Film Review- Denial

Note: This review was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 10/11/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/film-review-denial/

denial

Denial is an astonishingly accurate adaptation of the famous 2001 court case Irving vs. Penguin Books Ltd. In this case, renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt stood trial against David Irving, an infamous Holocaust denier. After Lipstadt called Irving a Holocaust denier, falsifier and bigot in her book Denying the Holocaust, Irving accused Lipstadt of libel. This case came to fruition due to the British legal system, which requires those accused of libel to prove their innocence—the opposite of the legal system in the United States. The movie portrays the struggles, and eventual triumphs, of Lipstadt and her legal team in their battle against pure hate.

As a Jew with multiple grandparents who are Holocaust survivors, I have an inherent emotional connection to this case—and in turn, this film, which I saw at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s premiere screening. Following the film there was a discussion with Deborah Lipstadt and the producers Russ Krassnoff and Gary Foster. The sheer amount of historical detail incorporated by the filmmakers was astounding. The producers pointed out a perfect example of this meticulousness during the question-and-answer session; the head of Lipstadt’s legal team, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), never made eye contact while addressing Irving (Timothy Spall). A factual detail so easy to abandon would never make it into the screenplay of a generic blockbuster hit.

“Deborah said, ‘I’m about to sign this paper giving you these rights. You need to promise me one thing: the truth,’” Russ Krasnoff, one of the producers, explains. “It was our mantra.” In other words, a painstaking dedication to portraying the truth was one of the Denial team’s core values. The producers explained that this pursuit even extended to having Lipstadt on the set, in order to make sure everything was accurate from her point of view.

Lipstadt’s story is about the dedication to truth—and the filmmakers took her lesson to heart. “Every single word that David Irving says in the film… it was all taken from transcripts or interviews,” says Krasnoff. “Every word was documented.” This was astonishing to me. Some of Spall’s lines were so shockingly ignorant and hate-filled that I assumed they had to be exaggerations—like Irving’s “No holes, no Holocaust” diatribe. However, I came to realize that the over-the-top nature of these deliveries only proves Spall’s skill in accurately portraying such a sinister person.

The film’s realism was only bolstered by outstanding performances from Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, who flawlessly portrayed opposing forces in what might be their best roles to date. The support and fondness I felt for Lipstadt also extended to Weisz, who was able to transform expertly into the historian over the course of the film’s nearly two-hour runtime. Timothy Spall has always been excellent at playing fictional villains; his transition from fictional evil to real-world evil was seamless.

Where the illusion of realism that drives this film was somewhat shattered was with actors Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott, whose performances sometimes felt unnatural. There were also occasional shots that either lingered too long, or placed emphasis on subjects that should not have been emphasized, which was a bit jarring for me.

But what I enjoyed most about Denial, aside from its potent accuracy, was its timelessness. “It’s not just about Holocaust denial,” says Lipstadt. “It’s vaccines. It’s the environment. It’s Sandy Hook in Connecticut, where kids were murdered.”

A large portion of the Q&A centered around the idea that whenever there is a tragic event in history, there will always be people who find a way to deny it. Whether they are anti-Semitic, racist, or simply in need of a selfish way to cope with said tragedy, they exist. With so many horrific events occurring on a near-daily basis throughout the world, there will always be those who seek to undermine the truth. They cling to tiny details, minuscule inconsistencies, and blow these details up to horrendously large proportions in an attempt to prove their opinions. However, Lipstadt, her legal team and the filmmakers prove that, whether it be the Holocaust or any tragedy, the truth will always prevail.

Denial’s purpose surpasses entertainment. This movie should be used as a tool, a weapon in the fight against hate. Producer Gary Foster explains this best: “If we can spark and inspire conversation—and get people to say, ‘Hey, there’s a difference between opinion and fact’—then we have done good.”

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The Books That Shaped You

Note: This article was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 9/13/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/the-books-that-shaped-you/

 

In our Books that Shaped Great Authors symposium, we asked 20 Jewish writers to tell us about the books that influenced them the most. Their answers ran the gamut from Winnie-the-Pooh to War and Peace. Hoping for some equally inspiring responses, we asked our readers to tell us their own stories about books that changed them. Here are some of our favorites.

 

My life changed course during my high school marine biology class. Two afternoons a week, our teacher would don a field hat and read snippets from the introduction to John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez, written to memorialize Steinbeck’s close friend Ed Ricketts.

One passage sold us on the immense value of good literature, good science and good friendship. Steinbeck describes a moment four days into his own birthday party. Ricketts, having already imbibed about five gallons of beer, awakens from a nap and reaches for his nearby quart-size bottle: “He found it, sat up, and took a deep drink of it. He smiled sweetly and waved two fingers in the air in a kind of benediction.
‘There’s nothing like that first taste of beer,’ he said.”

We were gobsmacked. We cheered, our adolescent belief in the healing power of an all-nighter wrapped in the package of Steinbeck’s own fine prose, philosophical observations, and finished neatly with a newly minted form of religious ritual.

My transformation led me to pursue the paths that Ricketts and Steinbeck modeled. I relentlessly pursued a first career in marine and wildlife biology, all the while writing, with Steinbeck as my muse. My recent career as a spiritual care counselor and chaplain is yet another branch of the Ricketts/Steinbeck legacy. Although I grew up middle-class and Jewish and my pastoral training has been through Jewish seminaries, my life has been lived on the rough edges, as a biologist as well as in the areas where I live and serve, whether fishing in the harbors or ministering to heroin addicts in skid rows.

It is no accident that Steinbeck used the word “benediction” in the passage my classmates and I so loved. To him, the sacred happens in small moments as well as it would in a church or synagogue. Steinbeck’s works always portray his own struggle to show us the spiritual easiness of the land, how humans seem to mangle it all up, and how we can find redemption.

—Susan Katz

Suddenly, All-of-a-Kind Family popped into my head. The tender love and care shared between parents and daughters, the sisters’ relationships and identity as individuals and as Jewish immigrants, helped me relate to my father’s childhood and upward struggle. The tension of tradition, observation, and contemporary life was one he felt constantly. He passed this year, but left a legacy for my siblings and myself that engendered a deep love for Jewish observance with the freedom to participate as is most meaningful. I still think of Ella and Henrietta and the other sisters whose father was that same loving guide, who deepened their appreciation for their roots and quietly modeled how to be a good Jew, a true mensch.

—Jenny Merdinger

Tao Te Ching, written by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu—I’d recommend the Penguin translation by D.C. Lau—is the book that came into my life like a bolt of lightning. It is not a Jewish text, but it has probably been discussed and interpreted as diversely as the books of the Talmud.

Though astonishingly brief, even in translation, and despite being over 2,500 years old (like the Hebrew bible text, it is still mostly intelligible to modern readers of the language), its contents are absolutely relevant to life in the 21st century. Full of incredible juxtapositions and paradoxes, Lao Tzu’s book is like the ancient embodiment of Yoda’s teachings to Luke Skywalker, and for me as a high school student, the ideas in this text were totally opposite to the deadline-driven, achievement-focused, survival-of-the-fittest society that I was racing through as a young adult. Quotes from the book were and continue to be life-changing revelations that contradicted everything I thought I knew and helped me to find a more relaxed attitude, which also probably contributes to greater success and happiness in career and relationships. For example, “Excessive speech leads inevitably to silence. Better to hold fast to the void.”

I would even argue that this book is the original and best self-help book of the past 2,500 years. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, might be my personal choice of runner-up).

—Brian Landberg

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, when I was a sophomore in college. This was the book that really taught me to read carefully, with my whole heart and mind, and with an eye for the detail and nuance in Ellison’s language, in his characters, images, motifs, and themes. It was also the book that began my more mature thinking about race in America—never a more urgent topic than right now.

—Rebecca Schwartz

I was interested in health, medicine and anatomy from a very early age. I used birthday money to buy my first microscope at age 10. I wasn’t sure how I would use that interest because I was a female, and had no related role models. Then I read Woman Surgeon by Else K. Laroe, and that transformed my thinking about the possible. I retired five years ago after 46 years in health care. I received much more than I gave.

—Karolyn Rim Stein

Many books and authors influenced me as a young person growing up in post-war Germany, long after World War II was over. Max Frisch and Wolfgang Borchert were instrumental in defining my attitude towards peaceful coexistence. However, the one book that opened my mind to an even greater extent was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It started the adoption of a different perspective of how I viewed the world and, more importantly, human behavior. Manipulation and emotional control are presented very clearly in this book—all the more reason for me to resent them.

—Ingrid Webster

 

These responses have been edited and condensed.

Top Ten Jewish Podcasts: Reader Edition

Note: This article was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 9/13/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/top-ten-jewish-podcasts-reader-edition/

This past July, we gave you a list of some of our favorite Jewish podcasts. We were soon inundated with recommendations for other podcasts readers felt we overlooked. We’ve done some listening ourselves, and came up with ten more Jewish podcasts for you to enjoy. If our last list didn’t turn you into a podcast lover, this one just may do the trick.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-19-49-pmUnorthodox

Debuted by Tablet last summer,“Unorthodox” is a self-proclaimed “smart, fresh, fun take on Jewish news and culture.” This weekly podcast is hosted by Tablet editor-at-large Mark Oppenheimer and features writers Liel Leibovitz and Stephanie Butnick. Guests have included include best-selling author A.J. Jacobs, essayist Sloane Crosley and Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson. If you want to hear about “everything from the presidential elections to Amy Schumer, Israel to Drake,” “Unorthodox” is for you.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-23-52-pmBarr’s Banter

Rabbi Robert B. Barr has been putting a rabbi’s perspective on current events since 2007. As the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati, Barr is a champion of the Humanistic Judaism movement. Discussing everything from the Syrian refugee crisis to the high holidays, Barr has tackled hundreds of topics in his nine-year-old show. With each episode in the two-minute range, “Barr’s Banter” is an easy addition to your weekly routine.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-25-13-pmThe Book of Life

“The Book of Life” is a podcast all about Jewish media. Whether it’s books, music or films, if it’s Jewish, it’s covered. The show is hosted by biblical fiction author and librarian of Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, Heidi Rabinowitz. She has interviewed many renowned Jewish creatives, including author Angela Cerrito and filmmaker Roberta Grossman.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-18-35-pmJudaism Unbound

“Judaism Unbound” is a “project that catalyzes and supports grassroots efforts by ‘disaffected but hopeful’ American Jews to re-imagine and re-design Jewish life in America for the 21st century.” In other words, the main goal of the podcast is to construct a Jewish lifestyle that fits into modern-day American society. The show is hosted by Daniel Libenson and Lex Rofes, the heads of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, an organization with the same goal as its podcast. Join Libenson and Rofes as they interview guests such as author Richard Elliott Friedman and American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna, all in the name of evolving Judaism.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-16-53-pmTreyf

Are you a Jew living in North America? Do you have an interest in (left-wing) politics? If one or both of these apply, “Treyf” might be the podcast for you. As a self-described “debatably Jewish podcast,” “Treyf” addresses some of the thornier political discussions taking place in North American Jewish communities, from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to social and racial justice. The episodes’ relatively short length (anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes) does not limit their guest repertoire. Writer Mark Tseng Putterman and journalist Josh Nathan are some of the many voices “Treyf” has recruited to facilitate discussion of the Jewish political sphere.

13227095_1755939367958664_5595034377956959036_nReally Interesting Jews

Hosted by Rabbi Evan Schultz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, Connecticut, RIJ seeks to introduce American Jewry to the people who are working to change their communities. Whether it be thinkers, project facilitators, or conversors, RIJ wants you to know all about them. Some of the revolutionists that have been featured on the podcast include spiritual community founder Lizzi Heydemann and Ruth Messinger, former president of the American Jewish World Service. Schultz states his goal for the podcast clearly: “…my hope is that their stories will spark conversations in your homes, communities and synagogues.”

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-13-43-pmNew Books Network—Jewish Studies

The Jewish Studies subsection of the New Books Network of podcasts tackles a new Judaism-related book each week. Rather than simply discussing each book, NBN takes the time to interview their authors. Some of these writers include Jonathan Garb, author of Yearnings of the Soul, and Robert O’Kell, author of Disraeli.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-11-51-pmKaddish

Death is a difficult subject matter for anyone, regardless of religion. Student Rabbi Ariana Katz hopes to ease the struggle with her podcast, “Kaddish,” which focuses on mourning rituals and customs. With a variety of guests and first-person stories, Katz strives to provide listeners with a deep and contextualized look at death. “There is a dearth of death education, and there is a romanticising, exoticizing, and sexualizing of death,” the show’s description reads. “Kaddish aims to stay in the muck, the complicated, unsexy, terrifying places, because those too are a part of grief.”

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-1-30-00-pm

Stuff Jews Should Know

The title says it all. Join Mottle and Batya Wolfe as they discuss different Jewish essentials and topics—holidays, landmarks, traditions, laws—in under a half an hour, from Purim to the Temple Mount. You’ll be an expert in no time.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-10-21-pmOMGWTFBIBLE

Last but definitely not least, OMGWTFBIBLE describes itself as a “brand-new English translation of the Hebrew bible.” What OMGWTFBIBLE really is is a rebranding and retelling of the Torah as “the world’s oldest comedy serial” as opposed to a traditional (and serious) religious text. As host David Tuchman writes, “Doesn’t it just plain suck that the Old Testament isn’t cool anymore? The book’s got everything: genocide, incest, and even talking donkeys!”