Flashback Friday: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The Indiana Jones film series is one that keeps on giving. Forty-plus years old, the story of historian/adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) has kept audiences enraptured for generations.

The 4th movie in the narrative, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) takes place in 1938. Indy’s father, Professor Henry Jones Sr. (Sean Connery) disappears while looking for the Holy Grail. On top of searching for his father, Indy, with the help of Elsa (Alison Doody), has to stop the Nazis from getting their hands on the grail and its power.

This movie is so much fun. It is a heart-pounding, blood-pumping, roller coaster of a ride. Ford and Connery have incredible chemistry as on-screen father and son.

My only complaint (which, as I spoke of in my last post), is that Doody as Elsa (who does not have a last name) is a film version of the “girl of the week”. Just like Connery’s other well-known series, James Bond, there is a new female love interest/co-adventurer in every story while the male lead remains as is.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Jews Don’t Count Book Review

Intersectionality and progress go hand in hand. We cannot make this country and this world better if we only speak to or include certain groups of people.

David Baddiel‘s 2021 book, Jews Don’t Count, takes this racist concept and drops it squarely in the lap of the reader. He speaks about antisemitism on both the right and the left, referring to certain politicians in both the US and the UK. On the right, we are not accepted because we are Jews. On the left, we are seen as the oppressor because the image of the Jew is often of one of Ashkenazi descent (i.e. White). And of course, the issue of Israel is packed in and used as needed.

He also takes on Jewface and the controversy of a non-Jewish performer playing a Jewish character. Particularly when this character is a full-on stereotype without the nuances and humanity that are given to the non-Jewish character.

The problem he points to is loud and clear: if we are to move forward and create a better world, all groups must be included. No one should be left out.

There are only a handful of books that I think everyone should read. Jews Don’t Count is one of them. Especially those of us who are fighting for a future in which we are all equal and judged on our merits, not on our labels.

There was one line that has stayed with me. At this stage of his life, Baddiel is an atheist. He stated that if he were a hidden Jew who was outed during World War II, he would still be killed because he is Jewish. Nothing else would have mattered to the Nazis.

A couple of recent headlines perfectly summed up this idea. Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro (whom I disagree with about everything) made the following statement about Reform Jews:

“What do you think about what former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer once said: that Israel should put its political fortune in the Evangelist community rather than in the Reform Jewish community [in the US]?” Segal asked Shapiro, who at just 38 years of age has written 11 books.

“As a matter of blunt fact, that’s true,” Shapiro answered. “It’s an unfortunate reality of life in the United States that Reform Judaism, as a branch, does not see Jewish identity in a serious way, as central.

“It’s a very simple rubric for me: If as a Jew, your values are more in line with same-sex marriage, transgenderism and abortion than they are with, for example, the safety and security of the State of Israel – I have serious questions about how you think about yourself as a Jew,” he continued, receiving a standing ovation.

Then Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano (who is also on the political right) said the following about Shapiro:

“We don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish. We don’t want people who are, you know, nonbelievers, agnostic, whatever. This is an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country.” He also added: “Ben Shapiro is not welcome in the movement unless he repents and accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior

It doesn’t matter to Mastriano and his ilk that he and Shapiro have the same beliefs when it comes to this country’s identity and future. It only matters that Ben Shapiro is a Jew.

The only way to stop this kind of thinking is to stand together. Until we do, the ideals that our founders believed in will be just that.

Do I recommend it? Without a doubt.

Jews Don’t Count is available wherever books are sold.

Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind Book Review

After the Holocaust and World War II ended, many who survived the Nazi occupation wanted nothing more than to move on this with their lives. This meant keeping their wartime experiences a secret from the post-war families.

Author Julie Metz is one of these people. The daughter of a child Holocaust survivor, she knew almost nothing about her late mother’s early years until she discovered a book that opened the door to the past. Her 2022 memoir, Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind, tells the story of Metz’s journey to find out what her mother went through as a child.

Growing up in Vienna, Eva’s childhood ended when the Nazis invaded. She would eventually arrive in America as a refugee, but not before going through what no child should experience. The book is a tale of trauma, survival, and circumstances that would test the strongest among us.

This book is really good. Metz has not only perfectly captured the emotions of her mother as a young girl, but also goes on a journey of her own while walking in Eva/Eve’s footsteps.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Eva and Eve: A Search for My Mother’s Lost Childhood and What a War Left Behind is available wherever books are sold.

The Book of Lost Names Review

During wartime, there are multiple ways of fighting an invading enemy. One way is doing combat on the battlefield. The other is joining the resistance and fighting in ways that are not obvious to the naked eye.

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel, was published last year It starts in 2005. Eva Traube Abrams is a semi-retired librarian living in Florida. While putting her books away, she is drawn to an article in the New York Times. Within the article is the image of a book that Eva has not seen in decades-The Book of Lost Names. It describes the libraries that were looted by the Nazis and the attempt by modern-day authorities to return the books to their rightful owners. The book in the photograph contains a code that researchers are unable to crack. But Eva knows its secret.

The narrative flashes back to 1942. Eva was then a young woman living in Paris with her whole life ahead of her. But because she and her family are Jewish, there is a target on all of their backs. When her father is taken away, Eva and her mother escape to a small town in rural France that is not yet under Nazi control.

Joining the resistance, she starts forging documents for Jewish children who are trying to get to Switzerland. But this kind of work is dangerous in both the physical and emotional sense. Eva starts to fall for Remy, a young man with a handsome face and a charming demeanor. To save the real identities of the young ones she is trying to save, their real names are recorded in The Book of Lost Names. This work becomes even more important when Remy disappears and their network is betrayed.

As usual, Harmel writes in a way that is entertaining, readable and teaches the audience without hitting them over the head. As the main character, Eva is a compelling heroine. The story is absorbing and exciting. My problem is that the romance overwhelms the narrative. It almost felt like the love story took prominence over the war. I get that Eva is young and falling in love is part of being young, but I wish the emphasis was a bit more on the danger of their work.

Do I recommend it? I am leaning toward yes.

The Book of Lost Names is available wherever books are sold.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II Book Review

Behind every fictional war story is a real narrative that is sometimes more interesting than its invented counterpart.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II, by Dr. Leah Garrett, was published in 2021.

The book starts in the middle of World War II. It looks like the Allies are fighting a losing battle. In England, a plan is concocted to create a commando of unlikely recruits: young Jewish men who are refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe. None of them have had any previous military training. Most have been classified as “enemy aliens” due to being born in either Germany or Austria. In addition to being suspected of possibly spying for the other side, these young men have lost everything: their families, their homes, and everything/everyone they held near and dear.

Known as the X Troop, they take on new identities, are trained in secret, and have one goal: to defeat the Nazis. For these soldiers: the fight is personal. They are fighting for their homeland, fighting for the ones they love, and for justice.

The best way to describe the narrative is sort of real-life Inglorious Basterds. It was an amazing book. Dr. Garrett writes in a way that is accessible, readable, and, most importantly, a history lesson we should all learn. It reinforces the idea that European Jews were not just lambs to the slaughter. They fought in whatever capacity they could. From a personal stance, it gives me hope that there are good people out there, even in the midst of antisemitism, hate, and prejudice.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II is available wherever books are sold.

P.S. Today is Memorial Day in the States. May the men and women who gave their lives for this nation (even with its imperfections) forever be a blessing. Z”L

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The World Didn’t Care Then & They Don’t Care Now: The Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Destruction of the Al Aqsa Mosque

Silence speaks volumes and actions speak louder than words. People can say whatever they want, but words mean nothing.

Tuesday was the 79th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. When the world turned its back on Europe’s Jews, it gave the Nazis carte blanche permission to persecute, starve, torture, and murder my Jewish brethren. The only way we could survive is if we saved ourselves. It was a f*ck you to those who decided that we were not worth fighting for.

In the years since then, Jews (and Israel by extension) have had to keep the figurative middle finger raised. Because once again, we have been told by actions that we should remain sheep to the slaughter.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I believe in the sacredness of the sites and the holidays within my faith. Earlier today, militant Palestinians decided that one of the holiest sites in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, was to be used not as a site of prayer, but of a battle. This is during Ramadan, which I think deserves a little more respect. Not only did they attempt to physically destroy the building, but they used it as a base to attack innocent people.

In my mind, that is akin to Jewish worshippers destroying the Western Wall during Yom Kippur to spite our neighbors. It is something I cannot comprehend.

Given that the basic concept of Jewish history is that we are still here despite many attempts at assimilation and extermination, I personally think that it’s time to not give a shit. If living means fighting for ourselves when no one else will, so be it.

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Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History Book Review

It is easy to denounce comic books or graphic novels as a form of childish entertainment or stories that are needlessly sexual or violent. But they can be a way to reach an audience who does not read traditional literature.

Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, was published back in 1986. Written by Art Spiegelman, it is his parent’s story of survival during the Holocaust told in graphic novel form. Both the victims and perpetrators are represented by animals. The Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats. The narrative is as follows: The protagonist goes to visit his father. Their relationship, up to this point, has not been easy. The conversation turns to his parent’s experience during the war. Over the course of the book, his father tells his story. It starts off as an ordinary life, goes through tribulations that would break many, and ends with hope.

After reading this book, I now understand why some people want to ban it. Unlike other books on this subject, it is brutal in a way that words alone cannot convey. The images force the reader to confront the truth of this time in history and the savagery that was forced upon both the living and the dead.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses Review

When we talk about the Holocaust, we forget that Jews were not the only ones targeted for persecution and murder. Among the other undesirables were people with disabilities or severe illness.

The new Netflix short, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, follows Peter (Knox Gibson), a young man who was born without one of his limbs. When Nazi officers start banging down the door, Peter has two choices. He can wait for the inevitable, or run with everything that is within him.

Though this movie is less than 15 minutes, it packs a punch that is not forgotten anytime soon. The courage that this boy has rivals many adults who are twice or three times his age. I was equally rooting and grieving for him, knowing that Peter was being denied the opportunity of being a child, simply because of a twist of fate.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is available for streaming on Netflix.

The 2022 Olympics & the Uyghur Torch Bearer: History Repeats Itself

Human history is cyclical. The details may change, but the general narrative is static.

As is standard practice at the beginning of every Olympic season, the games are opened by a couple of torchbearers. As I write this, this year’s competition is held in Beijing, China. According to many journalists and media outlets, this nation has a long list of human rights abuses.

Among them is the treatment of the Uyghurs. In an attempt to quell the criticism and prove the rest of the world wrong, a Uyghur athlete was one of the competitors chosen to light the torch during the opening ceremonies. If the Chinese government thought that this would silence its critics, they were wrong.

Eighty-six years ago, Berlin was the host city for the Olympics. Like the Chinese government, the Nazi-run German government needed to put on a good face for visiting contenders and officials. They did so by “allowing” fencer Helene Mayer to compete. Her father was Jewish, her mother was not. According to the Nazi racial Laws, Mayer was a mischling. Though she was classified as a Jew and had Jewish lineage via her father, Mayer did not consider herself to be Jewish.

If history is any indicator, we have an opportunity to save lives and prevent another Holocaust. The question is, what is the rest of the world going to do? Are they going to sit idly by while innocent people are being slaughtered? Or will they step up and make it clear that what the Chinese are doing is unacceptable?

Only time will tell, but I hope that they will finally do the right thing.

The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal Book Review

We all grow up with tales of the family members who have come before us. The question is, what is fact and what is fiction?

Journalist Silvia Foti grew up with the story that her maternal grandfather, Jonas Noreika, gave his life for his native Lithuania, fighting against the Communists. As her mother breathed her last, Silvia promised that she would write the long-awaited book about Jonas. Her initial research matched her expectations: a martyred war hero whose name and reputation earned him a place of honor. What Silvia did not expect was that he was a member of the Nazi party and ordered the deaths of thousands of his Jewish neighbors.

Her journey is chronicled in The Nazi’s Granddaughter: How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal, which was published last March.

This is a memoir to savor. Foti brings in both her journalist experience and the want of a granddaughter to find out the truth about the man who partially contributed to her DNA. With the ever-present shadow of antisemitism and the sadly still too present Holocaust denial, this book is the light in the darkness. I wish there were more people like Silvia Foti. By both bringing Jonas’s actions into the spotlight, she is opening the door to making sure that the victims are remembered and there will never be any chance of claiming that the Holocaust never happened.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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