The Eichmann Show

No stranger to epic adventures The Hobbit star Martin Freeman headlines BBC TWOs feature length film The Eichmann Show. Commissioned by the BBC as part of their commemorative coverage of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Aushwitz Birkenau; The Eichmann Show is a film that retells the story of the 1961 trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann which served as the first time the atrocities of the Holocaust had been publically spoken about by its victims.

Martin Freeman leaves Sherlock Holmes’s side to play Milton Fruchtman, the producer who orchestrated the televising of the ‘trial of the century’ in Jerusalem. The film follows the so far untold story of how the production team captured the Eichmann trial on camera and in doing so, was a seminal event in reinforcing to the world the genocide of 6 million Jews at the hands of Eichmann and his fellow Nazi’s. Not only that, it allowed for the survivors to feel free to talk about their experiences and know they were being heard.

The film begins with Fruchtman travelling to Israel, (after Eichamann’s capture in Argentina) to request permission from Prime Minister Ben Gurion to televise the trial. He enlists director Leo Hurwitz (Without a Trace’s Anthony LaPagila), the pioneer of multi camera studio broadcasting and together they work to train an inexperienced camera crew who rebuild the entire court room in order to camouflage their television cameras, hoping to gain authorisation from the presiding judges. The judges approve and the trail is televised to 37 countries over 4 months, which builds to Eichmann’s confession and eventual sentencing.

Director Paul Andrew Williams employs the use of archive footage of the trail which he intersperses throughout the film, adding to the tension and reality of the subject. Freeman took on the role in part from liking Simon Blocks script, “I thought it was very good and liked it, that’s why I wanted to do it. I thought it was well written” he says expressing how having worked in television it rang true, but more than that he explains that for Fruchtman, “this was a pretty unprecedented job – it was the first time that the Holocaust survivors had really been heard first hand in such great numbers and I thought that was really interesting.” And on the importance of such a project he says “There is always prejudice in the world, there is always horrendous stuff bubbling up and if we forget where that can lead to we do ourselves a great disservice.”

Freeman goes on to describe the magnitude of the trial “it was the first time that the holocaust became the holocaust as we know it” he says, “People obviously knew that something truly terrible had happened under the Nazi’s but maybe it was the first time the scale and breadth had had a human face put on it – the face of the survivors.” The use of archive footage of these testimonies is a real tour de force in the film, showing that the humanisation is not lost and the impact is just as shocking and powerful as it would have been in 1961. Freeman says of the footage, “There was quite a lot of it and some films that I hadn’t seen before – and I’d seen a lot of footage before – so that was difficult.”

Switching between footage of Eichmann and the reaction to him by the characters in the film makes for fascinating viewing and perhaps Leo Hurwitz represents the viewers need to understand the reasons why a human could commit such heinous crimes. “He was a fairly unprepossessing looking person, he didn’t look evil, he didn’t look like a monster, he looked like a normal, ordinary guy” says Freeman of Eichmann and continues “I think it teaches us that people who can be responsible for these terrible things are not monsters, and they don’t have two heads, they look and sound and even think quite similarly to us which is the scariest thing of all.”

In a crucial scene before the camera crew embark on the trial, Hurwitz addresses them “Our objective is to use images to reveal the events of that court room.” This moment serves as a reminder of the influence television has to authenticate reality. Freeman says quite rightly, “It’s not the only example of man being terrible to man, but in terms of a massive, industrialised plan to murder an entire group of people, it’s a hideous example, and I think it’s important to remember it all.”

In The Eichmann Show the BBC have produced a film that reiterates the significance in the telling of the story and it is a fitting way to launch their thoughtful and extensive coverage for Holocaust Memorial Day.

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Tales from the Wood: An Apocalyptic Question

Being Jewish is such an integral part of my make up that I may as well sweat schnitzel. I have never considered leaving my people for that of the Buddhist faith or any others for that matter and before my parents sit Shiva for me, I’m almost certain I won’t denounce Judaism in the future. But, in attempting to answer an intriguing question posed by my son on the way home from school one Friday afternoon, it forced me to evaluate my own beliefs.

In between crunching his crisps, crumbs spilling down his sweater, he asked “What happens if Hashem suddenly killed everyone all at the same time today?” There was a dramatic pause. Besides wishing I had driven him in the morning when his questioning had taken on a more biological theme of the where did I come from variety, suddenly all the answers that I had locked up, alphabeticalised and stored away in the filing cabinets of my mind, became exceptionally hard to access. In that brief recess as I worked out how best to answer the question, I began to weigh up the magnitude of it and of its asking.

Firstly my five year old son calls God, Hashem. Of course he does, he attends a Jewish school. Not only has he learnt that God’s name is Hashem but he is beginning to learn the concept of God, so much so that he now believes that God has the power to kill everyone simultaneously. That’s some trio, God, death and murder all in the same sentence and all catapulted at me to somehow elucidate and make sense for him.

He is spot on to ask and he has been soliciting answers since he could speak and will continue to. The next morning he mused whether the rain actually lived in the clouds. But it was the question of immediate Armageddon that puzzled me, not the answer of course but from where the concept derived.

It emanates from what he is learning at school. The Purim story sees the evil villain Haman planning to exterminate all the Jews, the Pesach story rivals the most gruesome of horror movies, with its ten plagues and death of the first born and then the story of Noah sees God send a flood to wipe out civilisation. These are hefty themes for a five year old. And I’d thought that fairytales had a lot to answer for, what with poisoned apples and incarcerating a girl with long locks in a tall tower; Torah tales take no prisoners. No wonder my son is capable of believing that Hashem could knock us all off in one foul swoop.

Had I been bumbling along happily, buttoning his shirt and fastening his kippah and all the while not realising that this is how he is being educated? Like many other parents, maybe my relief that he had got into a nice Jewish school overshadowed the obvious; that if you send your offspring to a Jewish school they will be educated fully in all things religious. They will learn that if you are good God will provide lovely things for you but if you are bad, God will punish you, implanting within them a strong moral code that emphasises the consequences of good and bad behaviour.

However, this is not the only factor in picking a Jewish School for our children. We select the school for more than religious reasons. We want the school to embody a certain ethos, it has to be warm and nurturing and safe, and we hedge our bets on the Jewish schools to provide it all.

I absolutely want my children’s Jewish learning to be integrated with their regular education, so that it becomes as intrinsic to them as maths and English. But, hearing my son speak so biblically about the power of God and feeling his complete acceptance of that has shaken me slightly, not only because it is the evidence of his Jewish learning, but also in attempting to answer his question it forced me to examine my own relationship with God. Did I believe that God could destroy us all?

What I discovered was that sending him to a Jewish school is only one part of the mix, the other ingredients rest with us. It is our responsibility as his parents to continue to enrich the rest of his life in a Jewish way, even if it means answering apocalyptic themed questions. It can be less about whether you believe and adhere to all the rigours of religion and more about your belief in nurturing your own kind of Judaism.

As we arrived home that Friday afternoon I finally confirmed whether God would be slaughtering the whole of mankind, I reassured “Of course not Boobala, Hashem doesn’t work on Shabbat.”

Review: Kindertransport

Framed by the vast ornate proscenium arch of the Richmond Theatre, Kindertransport by Diane Samuels played to a packed audience. Put on to the mark the 75th Anniversary of Kindertransport, director Andrew Hall’s Kindertransport is both moving and heart wrenching. It tells the story of how nine year old Eva (show stealing Gabrielle Dempsey) escapes Nazi Germany and impending war by travelling to safety on the kindertransport. She leaves behind her Mutti, Helga (touchingly played by Emma Deegan) and her Jewish identity.

Hall relies on the subtleties of the script to stage this production, which gives the viewer the room to fully consume the themes the play emotes. It is a play of loss, escape, love, identity, fear and secrets. The eerie set evokes uncertainty and within it, like the boxes of old belongings that Faith (a strong debut by Rosie Holden) uncovers, so too are the secrets of her mother’s past.

The unravelling of the past is interjected by the reactions to this revelation in the present. Hall places Eva next to her older self Evelyn (Janet Dibley) at the end of the first act, which imprints a powerful image. Hall is often unafraid of toying with our suspension of disbelief by letting a figure from the past remain in the space whilst the present continues, highlighting the question, can we ever escape our own history.

This is play not focused solely on the history of Kindertransport but more on the very human realities that affected the individual born from such an unnatural separation.

Kindertransport is more than a kitchen sink drama, although the staging is very traditional, it is an affirmation of the past. And this is why Samuels play still rings true to today’s audience. When a determined Evelyn rips up all of her photos and letters, a distraught Faith cries “Who is going to take care of their memory?” It is Diana Samuels’s Kindertransport that allows that memory to be retold.

Review: MICE

The award winning Israeli espionage drama series MICE will be screened exclusively at JW3 as part of the Keshret TV Club. MICE (entitled Gordin Cell for its Israeli audiences) is a spy drama meets edge of your seat suspense thriller.

 

MICE will premier in the UK by Keshet Media, who brought us the acclaimed show Prisoner of War which was in turn made into the exceptional Homeland. Similarly MICE, (which stands for Money Ideology Coercion Ego) has been picked up by US network NBC and will be transformed into a series entitled Allegiance, set to air in 2015. It will be written by George Nolfi who penned The Adjustment Bureau, The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean’s Twelve.

 

MICE is a fast passed, subtly witty, dark and engaging drama. The characters are very quickly drawn and equally likeable and feared. It retains those moments felt in Prisoner of War and Homeland, where you find yourself unable to breathe amidst the mounting tension.

 

It begins with a sub plot of the classic old cop young cop duo, who are investigating a brutal murder, their relationship brings some light relief to the intense drama about to unfold for the family at the centre of MICE. The Gordin family are former Russian spies who moved to Israel to start a new life. All seems well, until they are traced by their former handler and under orders from the Resident, a sinister head of the Russian spy unit, to give up their son Eyal or become spies again themselves. This opens up the space for an inner conflict in decorated war hero Eyal. Should he choose the country he loves and fights for or his family who have lied to him and betrayed him his whole life?

 

It is clear from the opening sequence that MICE has all the elements of a nail biting TV series. It is no surprise that NBC have snatched it up and if Allegiance retains the core of what MICE is then it is guaranteed to be a huge hit.

 

Ash Fitzgerald – The Golem

A mixed media artwork by British artist Ash Fitzgerald is currently being shown as part of the Faith and Form exhibition at the Anne Frank Centre in New York. The piece entitled Passing Through (A Golems Journey) has been chosen to feature along with 21 other artists and members of the Jewish Art Salon.

Fitzgerald describes the experience as “very exciting and has garnered a great response, it has been an eye opener because I was so nervous about sending it.” Fitzgerald, 49 from East Dulwich, explains the journey of how his piece was created “The idea came to me when I was doing my MA course at City and Guilds, straight away the Golem appeared, manifesting everything, from death to life. The whole idea was to create something out of nothing.”

Probed further Fitzgerald confided “It all emanates from a near death experience I had twenty years ago. I was struck down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is a severe viral infection, a creeping, silent illness that is debilitating. I was in hospital for almost 5 months.” It was at this juncture, where he describes himself as being at the “lowest point of life,” that he had the realisation that this was a sign, a light bulb moment. He began to identify with the Golem and started expressing this through his art, determined it “had to mean something.”

Fitzgerald says the painting, produced a year ago, is “technically a drawing of the Golem using old fashioned dip-pens on an abstract background using acrylic, oil and ink.” The Golem wanders along at the bottom of the piece, his outlined, mythical body blending into an empty landscape, representing the transparency of life.

He talks of his connection to the Golem. “He is a servant, an anti hero, more of a traveller, a wandering Jew and I identify myself with that.” When asked how being Jewish informs his work, he explained “I didn’t want to be known as a Jewish artist, it became a very slow burner for me, it took me years to get there.” He continues, “The Golem is found in Jewish mysticism and my influences come from my maternal Grandmother, who told me that you always take your Judaism with you. Ever since then I have carried it with me, as a spiritual guidance.”

Asked what other artists inspire him, Fitzgerald says “My biggest influence is the German artist and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, he took on a lot of challenges, touching on Jews, Gods and Germans.” Fitzgerald plans to visit New York and see his piece before the exhibition finishes. What is next for him? “I’m heavily influenced by comics, the Golem is in a lot of comics and I never knew. I want to do a series of paintings and then storyboard it into comics adding a narrative, using the Golem to send a message.” And he plans to collaborate with Leeds based artist Gillian Singer, whose light box installation was also chosen to be part of the Faith and Form exhibition.

As this piece depicts a journey, does the Golem ever reach its destination? Fitzgerald concludes, “The Golem stops when he finds his home, when he feels it.” And has Ash Fitzgerald found his home? “I’m still looking. I’m still touching and learning, falling and getting up.”

New Year, New Body

The culmination of a year’s over indulging and one horrified look at the extra figures displayed on the scales was enough motivation for me to make a serious New Year’s resolution to get fit and shift some weight, and I know I’m not alone. But how can we rid ourselves of the humantashen hips, the lochshun love handles, the borscht bulge and the tzimmes tummy? Diet or exercise, I know it’s not sufficient to just abstain from dipping our apples in the honey, I want my Yom Kippur detox to not only kick start but maintain my body’s healthy New Year.

My first stop was to see what the gyms had to offer, after all, the gym has become the last bastion of fitness and weight loss. We’re all rushing around in leisure clothes, Starbucks in hand, eternally coming or going to the gym. It turns out they do offer a multiplicity of choice when he comes to exercise. Virgin Active rather thoughtfully let you have a rolling contract, so that with one months notice you could terminate your membership, which is useful if you don’t want to be locked into a yearly commitment, or should you embarrass yourself by thinking the Powerplate is a relaxing massage station.

They provide an hour consultation with a fitness professional to run through your goals, Jennifer Anitson’s body please, and write you a detailed plan, which undoubtedly will say no carbs. Of course Virgin has an abundance of exotically named classes, to tempt you. They have just launched NOVA, a hybrid of pilates and yoga, which is fitness based rather than mind body holistic. There is ZUU, a back to basics class that involves frog squats and bear crawls, think school gym and plimsolls. They also have Zumba Step and all the regular classes. Personal trainers can be hired for 30 minutes to an hour slots, should you need your own cheerleader.

At least the David Lloyd is more unambiguous when naming their programmes. The Lose and Shape Up Weight Loss programme (fee naturally in addition to your monthly subscription) is a 12 week ‘whole body’ initiative which includes weekly weigh-ins, so no hiding that extra knedal you slipped in your soup, group exercise, nutritional advice and online support. David Lloyd have recently teamed up with Universal Music UK to launch the David Lloyd Playlist, so you can plug in and jog on listening to specially tailored tracks to help motivate your work out.

What’s irritating about a gym membership is that you are signing up for an indoor workout; Caged with fellow Nike wearing bunnies peddling on stationary bikes that never reach their destination. So in view of this I wanted to step outside of that convention and see what was actually available in the outdoors.

I heard about British Military Fitness, a boot camp-like programme that runs its classes in parks. BMF works on the principle of interval training, using your own body weight with squats, lunges, burpees, pairs and team exercises. Some classes will use tyres or poles or powerbags. BMF’s head training tutor, Mark Wood explained “The important thing is that no class is ever the same; this way members stay motivated and challenged.” BMF cater for all fitness levels and divide the group accordingly using coloured bibs. I wondered how soon one could see results, to which Wood said “If you can commit to three classes a week, and combine this with sensible eating, you could see dramatic transformations within a 3 month period. Most people say they feel better and are starting to see positive changes in as little as 4 weeks of training.” I begin to envision Aniston, as I asked how BMF differs from regular gym classes, Wood described, “Studies have shown that exercising outdoors can burn up to 30% more calories than doing the same exercise indoors.”

Not quite ready to commit, I’m introduced to Jo Martin, a fitness coach, who has been in the industry since 2002. Jo has just launched a new class called Cobra-Hit. Based in Edgware Reform Synagogue, Cobra-Hit is a full body work out for every fitness level combining cardio and muscular fitness. Jo is a positive ball of energy as she explained this high intensity resistance training, “There’s a social side to the class too, as I provide a herbal tea before the class starts and a re-fuelling shake at the end.” Jo described the realisation that “all the fitness I was doing wasn’t working for me, I wasn’t seeing results. That’s when I started focusing on nutrition.” Following the principle that diet is as important as exercise Jo said “People noticed and commented on the changes they saw in her.” She wanted to include this as part of Cobra-Hit. Jo’s enthusiasm far exceeds just adult fitness and I was impressed to discover she runs ZumbaAtomic Parties for children ranging from five to 12 years old. The 45 minute classes teach the kids how to dance and get fit at the same time.

Still in search for the perfect fitness fix, I visited the highly motivated Rich Silverman. An ex professional boxer, who quit his role as a personal trainer to set up a free fitness class called Fit Camp that runs weekly in St Albans. After I disclosed my Aniston goal he begins to explain how it is entirely possible to have the body of your dreams if you adopt what he calls a healthy active lifestyle. Fit Camp includes a Monday weigh in and a Sunday workout of running, body weight training and Tabata which is a whole body exercise that exhausts all your muscles by working them to their maximum.

What Silverman offers his clients is more than a fitness program or one to one traditional personal training, he provides a lifestyle choice. Silverman explained, “The basic principle is that exercise is only 20% of your goal, the other 80% is what you put inside your body.” And he continues, “The exercise is almost irrelevant. It is counterproductive to do the 20% without the other 80% because getting your ideal body is all to do with burning fat and nothing to do with exercise.”

I asked him what had to be done to shift the excess weight fast, Silverman said, “When we weigh ourselves we don’t know what we are looking at, it’s just numbers, what is your actual weight made up of?” This is when he did a free Wellness profile on me; he weighed me on a special scale that shows the breakdown of my body, my muscle mass, bone density, body fat, visceral fat and hydration levels. From here he can discern what areas I need to work on and write my healthy eating plan. He said confidently “you can get you there and I can show you the way.” He underpins all this with the product Herbalife, which are nutritionally balanced shakes, used to enhance your eating habits not as a supplement for regular food; I was surprised there was no hard sell.

Silverman is so passionate that he has even set up a group called Holy and Healthy in St Albans Masorti Shul, which sadly doesn’t include squats in the ameda or a cool down during Adon Olom. He genuinely wants to help people by creating active lifestyles.

I left Silverman feeling energised and positive, I believed him when he said “Fit is the new sexy,” because it is a world away from our conventional way of thinking about weight loss and getting in shape. Maybe this new approach might just work and I’ll finally get my Jennifer Aniston body with a little help from my new friends.

Let My People Tesco

The neon lights of Tesco welcome me as my curled hands firmly push the trolley through its open doors. I’m readying myself for Pesach and this is my first visit to collect some pesachdik produce. Walking down the vastly stocked aisles, that stretch half the length of the store, it feels like an indoor road with produce lining either side, from cakes, to cereal to ready-made macaroons. I bump into some old familiar friends, the Gilberts and the Hoffmans are waving at me, Mrs Elswood pokes her head around the corner of the Rakusens and Baron Herzog looks a bit tipsy. The heaving shelves of the supermarkets are enticing us, displaying in their bright artificial light, all our kosher and pesach food desires.

I began to wonder how the big supermarkets source their kosher products, how do they know we love to munch on Gilberts Viennas and that we are all partial to some Hoffmans Chrayne. So I spoke to Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose to find out.

Tesco’s shelves are stocked year round by UK businesses that import from countries around the world; mainly deriving from Israel and America. The top three Tesco stores with the largest kosher sections in the whole of the UK are Borehamwood, Brent Cross and Cheetham Hill.

How does Tesco’s know what the consumer wants? Tesco told me that they work very closely with a panel from the Jewish community who advise them on what the customer needs. This has resulted in the launch, last August, of an improved range, since then Tesco has seen a huge uplift in sales. They reviewed and updated their frozen sections, with 80% of their grocery section being new. They also have plans to introduce a fresh chilled range in the summer. For this Pesach, Tesco has sourced over 200 products and hope to win the battle of the Pesach sales by providing “A fantastic range, supported by great promotions and competitive prices.” To tempt us further they have even extended their Pesach palate to include disposable tablewear.

Sainsbury’s is hot on Tesco’s heels and also supplies its Jewish consumer with kosher food in 100 of its stores, 15 of which have enlarged ranges, these include  Golders Green, Finchley Road, Stanmore, Edgware, Hendon to name drop a few. Sainsbury’s changes the whole range for Pesach with 150 new lines being added. For the first time this year Sainsbury’s have also included disposable tablewear too. Their key lines remain Matzo, wine, grape juice and matzo meal. Stand out products are the specially sourced kosher for Pesach toothpaste and washing up liquid. They will also stock bottled water, pasta, soft drinks and they specifically bring in a Pesach version of the marble and chocolate cakes they stock all year round.

Sainsbury’s holds listening groups with its Jewish colleagues to further understand the range requirements for the Pesach season. Sainsbury’s told me how they hope to provide for their Jewish consumers, “We know how important Passover is to our Jewish customers. Sainsbury’s are proud to serve our communities with the best offering we can – that includes the very special time of Passover.”

Waitrose won’t pass over the opportunity to stock up in time for Pesach either, selling products for approximately a six week period. Their biggest ranges of products can be found in their Temple Fortune, Finchley Road, Brent Cross and Mill Hill shops. Matzo meal can be bought in some of their Little Waitrose stores too and should you find your bottle of Manechevitz has run dry before the four cups have been drank, the Waitrose store on the Channel Islands will stock a replacement for you. Waitrose explained “We know our customers like to shop around, so we ensure we give them as much visibility of the range, to help them plan for Passover.”

This year as I began my pre Pesach amble around Tesco, I invited some friends and family to join me. As we piled our trolleys with matzo and grape juice, I decided to document the abundance of choice that awaits us now and celebrate the supermarkets continued commitment to supplying kosher food to the Jewish community by taking a group selfie. Of course, we received some funny looks, the odd raised eyebrow, some even came to join in and all the while I couldn’t help but think how far we have come from carrying our unleavened bread on our backs.

The story of Pesach is about freedom and there is no greater symbol of this than walking in to any supermarket and picking up a packet of Matzo (and perhaps some charoszeth) from their well stocked shelves. Every little does help.