Post-Holocaust Poland, horror in Hebrew, auditions, opportunities and ensembles for musicians get Chicago's Jewish cultural scene underway in January 2014.
Opening this month in Chicago is Polish film Aftermath, which won Yad Vashem Chairman's Award at the 2013 Jerusalem Film Festival. It follows brothers Jozek and Franek Kalina's return to Poland from Chicago after 20 years. They uncover truths that shatter their views of their father, their entire family, their neighbors, and their nation's history. Writer and director Wladyslaw Pasikowsi was clearly influenced by Professor Jan Gross' landmark 2001 book Neighbors, which revealed how Polish citizens of Jedwabne burned alive the town's entire Jewish populace in a barn on July 10, 1941.
The film weaves this true story into its own fictitious script to confront Poles' view of only having been victims of WWII, causing its being banned in many Polish cinemas. Many young Poles, like the characters in the film, are curious about this chapter of their country's history and its Jews. The movie was made to help educate a Polish generation knowing little of the complexity of the nation's Jews and their fate. There are Poles, in fact, only just learning about partial Jewish ancestry that was hidden, forgotten or suppressed in the wake of the Holocaust and then Communism. Leading Polish actor Maciej Stuhr is featured in the film and has faced a firestorm for having done so. The film has provoked controversy among some Poles who see even contemplating their country's complicity in the murder of its 3 million Jews as traitorous, even while hailing those who risked their lives to save them. Opens Jan. 3rd, Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Quentin Tarantino captured many Jews' imagination (and box office dollars) with Inglourious Basterds, a film that combined his penchant for graphic violence, memorable dialogue and great performances with a WWII story of Jewish commandos' avenging fury on Nazis and eventually Hitler himself. Now the Jews have captured Tarantino's attention with a revenge picture of their own. Tarantino declared Big, Bad Wolves, "The best film of 2012." This dark, Hebrew-language revenge comedy will appeal to Tarantino fans as well. Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) is the rogue cop who suspects the nebbish religion teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) of a brutal series of child murders. Miki takes the law into his own hands and allows the father of the latest victim (Tzahi Grad) to take revenge, but not before the father can be convince of the man's guilt. In a cross between Misery and the recent film Prisoners, they all wind up in a remote cabin in the woods determined to get a confession by any means necessary. Israeli writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado make us as uneasy about pedophilia as our willingness to confront our own greatest fears. Opens Jan. 17th, Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Singer, songwriter and liturgical songleader Rich Recht returns to town this month for the second regional Songleader Book Camp and community concert. The two-day program is focused on building the skills, repertoire and style of songleaders young and old to serve their communities. Of course, Recht's success in this area lends him and the program faculty more than a little credibility, and his own songwriting and easy-going performance style is sure please come time for the concert itself. Jan. 19-20, 2014 at Temple Jeremiah. Advance registration is required.
The Greater Chicagoland Jewish Folk Festival is accepting submissions of materials from musicians, storytellers, and dancers for initial screening before auditions to perform at its biennial day-long event. Applications, tapes, and fees must be received by the festival no later than January 15 for invitations to audition during April.
Musician and impresario Stuart Rosenberg will teach a Sephardic Music Ensemble class on the exotic music of the ancient Spanish Jews, known as Sephardim. After their expulsion from Spain, they brought their music-influenced by the myriad cultures of the Iberian peninsula, and their unique linguistic traditions-with them to the Balkans, Turkey, North Africa, Greece, France and even Syria. There, they absorbed local sounds into Ladino folk songs and Romanceros. Rosenberg will teach them during this 6-week course, open to all instrumentalists and singers who are able to read music. Advance registration required. 6:30pm Tuesdays beginning Jan. 7 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
I must also mention last month's passing of Israeli music icon Arik Einstein, whose hit song "Ani v'Attah" embodied the spirit of a gentler, innocent era in Israel. Here in America, it became popular among a generation of summer camp attendees, youth and Zionist movements participants. Here's hoping that our own generation can produce a similar artist to bridge that divide in years to come.
Adam Davis is the Cantorial Soloist at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette as well as Founder and Executive Director of KFAR Jewish Arts Center, a leading presenter and advocate of contemporary Jewish arts, music, and culture programs in and around Chicago. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (773)362-4760.