Lost Town (2013, USA)

Lost Town (2013, USA)One of the ways you can categorize documentaries is based on what they “document”. An event, a person, a place, a time, a process… The title of “Lost town” would suggest that it is about a town, that is lost. It is, however, much more time and energy was spent on the process of rediscovering, remembering, recreating the town. I was hoping to find out much more about Trochenbrod, the only all-Jewish town to ever exist outside of Palestine” than I did. On the other hand I know a lot how the person whose passion this process was felt about it at any given time.

Maybe I was after the impossible, because there is so little left from the town. No structure of any kind is left and most of the photographs in the movie were saved by the only non-Jewish resident and mostly showing people. I haven’t seen Regina yet–which is a movie about the first female rabbi, based on the single photo left of her–but this must be similar in the sense that there was only one photo left where at least some of the town’s main street is visible. Clever animation was used to make that into a town, but after a while it got repetitive, no matter how fancy the animation looked at first.

At the end I was left with the feeling that this movie is more of a mental construct than a physical one. The creator of the project keeps going back to the same empty road and envisions the life that used to surround it. He created this special mental and emotional image even before he went there and then became obsessed with it. (His words, not mine.)

Having said that you do meet the survivors and descendants of this special town in the movie and hear their stories too. For that it is worth watching. Than you hope there will be a movie or book that will tell even more about the place and its inhabitants. Seeing the movie also wet my appetite to read the Safron Foer’s ‘Everything Is Illuminated‘, which is ending up at the same place.


  • Page at Jewishfilmfestivals.org
  • Official site
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  • IMDB summary: Lost Town’ tells the story of one man’s obsessive search to get closer to his deceased father by uncovering the story of his family’s town of Trochenbrod. First made famous by Jonathan Safron Foer’s ‘Everything Is Illuminated’, Trochenbrod was the only all-Jewish town to ever exist outside of Palestine. Trochenbrod’s 5000 Jews were obliterated by the Nazis, except for 33 townspeople who escaped the massacre there. This personal search triggers a resurgence of interest in the town and reconnects the few remaining survivors who hadn’t seen each other in over 60 years. ‘Lost Town’ utilizes contemporary documentary footage, original animation, and survivor testimonials to tell the story of how far one will go to claim their sense of identity.
  • Trailer:

* As a member of the committee helping to put on the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

** Crossposted at Jewishfilmfestivals.org

Kabbalah Me (2014, USA)

Kabbalah Me (2014, USA)For most viewers Kabbalah Me probably seems light-hearted and deep. For me it just seemed shallow, but that might be might fault. I was hoping to learn something new, but all I got out of it was the personal story of a man. The problem is I’ve heard this or a variation of it so many times. This is a typical story of an American Jew, who is assimilated or disenfranchised from organized religion and is looking for spirituality instead. Then he gets surprised that it is possible to find it within Judaism.

My beef with the film was that instead of embodying a generation it was just repeating things I read in half a dozen book. Starting with “Nine and a Half Mystics: The Kabbala Today” by Herbert Weiner, which does the same thing: getting familiar with different teachers and variations of Kabbalah. But that book was first published in 1969, so it was time to get a new overview of current trends in Kabbalah.

I have to give kudos that Steven Bram, whose journey this movie is about, was honest, curious and thorough. He went to lots of different rabbis and sources to find what he was looking for, including a trip to Israel. However the things he learned or at least the ones he voiced in this movie only scratched the surface of Kabbalah. I read dozens of books on the topic, so me it was boring. However, I can imagine that someone with less knowledge about the topic some of this may even come through as revelatory.

The tone was entertaining, sometimes funny, and the film making (lighting, sound, editing) was top-notch, no complaints there. I just wish I would be at a point of my journey, where I could have gained more from this film.


  • Page at Jewishfilmfestivals.org
  • Official site
  • Facebook page
  • IMDB
  • Summary:Throughout history, Kabbalah was studied by only the most holy Talmud scholars. The misinformation, innuendo and prohibition surrounding Kabbalah kept its wisdom from most Jews; many were even unaware of its existence. In KABBALAH ME, co-director Steven Bram embarks on a spiritual investigation that leads him to reunite with the Hasidic branch of his family and connect to the community of Judaic scholarship. Eventually his curiosity takes him on a pilgrimage to Israel, where he immerses himself in history and traditions of the Holy Land. Along the way, leading authorities discuss the complex, mystical world of Kabbalah – its varying interpretations and the myriad paths of its rituals and lessons. Bram’s new commitment to spirituality and religious observance draws skepticism from family and friends but ultimately leads to profound changes across all aspects of his life.
  • Trailer:

* As a member of the committee helping to put on the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

** Crossposted at Jewishfilmfestivals.org

Yalom’s Cure (2014, Germany)

Yalom's Cure (2014, Germany)I admit I haven’t heard much about Irvin D. Yalom in the past. News of his latest book, The Spinoza Problem, reached me, but otherwise I was unaware that he is “an American existential psychiatrist who is emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University” (wikipedia). Having no preconception of him I can honestly say that the movie with him came was unexpectedly terrific. I say “with” him, because it is more than a biopic. Yes, we learn about his childhood, his relationship to his wife and even see mini-interviews with his kids and grandkids.

However the strength of the movie came from the deep reflections he shared that were accompanied with great visuals and soothing music. As he is musing on the big topics of life, human existence we see some great connections. For example when he talks about the reasons people are afraid of facing things in themselves we see people playing frisbee on a rather foggy meadow. It is a nice metaphor for a, pushing things around passing responsibility to others, and b, the fog shows how difficult it is to become clear about our own inner life.

Another scene I enjoyed was when he was talking about love: “It is not just a passion, spark between two people. There is infinite difference between falling in love and standing in love. The idea is that you stand in love and not fall in love. And try to live in such a way that you always bring something more to life than the other.” During these words we see giant hoses spreading water in large circles on some sort of the wheat field, all shown from above. It shows the continuous tending love and relationships need. The film is full gentle words that are worthy to listen to and the images combined may create new connections or strengthening the integration of the messages.

I used to think of old age along the lines of this joke: An elderly man was asked how does it feel not having a sex-drive. His answer was: like finally getting of a wild horse. Yalom offered a more peaceful and appealing answer: being old is like finally being able to see the night sky. Throughout life we are bombarded with stimulus and when you are older you can slow down and savor every little experience. It was quite clear from the movie that Yalom is a balanced individual who is enjoying the stage he is at, being over 80. He was not shying away form the question of death either.

This is  a movie worth watching multiple times. Not just for the peaceful and artistic editing, the careful pacing, but for the wisdom this professor shared with vigor and humor.


* As a member of the committee helping to put on the Jewish Film Festival, organized by the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County, I preview movies to help decide which ones to play at the Festival. I watched this movie as part of this volunteer effort.

** Crossposted at Jewishfilmfestivals.org

Pleasure Leftists + 3 band (Concert videos)

Pleasure Leftists + 3 band (Concert videos)Couple of weeks ago I saw four bands at an interesting venue. The Monroe Hall is a dance hall from a different times. The walls’ wooden panels host lot of relics from agricultural and hunting times. It was like stepping into a world that was hidden from me.

The main band, Pleasure Leftists, reminded me the 80’s in so many ways. Their sound was a typical post-punk, similar to joy Division and other bands too. I grew up on that stuff, so was happy to hear a fresh variation of it. The singress’ cloth also reminded me of that era. Even her dancing consisted of the kind of steps we did back in high-school.  Yet it was not a total memory trip, because the circumstances were so different. The room was weird, the stage was low, the audience was young (and me not so much.) I was toying with the idea of buying one of their t-shirts, but probably wouldn’t want to wear it, so instead I purchased their record (online, because I am trying to reduce my CD collection not grow it.)

The evening, organized by Pizza Punx started off with OVVN. They played some heavy music that could have used better mixing.

Next up was The Down House, with two female members. Their version of pop-punk–rock was fun, but would have been even better with a working mike for the singer. They tried two, but ended up doing an accidentally instrumental set.

The third band was Face The Rail from San Francisco. Nice, energetic hardcore with quite a stage presence. Again the mike could have been better, but I don’t complain, because they finally got some audience participation in a minor version of a mosh-pit.

The “headliner” band, Pleasure Leftists, from Cleveland Ohio, started so late that they only had a chance to play 8 songs, before the venue had to shut down. The video below is part of the playlist that includes all 16 songs I recorded that evening.

Upcoming concert: MUSICAL SANCTUARY (with my videos)

I recorded 52 songs in August at a showcase of local talents. Two of these videos are used to promote an upcoming show. The event will be October 25 at the same place, Arlene Francis Center. Here are the details

MUSICAL SANCTUARY Artists’ Showcase Concert presented by
A Miracle Production – AMP % Shekeyna Black.

MUSICAL SANCTUARY Artists’ Showcase Concert presented by A Miracle Production [AMP] which produces and promotes concerts, festivals and events focusing on economic and environmental sustainability.

The concept for MUSICAL SANCTUARY is to showcase some of the unique talent based in Sonoma County. Mixing musical genres in the artist line-up offers a smorgasbord of songs for the audience.

Featured Artists:
* Guthrie Galileo
* Ova Nova
* The Linda Ferro Trio
* The Howlin’ Tramps
* DJ Loisaida 369

And the two songs are:

#8 of 10Q: Investigate in 2015

The eighth question of 10Q*:  Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2015?

My answer: My (inter)personal relationships. I am a father of two girls, and not one, now and that already changed my idea of what being a father means, and how I am one. Similarly, I’ve been a husband for a while and as the dynamics of our family and relationship is changing I want to explore, solidify and keep my husbandness relevant and strong. I’ve been the son of my parents all my life and it means different thing now than 10-20-30 years ago. But what? Finally who am I in the wider communities, circles? w=What are my relationships and positions there?

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

#7 of 10Q: Self Improvement

The seventh question of 10Q*:  How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you?

My answer: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

#6 of 10Q: Achievement by Next Year

The sixth question of 10Q*:  Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

My answer: I have a minimalist and optimist goal. The minimal is to keep my family afloat financially in a way that I can enjoy my days and my connection with them. This means creating and keeping  a work-family-life balance. Right now it is hard or me to imagine how I will achieve it, but I believe it is possible with the right kind of focus and priority setting and consistency.

The optimist goal is a variation of this: work only 40 hours a week and make more than enough money in a way that includes lots of fun and learning. That would allow spending more time with aforementioned family and other interests.

Security (or a sense of it) is important for me and so is family. Why? These are more core values and these make me happy.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

#5 of 10Q: Spiritual Experience

The fifth question of 10Q*:  Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? “Spiritual” can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

My answer: For four months I ran a diary earlier this year. In it I answered three questions on most days: What did I do to be/stay cheerful? What did I accomplish? How did I feel? This exercise made me more self-aware, in touch with my emotions and happier.

During the last 12 months I took and finished four online courses (1. Creativity, Innovation, and Change, 2. Modern European Mysticism and Psychological Thought, 3. The Camera Never Lies, 4. Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects) and am in the middle of doing the fifth one (Scandinavian Film and Television). (I also started two courses that I didn’t finish.) These series of independent studies stimulated me, reminded me of my capacity of learning and encouraged my growth.

I am aware that the question focused on the spiritual and my answer refers to changes in my emotional and mental state. However these are the defining experiences of my life that contributed to my well-being. No, I didn’t have a spectacular spiritual experience that I could recall now. However during the course of my journaling and studies I had lots of moments that felt like little awakenings.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

#4 of 10Q: World Event

The fourth question of 10Q*:  Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

My answer: The Gaza conflict, the situation in Hungary, Putin’s activities in Russia and the Tea Party in the US. I see a common worrisome tendency in these three: the “truth” is defined (and defiled) by how media savvy the media spin doctors and their masses are. I am concerned that if the basic facts are covered up and distorted than there isn’t even a chance for shared reality and to have a civil political discussion. Let’s see one by one.

Yes, there were lots of civilian Palestinian casualties in the Gaza conflict and that’s terrible and the images are heart-wrenching. But due to the successful (social) media campaign of Gazan most of the world doesn’t even think about why, what and how the Israeli army attacked. Why: because Hamas made great strides to their declared goal of destroying Israel with the building of the tunnel system. What: localized, military targets, that were often hiding amidst civilians on purpose, so they could use the images of casualties in their propaganda war.  How: The Israelis called ahead the targets and let them know about the coming attack to minimize losses in human lives. It saddens me that millions of people are incapable of seeing the whole picture and take only one side.

The same (lack of) logic the government owns the tax-supported public media and dictates what appear there. As a result people who only get their news from there live in an alternative reality, that, in my opinion, has little resemblance to the real political landscape. They, the prim-minster and his lackeys are in the constant process of redefining not just such words as “nation” but also basic economical and political terms, like liberalism, expenses, debt, honor… Again, the result is that people on the two side of the divide are incapable of communicating with each other, because the part of their mental reality that can be shared is shrinking.

Same in Russia. Majorities of Russian believe that the Ukrainians were the aggressors, while it was Russian soldiers in disguise who invaded the Eastern part of the country and forced its questionable independence. The truth that we on the west know is the polar opposite of what the Russian populace knows.

The US is not an exception from this kind of distortion either. Riding on Benghazi, coffee-cup salute and other non-issues fuels the hatred of the far-right with a steady support of lies by Faux News. We , who don’t swallow in whole what that channel spews no longer share the same space or even country with its followers.

So how/why does this affect me? I care for the people of all of these nations I mentioned for different reasons. I am a Hungarian Jew living in the US, who’s been to Ukraine a long time ago. I don’t mind ideological differences. I think it is natural that people have different values system. I enjoy intelligent conversation and analysis that comes out of confronting them. But when they don’t know/believe the foundational facts the chance for such progress is limited. It scares me for the future as I don’t know how to bring the lines closer to each other.

* “10Q” is a series of 10 question to be answered between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur