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Ukrainian youth and townsfolk band together to restore neglected Jewish cemetery

Ukrainian youth and townsfolk band together to restore neglected Jewish cemetery

Kalush, Ukraine

An unlikely group of more than a hundred people came to clean up  the Jewish cemetery in the western Ukrainian town of  Kalush in mid-October.  There were local high school students,  about a dozen American Peace Corps volunteers,  and municipal office workers given the day off work by Mayor  Ihor Matviychuk. Only a handful of the participants were Jewish.

This picture of  harmonious Ukrainian-Jewish  relations  may seem surprising  as it runs counter to  the stereotype of anti-Semitism that taints  many press stories about present-day Ukraine.  But it just may be the forerunner of larger things to come.

One of the initiators of the clean-up was the principal of the high school that faces the cemetery.

“When I became principal three years ago, I felt a big sense of responsibility to do something about the neglected condition of the cemetery,” says Oksana Tabachuk, 49, the principal of the Kalush Gymnasium.” My family has been in Kalush since the seventeenth century  and I know that the Jewish community was also here for many generations,” she says, adding a an emotional reminiscence told to her by her mother who was a child during the war.  “She used to shudder as she described climbing the wall surrounding the cemetery and witnessing the ground moving for hours and hours after the Nazis shot Jews there.”

The cemetery wall has long since eroded and it is the lack of a protective barrier that  Tabachuk blames for a swastika being sprayed on a monument there last spring. “That act of vandalism was  not typical of Kalush people but it’s what happens when  some people go too far in their beliefs and misinterpret the  idea of nationalism,” she  explains. She notes that one of the teachers who rushed to paint over the swastika was Natalia Zubrytska, the granddaughter of a Ukrainian couple recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles for saving Jews during the Holocaust.

Prior to WW II, Kalush was a flourishing trading center in the hub of Poland’s Galicia region. Its prosperity was boosted by salt mines and the cross-pollination of business that came from a multi-cultural mix of Poles, Ukrainians and Jews; a pre-war population of  15,000, comprising almost equal numbers of each group.

The extermination of the Jewish community began in the summer of 1941 when the Nazis marched about 300 members of the Jewish intelligentsia outside the town and shot them in a forest.

Ironically, it was a visit by two American Peace Corps volunteers to the forest where the unmarked mass killing took place that eventually led to the citywide effort to take care of the Kalush Jewish cemetery.

“I was very touched by the trip to the forest that city historian Bohdan Yanevych took me and fellow Peace Corps volunteer Brennan Purtzer on,” recalls Deignan. “It seemed sad that there was no commemoration of the spot. We thought that if people from abroad started to visit the site, it would provide an incentive to build a memorial.”

It also occurred to Deignan that increasing awareness of the city’s tragic history might mesh together with one of her main goals  as  a business development advisor to the Kalush City Council: to promote tourism to the city.


Deignan’s search for other sites that might interest Jewish tourists led her to the Kalush Jewish cemetery, where she became intrigued by the sculpted headstones, which date back centuries.

When Deignan found out that the only care the cemetery received was from the Kalush Gymnasium,   she and  her city hall colleagues came up with the idea of an official city-sponsored event.

But at first there was some resistance.  As the educational curriculum mandated in Kyiv makes no mention of Jewish communities anywhere in Ukraine, some young residents were unaware that the city  had ever  had a Jewish population and  saw no need to get involved. Others  suggested that the cemetery upkeep should be paid for “by the descendants of the people buried there.”


But Deignan, 57, who formerly worked in the San Jose Attorney’s Office in California, put her skills in navigating bureaucracies  to work and together with her colleagues negotiated a compromise: the city would proclaim a Day of Action devoted to cleaning both the Jewish and an old Ukrainian cemetery. City workers who did so would be given the day off work.

News of the event spread widely through social media and the local press.

Many  other Peace Corps volunteers stationed in  western Ukraine also joined in; there are about 300 volunteers working throughout Ukraine in an effort to shore up democratic values in a country that borders on Russia.


During the weekend that the Day of Action took place, it was another event that occurred in Ukraine which caught the attention of the  Jewish press:  on October 14 Ukrainian nationalists marched in Kyiv  to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the founding of the  Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). UPA is viewed in a heroic light by Ukrainians today because it  fought  for Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union. But as Holocaust historians have noted,  UPA was   one of the wartime militias involved  in violence against Jews.


Some local Jewish observers suggest however,  that the present day glorification has more to do with anti-Russian feelings than anti-Semitism.

“There was a change in their ideology after 1943,” explains Yuri Radchenko, a historian who teaches at Kharkiv University  and who has held research positions at the U.S.  Holocaust Memorial Museum.  “After 1943, Stepan Bandera, their political leader, tried to remove the anti-Semitic element of their ideology,” says Radchenko, pointing out that until then a commonly used slogan was ‘Kill the Bolshevik Jew”.  Radchenko notes that   present-day Ukrainian nationalists try  to  “rebrand Bandera as a kind of liberal democrat”.  Even if historically incorrect, says Radchenko, this  rebranding does perhaps indicate that the nationalist marches do not in themselves  signify an anti-Semitic message.

Radchenko, points out that he regularly wears a kippah when  he goes back and forth to synagogue services in Kyiv. He also notes that his ongoing research on the  subject of the militias  is an indication that Ukrainian researchers  are not hampered by a 2015 Ukrainian law criminalizing rhetoric critical of the anti-communist Ukrainian partisans.

Radchenko’s sanguine depiction of present-day Ukrainian sentiments is borne out by  statistics compiled by the Ukrainian National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, an organization similar to the ADL in the U.S.

“There actually has been a decline in anti-Semitic incidents in recent years,” observes Vyacheslav Likhachev, who is one of the authors of the report.  The 2017 report provides detailed descriptions  of a total of 25 anti-Semitic incidents reported that year — almost all comprising acts of vandalism. “Since 2016 there have been  no reports of violence against people,”  says Likhachev, who previously worked as a guide at Yad Vashem.


Likhachev however does feel that the country has not adequately addressed all aspects of its World War Two history. “The  existential threat posed by the Russians today keeps the society from having a proper reflection of its  own past, ” he observes.


One Kalush resident who is not reluctant to reflect  about the past is Arthur Yefremov, 28, the director of the Kalush City Museum.  Yefremov recently curated an exhibit on Jewish rituals and is well aware that the museum is situated in a building that served as  a prewar Jewish community center. “To try to conceal the history of this building would be like creating a kind of  ‘fake history’ ,” says Yefremov. “In World War Two not only did Kalush lose its Jewish community, it also lost a good part of its history. It’s time we did something about that.”

Yefremov feels that his generation simply needs to learn the facts. “We cannot be held responsible for the deeds or misdeeds of our grandparents or great-grandparents,” he comments.

One month after the Day of Action, Patricia Deignan returned to the Kalush Jewish Cemetery with a group of visiting Jewish descendants of the region. During their visit, the delegation was warmly received by  city officials with whom they discussed plans to develop a Jewish heritage tourism program.

As the delegation arrived at the graveyard, the headstones cleared in October glowed handsomely in the golden morning light. One delegation member, Marla Raucher Osborn, who has led efforts to restore the Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn, noted that it was remarkable that the Kalush headstones were still standing in their places,  unlike in other places where  headstones have been stolen and used as pavement.

The Kalush headstones may be exceptional in one other way: in the impact they are having on the youngsters looking after them.

“Every day when I saw the cemetery on the way to school, I kept thinking that something that old needs to be taken care of,’’ said Yura Gulivatyy, 16, who was one of the clean-up’s student leaders. “When we finally did something about it, it gave me  a great feeling of kaif,” mused Gulivatyy,  using the teenage Ukrainian slang word for euphoria. “We are living in the twenty-first century,  in a period of globalism when it’s important for different people to get closer to one another,” he added.

Bernard Dichek

Reflections from a Cave

Jerusalem Report pdf Reflections

Reflections from the Cave


Emmanuel Anati, 84, is addressing an annual conference of psychoanalysts in Sicily. An eclectic scholar, world-renowned for his expertise in archeology, anthropology and pre-historic art, Anati,  for years, has been invited by this elite group to share his observations about various subject matters. This year, the topic is solitude.

“My dear colleagues,” begins Anati. He pauses and then continues. “For the first time, I am going to talk to you about something personal.”

This brief dramatic moment is included in the epilogue to the new Israeli documentary Shalom Italia (Hebrew version: Three Brothers and a Cave). Emmanuel, in the course of his lecture, will harken back to his childhood in Italy. He has just completed a journey with his two younger brothers in which the three  visited the places where they grew up and hid during the Holocaust – places they had not been to in some 70 years.

Significantly, filmmaker Tamar Tal shows only the first sentence of Emmanuel’s lecture. This is in keeping with Tal’s restrained film-making style in which she resists the temptation to indulge in melodrama.

Instead, she weaves an intriguing character study of the three brothers around their late-life road trip that is rich with humor, yet unspoiled by a single maudlin moment.

The idea for making the film, Tal explains, grew out of a casual comment made by her father-in-law Reuven over a Friday night family dinner in Mazkeret Batya.

“Bubi [Reuven Anati], the youngest of the three brothers, mentioned that he was headed to Italy where he was determined to find the cave where he and his family hid during the Holocaust. His two older brothers, Andrea and Emmanuel, after a bit of convincing, had agreed to go with him,” recalls Tal, adding that she then had to convince the three to let her and cinematographer Emanuelle Mayer come along.

The Anati brothers consented, and a month later the five flew to Rome where they squeezed into a Fiat Panda and drove into the Tuscany countryside.

shalom italia_3FR.jpg comp

The brothers had never before traveled together without their wives and children. They also had never tried to find their old family home in Florence or talked very much, among themselves or with anyone else, about what happened to them when they were children.

The Anati family, headed by Hugo, a well-established architect, and Elza had lived in Florence for generations. In 1942, as Jews were being rounded up and deported to Auschwitz, Hugo and Elza, two grandmothers and their four sons, including Gabriel who died 20 years ago, fled into the countryside. During the next three years, they moved from one hiding place to another.

The dramatic structure of the film revolves around the attempt of Emmanuel, Andrea and Bubi to locate one hiding place in particular – a cave, high up in the mountains, that was their last safe refuge.

They wander around the forest, equipped with nothing more than picnic baskets, examining every possible lead. Where exactly was the cave? What was it like living there? Is it possible that there really wasn’t a cave, after all?

It soon becomes clear that whether or not they find the cave is not of paramount importance.

“They have become like they were as children again. And, now, despite all of their differences, the brothers can decide if they want to accept each other’s story as it is,” observes Tal.

As they climb, talk, argue, laugh, gaze into the breathtaking Tuscany scenery, and partake of local wines, cheeses, tomatoes and salamis, we begin to get a picture of three very different personalities with three very dissimilar recollections of the past.

shalom italia_4FR.jpg comp

Serious-minded Emmanuel, who was 14 years old when the family began its odyssey, is skeptical about many of the stories the others seem to recall. He speaks about the past with a sense of loneliness.

Andrea, cheerful in demeanor, 12 at the time, recalls playing Robin Hood with bows and arrows in the woods. “We had fun in the Holocaust,” he says unabashedly. He often is seen trotting up and down the mountainside ahead of the others.

Easy-going Bubi, 4 at the time, doesn’t really have too many first-hand memories but draws on stories he has heard from others. He initiated the trip and he is the most curious.

“What really interested me in making this film was exploring the way memories influence our lives,” says Tal. “I tried to focus on what happens when a group of siblings relive their childhood and unravel strands of memories. I wanted to let the viewer be in that moment with them and observe the effect it has on them.”

The film doesn’t include on-camera interviews or other didactic documentary techniques; instead, it emphasizes contemplative dialogues, melancholy and humorous sequence and lyrical renditions of landscapes as the brothers slowly come to terms with each other.

Tal lets the viewers draw their own conclusions about the nature of each individual and how they were affected by their memories. In the course of our interview, however, as she describes each character then and now, a clear connection emerges between past and present.

Emmanuel, who was forced away from his studies and friends at an early age, has built his career around academic study and seems most at ease wandering around the isolated desert landscape near his Mitzpe Ramon home in the Negev.

Andrea, the nature child, now in his eighties, continues to be a nature lover, spending his weekends pulling himself up and down mountains with climbing ropes.

Bubi, is a bit like both Andrea and Emmanuel. Like Andrea, he is immersed in nature and has built a career designing natural science parks around the world. Like Emmanuel, he was not willing – until now – to face the past, and previously did not attempt to venture near the family home in Florence, even though he spends half the year living in Italy.

Shalom Italia is Tal’s second feature-length documentary. Her previous film, Life in Stills, which portrays a grandmother and grandson in their struggle to preserve a family photo business, reflects the filmmaking style that Tal continues with in Shalom Italia ‒ an in-depth character study that revolves around dramatic events without dwelling on the events themselves. Life in Stills won both the Ophir (Israeli Oscar) and DocAviv  awards for Best Documentary in 2012.

Tal, 36, studied photography and filmmaking at Tel Aviv’s Camera Obscura School for the Arts.  She points out that an important influence on her work was the late David Perlov, one of the first Israeli filmmakers to bring a poetic auteur style to documentaries.

“His films taught me the importance of establishing and sharing your point of view with the audience. He also had a way of letting the audience be aware of how you are making the film,” says Tal, noting that she avoids manipulating the events that she is filming. “I try to simply document situations as they occur naturally. To me, it’s worth filming for an entire day in order to come away with just a single moment if that moment says something authentic about the characters.”

It took Tal more than three years to complete Shalom Italia ‒ in part because of the meticulous effort she put into the editing, collaborating with experienced film editor Boaz Lion in 120 editing sessions and, in part, because it took time to raise sufficient funding  to complete the film with high quality post-production elements such as original music and sound mixing.

She succeeded in finding German co-producers Tina Leeb and Jurgen Kleinig, and, together with Israel’s Yes Docu channel and the Makor Foundation, cobbled together a budget that is in line with international productions.

The result is a compelling, finely honed cinematic work that riveted the packed audience that recently viewed it at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.

Most Israeli documentaries are seldom shown outside of television broadcasts and film festivals, but Shalom Italia has continued to draw crowds for weekly theatrical showings for the past four months. The film had its international premiere at the AFI Festival in Washington in June and will soon begin world wide distribution.

Tal has already started her next project, a documentary series for the Yes Docu channel about women pilots in the Israeli Air Force. The project marks the first time the army has allowed cameras to film the pilot-training program.  Given Tal’s previous films, it’s likely that viewers will soon get a profound look at what this experience is really like.

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Bernard Dichek

The Jerusalem Report

Oct. 31, 2016







Salad Bowl for the Desert

Salad Bowl pdf

Salad Bowl for the Desert


An Israeli start-up is enabling Beduin families, without any agricultural training, to grow their own fresh vegetables in the harsh, arid conditions of the Negev desert.

Lakiya, Negev…

“These tomatoes have a much better fragrance and taste than the ones we buy in the market,” says Siham Abu Salame, as she opens the tent-like canvas window to a mini-greenhouse in the dusty courtyard of her home in the northern Negev town of Lakiya.  She proudly points out a dozen or so cherry tomato plants sprouting from the soil-less water container inside the  five-meter square structure known as the Living Box. On an adjacent wall outside, a small solar energy panel provides electricity to power the hydroponic pumping system.

Abu Salame, a divorced mother of six  is one of several Beduin participating in a pilot study being conducted to see if families living in low-resource environments can use the technology to achieve food security.

The Living Box is the brainchild of two young Israeli entrepreneurs, chemical engineer Nitzan Solan and marine biologist Moti Cohen, both hydroponics experts in their early thirties. Cohen, who serves as an adviser to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has helped the FAO develop hydroponic systems for farmers in Ghana, Ethiopia and Gaza. One of the Gaza projects, which Cohen continues to support with online advice, involves a Palestinian farmer commercially growing lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, cabbage and onions on the rooftop of the six-story apartment building in which he lives.

“Working on the Gaza project and others in Africa made me think about ways to lower the cost of hydroponic systems so  they could be readily used by individual families in the developing world,” says Cohen.

The Living Box is the result. Together with CEO Solan, Cohen, two years ago, developed a prototype for a ready-to-assemble kit that could be mass-produced, sold at a low price and easily operated by people without previous agricultural experience.

“Two of the biggest problems faced by many people in the developing world are a lack of water and a lack of arable land,” says Solan, noting that hydroponic systems require only about 20 percent of the water used in regular farming. “Our system is also compact enough to be set up on a rooftop or balcony or small yard,” she adds, saying a single Living Box can provide all the vegetables a family requires for its daily needs.

Even though the Living Box has been designed to reach some of the poorest people in the world, Cohen and Solan believe the product can be developed and sold on a profit-making basis.

“Our business model is based on selling the units to either NGOs or individual families through micro-finance programs. Once families have successfully operated a single Living Box to meet their own food needs, they will be able to purchase additional units in order to grow additional vegetables to sell in their neighborhood and generate income,” explains Cohen.

In addition to a grant from the philanthropic UK Pears Foundation, the Living Box venture has attracted seed funding of $400,000 from private investors and is currently engaged in its first round of major fund-raising.

Both Cohen and Solan are passionate advocates of hydroponic farming. Cohen has also set up Living Green, a company that promotes urban agriculture and sells a variety of hydroponic systems to individuals and businesses across Israel. In addition, Cohen has partnered with the owners of Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center, and set up a commercial hydroponic greenhouse on the rooftop of the iconic shopping mall. The company currently supplies salad greens to more than 20 of Tel Aviv’s leading restaurants and food stores.

“We are able to produce vegetables year-round and deliver them fresh, daily to customers located within a very short radius,” says Cohen, noting that the Dizengoff Center greenhouse currently produces more than 15,000 heads of lettuce and other greens a month.

“In recent years there has been a growing public awareness of the health and environmental advantages of growing vegetables through hydroponic systems,” says Cohen, noting that hydroponic systems can grow vegetables without the use of chemical sprays.

Cohen points out that the Living Box system will also bring these advantages to users in the developing world, but says the company is aware of the need for local partners. “We realize that before introducing  a new technology in a culture different than our own, it’s important to understand the social and cultural outlook of the community involved,” he adds.

For that reason, the Beduin pilot study is being conducted in collaboration with Sidreh, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the welfare of Beduin women.

“Because we have been working with Beduin women on desert vegetable garden projects for some time, the Living Box model fit naturally into our existing program,” says Melanie Atrash, a team leader with the Sidreh organization.

She points out that about half of the Negev’s 200,000 Beduin residents live in what are known as unrecognized towns ‒ areas that are unconnected to the government water systems or electrical grid. Consequently, the living conditions in the unrecognized towns very much resemble those of the developing world.

“We didn’t think, however, that it would be a good idea to start with the communities living in the tough conditions of the unrecognized towns,” she says. “Instead, we decided to see if the new [Living Box] system would first work in recognized towns such as Lakiya where people are connected to the water and electrical infrastructures.”

If the initial pilot study succeeds in Lakiya, Atrash expects that the project will be able to expand to the outlying desert regions.

Though it is too early for Atrash to evaluate the pilot study,  she says she has been impressed with the results so far, noting that the women “gain a sense of empowerment out of being able to work independently and produce their own vegetables.”

Cohen also is pleased with the initial feedback he has received from the Beduin users.

“We believe that if we can succeed in the hot climate of the Negev desert, we will be able to bring the Living Box to communities in hot regions anywhere in the developing world,” he says.

Bernard Dichek

The Jerusalem Report Aug. 22 2016





Giving Sight to the Blind

giving sight to the blind


One of Efi Cohen Arazi’s strongest childhood memories is looking after his blind grandmother is.  “I remember how hard it was for her to be totally dependent on someone else to get her a drink or move around our home,” recalls Cohen Arazi, noting that it was only in his grandmother’s elderly years that she lost her eyesight. The reason for her blindness was age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a disease that every year damages the vision of an estimated 200,000 people in the U.S. alone.

Nano Retina, a startup co-founded by Cohen Arazi in 2009,  has developed a technology that promises to restore eyesight to AMD and other visually impaired patients. “We expect the first patient to be implanted with our product in 2016,” says Cohen Arazi, noting that the assembly of the product began in early March at a semiconductor manufacturing facility in northern Israel.

The Nano Retina technology looks and works like a bionic body part in a science fiction movie. It consists  of a tiny microchip that is implanted into the eye;  and it is powered by wireless electrical energy transmitted from a battery in an accompanying pair of glasses worn by the patient. The microchip is  about one quarter of the size of a postage stamp and  operates like a miniature camera converting light images into neural messages. The brain decodes  the neural signals with a visual clarity of about  600 pixels, a quality similar to that of some  early stage digital cameras. The quality is expected to reach 2000 pixels in the second-generation version.

“Inserting the chip into the eye only requires a relatively simple 20 minute operation,” says Cohen Arazi, holding a sample of the tiny product  on the tip of his finger. He then puts on the accompanying  glasses and sums up the product’s impact. “It allows people to become independent again.”

As the proprietary technology developed by NanoRetina enables disrupted nerves to communicate with each other again, the company is exploring other applications including spinal repair.

The financial side of the Nano Retina story is in many ways just as interesting as the technological one. The company is backed by American, Israeli and Chinese investors.

The main Israeli investor is Rainbow Medical, an investment and management company that has founded 12 medical device companies since it was founded in 2008 by Cohen Arazi together with two iconic figures of the Israeli business scene, Leon Recanati, scion of an Israeli banking dynasty and the head of GlenRock Israel,  and Yossi Gross, a serial medical device entrepreneur.  Prior to becoming the CEO of Rainbow Medical, Cohen Arazi had served in senior management positions in Israeli, Swiss and American healthcare companies, including a stint as VP at California-based Amgen, one of the largest biotech companies in the world.

The American investor  and co-founder is Jim Von Ehr, a nanotechnology expert and the founder of Texas-based Zyvex Labs.  “Yossi and I met Jim at a conference in Dallas where  he gave us  a tour of his R&D facilities,” recalls Cohen Arazi. “After we saw the unique potential of his nanotechnology platform, we put off our flight back to Israel and stayed on in Dallas to work with him on the Nano Retina concept.”

The Chinese investor in NanoRetina is the Ping An insurance company, a huge enterprise employing 600,000 workers and managing more than $500 billion in assets.  Ping An’s investment came as the result of years of efforts by Cohen Arazi to find ways to collaborate with China.

He points out that there is an excellent strategic fit between Israel and China in the area of medical device technology.

“They have a rapidly growing market, which includes a rapidly-expanding middle class that already exceeds 300 million people, “he observes, adding that the Chinese government has committed $70 billion to healthcare development in its  current 5-year economic plan.

On the Israeli side, he notes that the Chinese hold Israeli technology and culture in high esteem. “But in order to work with them you have to be there,” he says, explaining that he has made numerous trips to China and worked hard to get to know their way of life.

When asked if he is concerned about Israeli products being illegally copied, he points out that NanoRetina and other technologies in the Rainbow Medical portfolio are all “super complex and technologically very challenging.”

In addition, he points out that Rainbow Medical continues to keep control of its assets. Unlike the recent controversial Israel-China deal in which a Chinese company acquired 75 percent ownership of Tnuva, Israel’s flagship dairy company, Ping An remains a minority Nano Retina shareholder .

For Rainbow Medical, the Chinese investment in Nano Retina also represented a turning point in Rainbow Medical’s collaborations with China. Since then Chinese investors have taken a stake in another  portfolio company Gluesense, the developer of an implant for monitoring diabetes conditions.

“An unwanted outcome of the Western influence on China, has been a shift towards eating more wheat products and fried foods such as doughnuts,” observes Cohen Arazi. “Consequently, the upsurge in diabetes.”

But the most significant development has been a  recent $25 million investment by Chinese investors in Rainbow Medical itself, aimed at helping Rainbow nurture existing and new portfolio companies. In addition to Ping An, other Chinese investors include ZTE, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a major Chinese financial management company and several Chinese venture capital funds.

“The Chinese are eager to diversify their investments and see Israel as an attractive place,” says Cohen Arazi, adding that Rainbow has opened a full-time office in Shanghai headed by a local Chinese national.

The $25 million investment in Rainbow Medical came just a few weeks ahead of the BrainTech Conference held in Tel Aviv in mid-March. There were many young Israeli inventors and would-be entrepreneurs in the audience when Cohen Arazi outlined Rainbow Medical’s plans.

“There are a lot of bright Israeli scientists out there with ideas worthy of commercialization,” says Cohen Arazi. With Rainbow Medical’s  model of low-cost and innovative Israeli R&D being combined with  investment capital from all over the world, it’s clear that  the company can be expected to establish many new startups in the days to come.

Sidebar 1: In the Right Place At The Right Time

Ingrid Ye was in the right place at the right time. At a time when many young Chinese professionals set their eyes on America or Europe to broaden their experience, Ye decided in 2012 to pursue an MBA at Tel Aviv University. “I had just read the Start-Up Nation book about Israel and I thought that coming to Israel might provide me with opportunities in a place uncrowded with Chinese,” she tells The Jerusalem Report. While studying at TAU, she met the managers of Rainbow Medical just as the Israeli firm was  looking for someone familiar with Chinese culture to facilitate collaborations.  She began to work for Rainbow and today heads the Israeli company’s office in Shanghai. “Until a few years ago, there was not much activity between Chinese and Israelis in the medical device sector, but now there are delegations coming and going between the two countries all the time,” she observes. She points out that one of the challenges of her job is getting Chinese companies to make their first investment in Israel. “They have been investing in American and European companies for quite awhile, but once they see that working here is actually quite safe they are able to see the potential of Israeli innovation.” She notes that by supporting Israeli R&D the Chinese investors expect to be able to help bring products to large international markets. “For the Israeli industry this will lead to the creation of more jobs as Israeli professionals support international marketing and distribution efforts.”

Sidebar 2: From Startup Nation to Brain Nation

Turning Israel  into a worldwide brain technology hub is the latest idea launched by Israel’s former president and serial visionary, Shimon Peres. “We want to go from being the Startup Nation to being the Brain Nation,” said Peres at the Israel Brain Technologies conference in Tel Aviv in March. Conference Chairman Dr. Rafi Gidron pointed out that more than 100 Israeli companies currently have technologies in development or use for brain-related conditions. Among them: Lifegraph which uses smartphones for monitoring the condition of psychiatric patients, NINISpeech, developer of a device for helping stutterers improve their speaking fluency, and Myndlift, which uses neuro-feedback to help ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder and Hyperactivity Disorder) patients improve their concentration.


Bernard Dichek





Cinema of Reconciliation

December1- 38-41.compressed


Cinema of reconciliation

Bernard Dichek Trent, Italy


“I’d like you to be the first Israeli to see my film,” says an Iranian filmmaker, handing over a DVD copy of his feature-length motion picture to an Israeli moviemaker who arrived at a cinema festival in Italy just after the feature’s screening. The film, “The Fourth Child”, tells the story of an Iranian aid worker who rescues an African baby in Somalia.

Wait a minute. Stop. Rewind. A goodwill gesture between an Iranian and an Israeli? An Iranian humanitarian mission in Africa? What is going on here?

Actually it’s the 17th Religion Today film festival in Trent, Italy, an annual event that brings together Christian, Muslim and Jewish moviemakers from around the world while showcasing films that deal with inter-faith dialogue, cross-cultural understanding and spirituality.

“Trent is really an appropriate place for a festival of this kind,” the festival’s artistic director Katia Malatesta, tells The Jerusalem Report noting that the northern Italian city was the site of a famous 16th century gathering that tried to heal the rift between Protestantism and Catholicism.

“The Council of Trent may have failed in its mission, but the idea of reconciliation seems to live on in what we are trying to do here,” adds Malatesta, a journalist and playwright whose original musical production about inter-faith cooperation among World War I chaplains premiered at this year’s festival.

Of the 20 countries represented at the festival, the largest number of films, interestingly enough, came from Iran and Israel.

Since Israeli films are not shown in Iran, the festival provided several of the six participating Iranian filmmakers with their first exposure to Israeli cinema. Similarly, since coverage of Iran in the Israeli media focuses on the political sphere, many of the Israeli participants gained insights into aspects of Iranian society they are unfamiliar with. One of those facets, they were surprised to learn, is the large contribution Iran makes to humanitarian aid in Africa. The mission depicted in “The Fourth Child” stars Iranian actress Mahtab Keramati who, in real life, has worked for UNICEF.

Another Iranian film, a short drama called “Rangan 99”, would seem to break down ethnic stereotypes, even in the eyes of Iranian viewers.

Set during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq conflict, the movie opens with an Iraqi prisoner-of-war being led through the battlefield by an Iranian soldier. When they trip on a landmine, both protagonists respond to the ensuing calamity in a humane way that makes them both come across as heroes. The young Iranian director Tiyam Yabandeh, 27, tells his story without the use of any dialogue and with a visual flair that calls to mind the works of Iran’s Academy Award-winning director Asghar Farhadi. Clearly, Yabandeh has a great filmmaking career ahead of him.

Another feature screened at the festival that tells its story with poetic cinematic language is
“Regina”, a documentary about Regina Jonas, the first woman in the world to be ordained as a rabbi.

The film depicts Jonas’s struggle against the Berlin rabbinical patriarchy in the 1930s, as well as her tireless work as a rabbi before she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Jonas later perished in Auschwitz, leaving behind only a single photograph and a suitcase of letters that weren’t discovered until the 1970s.

Undeterred by the challenge of working with these limited materials, Hungarian filmmaker Diana Groo skillfully weaves together early 1900s German archival footage in a novel frame-by-frame slow-motion method with voiceover readings of Jonas’s letters. In doing so, Groo is able to suggest that viewers are seeing life in Germany as Jonas would have seen it, leading to an associative emotional impact reminiscent of another stylistically innovative archival-based film, “Children of the Sun”, Israeli filmmaker Ran Tal’s 2007 epic about kibbutz life.

Seemingly tailor-made for the festival, “The Jewish Cardinal” is a biopic about Jewish-born Jean-Marie Lustiger who converted to Christianity as a youth and eventually became the Archbishop of Paris. Lustiger continued to maintain close relations with his Jewish family, including his Polish-born, Holocaust-survivor father, while at the same time becoming a confidante of Polish-born Pope John Paul II.

In the movie, French filmmaker Ilan Duran Cohen explores how Lustiger wrestles with his dual identity. Lustiger must deal with the political implications of events ranging from Carmelite nuns who want to build a monastery at Auschwitz to his father’s dying request that his son recite Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, at his funeral.

Cohen also endeavors to break down the view many people have of cardinals and popes as stiff, one-dimensional caricatures. Using a daring bit of poetic license, he shows Lustiger and John Paul racing against each other in a swimming pool, both clad only in their underwear.

Not all the films screened at the festival paint a rosy picture of inter-faith relations, however. The Spanish film “A Forbidden God” tells the story of the Catholic Claretian missionaries murdered during the Spanish Civil War.

My film, an Israeli documentary called “The Kalusz I Thought I Knew” depicts anti-Semitic beliefs passed down by the Church over centuries. In the film, when an 85-year-old Ukrainian farmer is asked why Hitler wanted  to kill the Jews,  he replies, “The Jews had to be punished because they crucified Jesus Christ.”

Raising the subject of anti-Semitism at a film festival in Trent is especially fitting given the notorious event that took place there in 1475 when the dead body of a two-year-old Christian child named Simon was found during Easter Week and rumors spread that the child was murdered by the Jews so his blood could be used in the baking of the Passover matza. As a result, the entire Jewish community was arrested and forced to confess under torture. Fifteen Jewish men were burned at the stake.

This seminal event inspired accusations of ritual murders that spread to villages across Europe  and led to pogroms that would continue for centuries. Meanwhile, Simon was venerated by the local Catholic community and a chapel built in his honor.

Today, that chapel, which is located just around the corner from the Teatro San Marco movie theater where the Religion Today film festival is held, is now a private art gallery. On the ceiling of the building, a colorful fresco depicting the alleged murder of Simon can still be seen. In the life-size painting, turban-clad, bearded Jews strangle an angelic-looking young boy as blood is drained from his naked thighs.

In 1992 the Catholic Church finally took steps to denounce the legacy of the Simon story and, in coordination with the Jewish community, placed a reconciliatory plaque in the center of town.

The city of Trent, even more so than by installing the plaque, seems to be making amends through the Religion Today festival – a unique role model other international film festivals could do well to emulate.

In Israel, the country’s three major film festivals (Tel Aviv’s DocAviv, the Jerusalem International Film Festival and the Haifa International Film Festival) regularly showcase films dealing with Jewish heritage, but none have a tradition of curating films dealing specifically with other faiths or with inter-faith dialogue.

Only the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival can be credited with taking a step in this direction. In recent years, the festival has screened a selection of inter-faith films culled from Trent’s Religion Today festival. But there are limitations to how far the Jewish Film Festival can go in its efforts to facilitate reconciliation, Jewish Film Festival artistic director Daniella Tourgeman tells The Report.

“Unless Iranian films have a foreign co-producer, usually European, they aren’t available for distribution in Israel,” explains Tourgeman, who also served on the international jury of this year’s Religion Today festival.

She notes that as neither “The Fourth Child” nor “Rangan 99” has foreign co-producers, this year’s Jewish Film Festival, scheduled for December 16-23, won’t be able to obtain screening copies. Viewers in Israel will have to wait for their chance  to see these remarkable films.


The Stories Remain

The question caught me off guard. “How do you feel about the Germans today? Do you hate them?” It came up in discussions with the audience after both screenings of my film at the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival in Greece last month. As questions often reveal quite a bit about the questioners, I really shouldn’t have been surprised, considering that the Greeks, non-Jews as well as Jews, had suffered bitterly at the hands of the Nazis. That bitterness still seems to be more in the air there than even in Israel, in part, because the subject is not frequently vented publicly in Greece, and in part, because of the resentment many Greeks feel today towards the Germans for the current economic crisis. But my film doesn’t really deal with the Germans, though it does touch on the Ukrainian collaboration. Called The Kalusz I Thought I Knew and featured in a section of the festival dealing with the topic of memory, the documentary tells the story of my search for my father’s house, and how the images that filled my childhood from my father’s stories contrast with the humdrum events of life in a small present-day Ukrainian town. In Israel, at discussions following screenings at the Haifa Film Festival and elsewhere, the topic of personal animosity hadn’t come up. My simple answer to the Greek questioners was that I don’t. But there’s more to it than that. My main conclusion is that it’s not really a matter of hating or not hating. It’s a matter of telling the story — and letting the chips fall where they may. It’s only now that I realize how important it was for my father to keep on telling his story, back in the 1950′s and 60′s when public discussion about the ‘war’ as it was called in those days was taboo. Long before the terms ‘shoah’ and ‘holocaust’ were coined, a decade or two before the American TV series Holocaust, Elie Wiesel’s bestsellers, the movie Schindler’s List and Holocaust memorials and everything else that put the subject on the map, my father kept on telling his stories to anyone that would listen, even if most people didn’t want to hear it and many didn’t believe him. And it was only in making my film, and thereby retelling his stories, that I came to realize that no matter how devastating the actual tragedy was, events are always finite and limited in time. Stories, on the other hand, can have a kind of immeasurable impact, and aren’t limited in time. So there I was in Greece, about 70 years after the event, telling through a film subtitled into Greek,  a language my father didn’t speak, the story of how my father was put on a train with two of his younger brothers. The plan was for him to jump first and the others to follow immediately afterwards. He jumped out but he never saw his brothers again. That story is a story I will keep on telling. And it doesn’t really matter if they are the descendants of survivors, and find something that resonates with their family story, or if they find something that makes them uncomfortable, as a Ukrainian member of the audience did. My father and most of his generation are no longer with us. The war is over. But the stories remain.

5/12/2014 The stories remain | Bernard Dichek | Ops & Blogs | TheTimes of Israel 1/2 The stories remain BERNARD DICHEK APRIL 27, 2014, 9:44 AM © 2014 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED