “Yes, most people probably think of Eilat as a place where you just chill out on the beach or by the hotel pool. But we are trying to enhance that image. Most Israelis don’t think of Eilat as a major cultural center, but I think that is starting to change.”



According to Anni, cultural and sporting events bring in close to 170,000 visitors to Israel every year. “The Red Sea Jazz Festival has around 20,000 visitors and the film festival brings in another 3,500. Then there are sports events like the Sportiada, Triathlon and Ironman. They bring another 80,000-100,000 here.”



The timing of the festivals and other cultural activities is also an important factor, as is the type of tourist they target. According to Anni, having the Red Sea Classical Festival in January makes sense. It helps fill the hotels at a time of year when they don’t normally enjoy full occupancy. “Also, events like the classical festival bring in a different kind of visitor,” he says.



Judging by the patrons of the King Solomon Hotel during the Red Sea Classical Festival, it looked like half of the country’s better-heeled residents had relocated down south for a long luxurious weekend. No expense, it seems, was spared. Food was plentiful and frequent, and transport was laid on from the hotel to the hangar where the concerts were held at Eilat Port. Once at the port, we were treated to pre-concert cocktails and tasty niblets and, if that wasn’t enough, there were several steaming tureens of hot soup awaiting us on our return to the hotel after the musical entertainment. Isrotel and the festival organizers had pulled out all the stops to make sure the festivalgoers felt pampered and that the long trip down south was value for money, and then some.



“One of the things we are trying to do with the classical festival is to bring people to Eilat who wouldn’t normally come here,” declares Isrotel general manager Raffi Sadeh, “and at a different time of year than the normal high season.”



According to Sadeh, the classical festival has gained momentum over its seven-year history. “I think events like this festival are making a difference. In the first year most of the people who came were die-hard classical festival fans. This year, there all sorts of people here, and not just those who have a deep understanding of classical music – and they are all having a good time. Classical music fans can catch [festival artistic director and conductor Valery] Gergiev at concerts in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other places around the world. What they get here is culture and a vacation. That’s a great combination. The Kfar Blum classical music festival is based on a similar idea.”



Eilat is, of course, one of the great get-away places. It is almost like going abroad. As you drive or fly across the Arava desert you gradually leave the hustle and bustle and tensions of everyday life in “the real world” behind, and your pulse starts to settle into a more pedestrian pace. “The Swiss go off to ski resorts, where they mix taking it easy with sporting activities. That’s the added value of coming to a festival, for example, in Eilat. You get to rest, eat well and enjoy some top-quality cultural events at the same time.”



If there was anything of a “downside” to the classical music bash it was the premises used for the classical concerts. A hangar is not the most comfortable place to perform classical music. The seats were far from the padded pews patrons enjoy at, for example, the Opera House in Tel Aviv, although the sound people did an admirable job in ensuring the acoustics were commensurately audience friendly in the ad-hoc voluminous music auditorium.



Eilat Mayor Yitzhak Halevy was understandably a busy man during the festival, and is naturally delighted with the response to all the cultural events that now take place in his town. “It is wonderful to see 7,000 music lovers come to Eilat,” he beams. “And we want to upgrade all these events.” Does that include providing a purpose-built concert hall that would serve the classical music festival and some of the other music events in Eilat? “I would very much like that to happen,” says Halevy. “It is just a matter of time.”



Israelis and non-Israelis who visited Eilat in the 1970s and haven’t been back since would be amazed at the transformation that has taken place there. Back then, for many, Eilat was just a stopping-off and stocking-up point en route to the beaches of the Sinai. There were less than a handful of decent hotels and the beaches were dotted with tents and low-budget tourists. Today, there are dozens of top-grade hotels and restaurants, and the town is home to close to 50,000 residents.



Halevy sees Eilat’s cultural events as a means of attracting tourists on a grand scale: “I believe Eilat should invest heavily in education and culture for two main reasons. We have tough competition from the east – Aqaba – and the south [Sinai]. I think the only way we can compete is by making Eilat an exclusive place of culture, with festivals, fairs, congresses, symposiums and academies. We also have a branch of Ben-Gurion University here, and I want to reach a student body of 3,000. There is no reason why we shouldn’t achieve that. That will bring young people to Eilat, and will be good for the future of the town.”



Like Sadeh, the mayor also sees added value in combining relaxation with cultural and sporting endeavor. “I don’t believe that just offering sunbathing opportunities is the way to go for us. You’ve got to offer quality, and have a quality local community to support that.”



Halevy sees an even brighter future for Eilat. “I’ve got plans for more festivals and other events here. I think when you get the momentum going you get an appetite for more.” Judging by the mounds of food available at the marina-side get together, where we met, that appetite will be duly catered for.



Reprinted courtesy of The Jerusalem Post. The writer was a guest of the Isrotel King Solomon Hotel.