By Inna Rogatchi, Rogatchi Foundaiton—
It is all about us. How do we react to events, and what makes our indignation to flare out. What qualifies an incident of any kind as a public scandal – for us, both individually and collectively.
In my view, what could be called as Case Portman has underlined our own perception, our own criteria with which we are measuring life much more than it bears a valuable content in itself. It also, inevitably, evokes some questions about the criteria for the prize dubbed as ‘Jewish Nobel’.
In the Case Portman, a grossly overrated actress had been behaving coldly and calculatively, as a small trade-union boss in Ireland a century ago, in order to make a stir, to serve her political objectives and aspirations of a public figure which – she dreams – she is. And the entire country loses its sleep over it. And the Diaspora is still agitated days on.
The Case Portman did not reveal us absolutely nothing new about the person who was chosen to be awarded. Her policies are well-known, the same as her behaviour. There was an obvious misjudgement in the selecting process for the Genesis Prize 2018, and this is the most mattering thing in the whole brawl, in my opinion.
Genesis Prize has a structure which is difficult to operate by definition. When private money meets with governmental structures, one has to navigate so much that the risk of losing the direction is real and high. It is well-known side-effect of such alliances in an applied philanthropy.
But there is a golden, I would say even stern rule, in philanthropy: you are not going to politicise it. Once it is done, the sense of it is gone and the cause is lost. I am daring to say it out of more than 30 years of experience of international charitable activities, most of them being connected with culture. In the case of Genesis Prize, one has an impression that it has been politicised, in the way of an emphatic appeasement. But why? And what for?
Among the five winners of the Genesis Prize, so far, from 2014 onward, only maestro Itzhak Perlman was an impeccable choice. With stated by the Genesis Prize Foundation core-line of their criteria for the Prize winners, I am at loss not to find among them the people who were and are the best among the Jewish Nation, devoted, talented and humble – such as the late Leonard Cohen ( who was among us yet for two or even three first Genesis Prizes), or Elie Wiesel – even so that he was among the members of the Founding Prizing Committee. For the figures like Wiesel who exemplified the best in our nation, it certainly should not be an obstacle. And there is always an opportunity for a Life Achievement Award, as it had been done in the awkward case in a scheme to escape a major embarrassment over re-directing the prize from Judge Ginsburg to Portman.
I wonder: had the list of the Jewish Nobel laureates of our times got shortened to disappearance, all of the sudden? Many of those people are not only brilliant scientists leading the mankind to its heights, but are great educators whose influence is global. What about unparalleled, the best in the world, in every corresponding country, great Jewish doctors, or their medical teams? Many of them are saving lives round o’clock under most daring circumstances. They are the great samples of Jewish values and humanism – in real life, not in its false-to-the-bone Hollywood productions of a virtual exercise of nothing.
What about great Jewish musicians for whom the Award for Excellence could easily be organised only in this very category, musicians and composers?
Ms Portman has tried hard to send a poisonous message to the Jewish world: one cannot be, not supposed to be a good Jew and to love Israel wholeheartedly. One has to be pussy-hatted hater, be arrogant and ignorant, to be worthy of ‘the Jewish Nobel’ with a couple of million price-tag on it. Well, she has to be disappointed, for the change.
Look on Maestro Evgeny Kissin. Supremely talented, unboundedly devoted, always with his people, despite all the comforts of his deservingly star-status life, he did ask for the Israeli citizenship himself, and he regards as a reward itself. I know about it first-hand. The globe-trotting the one of the very best pianists on the planet, Kissin has decided that while he is travelling, he would like to do it as the citizen of Israel, and will represent his country anywhere he goes with his smashing, unbelievable concerts, each of them being the product of hardest labour possible.
When we were in Israel at the time of another series of vicious terrorist attacks, after reading my articles from Jerusalem, Kissin wrote me back: “Don’t get surprised, but I almost envy you. At this very moment, you are at the place, you are in the midst of our people”. I love my friend for that, and if I would be set to remember just one phrase said by this musical super-star of our times, it would be that one. And everything what is behind it.
There is Philip Glass, great composer; there is Gideon Kremer who did enormously much as for the modern music, as for the state of mind of people world-wide, the same as Glass did and does. There are great people who had restored the Holocaust violins and who are playing Hatikvah on them, in unparalleled manifestation of love to the Israel people and nation.
There is Mark Knopfler, as well as Simon and Garfunkel – whose all’ contributions into the Jewish and cultural legacy in general is indisputable and ever-lasting.
There is an American living over forty years in Israel, Yoram Raanan, talented, devoted, humble, loving son of our people, true artists in its best way. Yoram Raanan loves his people, our history, he understands it and brings it out to the world. Anish Kapoor, another strange winner of the Genesis, loves himself, and his art is cold, imposing, and have nothing to do whatsoever with Jewish values. Commercial success had never being the indication of artistic quality – every student of art history is aware with it. If van Gogh just happened to be Jewish and live today, he had no chance to qualify for the Genesis nomination, he was far less famous during his life-time than Mr Kapoor during his.
And if talking about Hollywood, if it is so strangely addictive, there is Mayim Bialik, with her unwavering support of the state; there is Adrien Brody – at least, he was honest to the bottom of his heart to playing the Pianist for us and to leave it as a great part of the Jewish world’s legacy. There is also Harvey Keitel who additionally to be a really great actor is an exemplary son of the Jewish people and modestly, deeply devoted man to the Land and the Country.
Great director Peter Bogdanovich is there. Mighty Rade Mihaileinu, too. Steven Spielberg who quite possibly was born to make the Schindler’s List – and set up the vital archive of the survivors’ testimonies for the posterity – had also contributed into the world’s perception of the Jewish legacy thousand times more than a mediocre actress with a giant ego who is known primarily for her arrogance and hostilities.
Ms Portman was just good in just one role of hers, in the Goya’s Ghosts – entirely due to the mastership of great Milos Forman who directed the film. Apart of it, all her works are standard Hollywood productions, including Black Swan despite of her Oscar for that role. We are witnessing wrong and very wrong Oscar decisions so very often. The glamour and glitz does not automatically mean substance. In this very case, it certainly does not. Good agent does not make a good actor. Good director does.
There are Jewish historians of a global importance – such as 85-year old Saul Friedlander who did contribute into the understanding the history in a world-scale, and whose legacy will last for ever.
You might be surprised to hear that, but there are even great Jewish philosophers – and yes, imagine, Rabbis – who are the giants of spirit for generations, world-wide. Rabbi Lord Sacks is a great example of a multi-talented, wise, deep and harmonius Jewish person who did change lives of millions. Rabbi Yitzak Ginzburg is an unparalleled Rabbi who teaches not only code of behaviour and faith, but does it at the highest academic level brightening peaks of high science and bringing the light to millions, too. Rabbi Berel Wein has educated millions people world-wide on the Jewish values and Jewish way of life in a giant and brilliant contribution to the humanity in general.
Why not to look up to the heights of the human spirit, human qualities and human deeds while looking for a laureate of ‘the Jewish Nobel”? Why it has to be a Hollywood-sprayed celebrity with no other qualities except that one?..
Thanks Heaven, for the nation which constitutes 0,12 % of the world’s population, a very special, talented and bright nation, indeed, there are so many worthy candidates for the Prize which embodies – going through the Genesis Prize own statement – “excellence”, “international renown” , ‘inspiring others’. There are so many brilliant Jewish people worldwide who are “engaged and dedicated to the Jewish community and to the State of Israel”. “And” – and not “or” – as one can read in the truly weird statement, the main principle for the awarding the prize by the Genesis Foundation:
“The Genesis Prize honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel”.
I honestly cannot get it: why it should be /or regarding their dedication to the State of Israel in the main principle of selecting the candidates for ‘the Jewish Nobel”? This duplicity is disturbing, and such attitude is exactly what has paved the way to the loud international PR disaster over selecting such personality as Portman to be the winner for 2018 Prize.
But apart of any given scandal, or any given prize, how on earth is it possible that the organisation in which structures the top Israeli governmental officials and highest Israeli public figures are present, can allow itself to declare the policy which keeps the dedication to the State of Israel as optional for the prize which is dubbed as ‘Jewish Nobel’? Why to bother to have it in the first place, under such conditions?
With an exception of Maestro Perlman, the Genesis Prize, so far, had been a glitzy thing; more conduit to vanity and certainly ‘safe’ solution in the terms of political correctness than a stimulus to develop and carry on the blossoming legacy of our talented nation – as, I am sure, the initial intention of the Genesis founders and supporters had been. Something went wrong on some stage, and it would be healthy to have a closer look into that, I believe.
It is quite understandable that both officials and public in Israel and Jewish Diaspora had been reacting to the calculated rebuke by Ms Portman to the Genesis Prize powerfully. But I am still surprised that the reaction had been so wide-spread and that the degree of engagement of people on this issue went so high. So, an arrogant person who is not Sarah Bernard, and not even Meryl Streep although trying very hard to walk in Meryl’s shoes, had rebuked the ceremony while, characteristically for pussy-hatters, keeping the money. Why everybody had been so stirred up by such predictable behaviour? The reaction does tell not about Ms Portman, it does tell about us.
In 2015 when Ms Portman in her ever arrogant way of conduct decided to teach the entire Jewish people that we ‘have to stop to talk about Holocaust’, I have made a public comment on it in Jerusalem, during the special commemorative series of my The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal. A well-known Israeli and international cinema personality Ruth Diskin who was conducting Q&A session with me, had brought the issue onward. My comment was very short one. I said that ‘despite Ms Portman graduated from Harvard and likes to brag about it, it seems to be the clear, if not clinical, case of ignorance. Perhaps, she has to study the subject before coming out with her comments on it, made in its irritating categorical tone of an ever playing diva. One does not play on Holocaust. It is tasteless, at very least. One does not preach on when it would be ‘enough’ for people in Israel to remember. It is pathetic”. The entire hall of the Jerusalem Cinemateque was united in huge applauses. That was a healthy reaction to unhealthy behaviour of Ms Portman and her weird preaching out.
And actually, in all her efforts, done with such vigour, and trying so hard, she is utterly pathetic. Why to put such attention to her snub, and anything she does?
In this connection, there had been another event unfolding at the very same time with the Genesis Prize PR flop. The event just incredible in its perversion and its blatant hurt the Jewish feelings, on purpose. But on this event, we have had only one small and matter-of- fact JTA report which had been dutifully re-printed by all Jewish media, without any further reaction, or action on that by the public.
It had happened in Germany, in the Theatre of Konstanz, a university city on the border with Switzerland, not any former DDR place. That theatre had a first evening of a compilation of Georg Tabori’s plays. Conveniently in the producers’ understanding, the first night had been set for April 20th, the fuhrer’s birthday.
It does not matter that the play had been performed in the way, with overwhelming violence, which made the first people to start to leave the hall of the over-packed theatre after the first 30 seconds, according to the German media, and since then, people were storming out of the hall non-stop. It does not matter that the Tabori’s plays had been transformed beyond recognition, with adding Trump and Theresa May to Hitler – this low-brow approach is in fashion currently. Who cares.
What mattered is that on the eve of the first night, the theatre made the announcement and the appeal to the public. They announced that during the performance, the audience would be divided into two groups: Jews and the Nazis. The audience, not actors. The Nazi group will be given the Nazi arm-bands, and “the Jews” among the audience would be given yellow stars to pin it on their clothes. And those in the audience who would be willing to be “the Nazis”, would be provided with free seats.
There is ongoing and accelerating industry of hijacking Holocaust and perverting it, there are escalating efforts of mocking the Shoah, as we all know. But this invention really has beat up many of the sort. To think this way, to be able to invent such approach – which is after mighty uproar all over Germany has been called to be ‘a marketing idea’ – one has to be real, serious pervert. A Nazi, to put it simply.
And this is not somebody ‘one’. Konstanz is a substantial city housing a big university, those are educated people. There is a team working at the theatre. Well, we know that Eichmann loved to play on his violin, and did love to be called ‘maestro’ by his colleagues and friends, don’t we?
Some facts about the team behind the idea: director Serdar Somuncu, a Turk born in Istanbul, and coming to Europe in his twenties some 30 years ago, is known in Germany as ‘a hardcore comedian who likes to outrage the public by his radical insults”, according to the German media. Well, the public has to be liked to be insulted, to keep such director afloat, aren’t they? The main popularity that ‘comedian’ who likes to call himself ‘a politician’ has earned by scenic reading of Mein Kampf. He started this entertainment back in mid-1990s and was touring Germany with the Hitler’s monologues for years, despite the Mein Kampf had been banned in Germany. But this is art, you know.
His other program had been another scenic reading of the infamous Goebbels stadium speech of 1943, this time in early 2000s. He went to such invention as to read Mein Kampf in front of the former inmates of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen – who in his sober mind can ever allow such sacrilege? But this is – yes, a freedom of artistic expression, German style. And now again, the interior ministry of Germany is examining on whatever the provocation in Konstanz was an illegal act – as Nazi symbols are still banned in Germany for public display – or was it an act of artistic expression, seemingly specifically allocated in Germany for cheap and low monstrous freaks like Somuncu.
The director of the Konstanz theatre is the man who is known relatively well in the culture circles across Germany. Christopher Nix in his previous life was an active defence lawyer specialising on the cases falling under the criminal laws demanding capital punishment. Then he discovered that he liked to play clowns, to start with, and thus his theatrical career has started. His career of theatrical administrator had been remarked by non-top scandals and expulsions from one place to another. Now he found his soul-mate in the Hitler and Goebbels’ ‘scenic reader’, ‘a comedian’ who jokes publicly in pure Nazi style.
The Case Konstantz has both crossed the line and did show the state of mind of people who are running the theatre and cultural projects in the educated, well-to-do place, 80 years after the applied Nazism has started to divide the citizens of that big country into those who were compulsed to wear the yellow stars and those who had got a free seats everywhere, regularly.
The case had been looked into now by the German federal ministry of interior, justly so.
But what about us? Why did we swallow this screaming case with such lenience? It had been virtually passed away without any normally would-be expected reaction, or action.
This is really worrisome, to me. The under-seeing, under-reacting to the episode which implies inhuman perception of Holocaust and sick treatment of all Holocaust victims today, which openly and in typically German way brutally insults us all, the Jews, and does it with a sick pleasure and on purpose, – and over-seeing, over-reacting to yes, utter misbehaviour of a Hollywood arrogant woman who did nothing in her life expect projecting her arrogant ignorance. This imbalance bothers me.
It is all about us. How we react, what we are interested about, what catches our attention, and what makes us to worry. It is about what insults us and what does not; what attracts and keeps our attention, and what fails it. It is about us, our values and priorities.
In a few days, the healthy majority of the Israeli public and Diaspora Jewry would forget about Ms Portman for good, however hard she would try to remind us about herself. But I would ever remember the idea of the modern German theatre people who, 80 years on after Holocaust, has decided to charm their public with a free seats for those who would volunteer to play the Nazis, against those who would be mandatory made to wear the yellow star for the paid tickets in that sick, pervert, Nazi macabre in theatre of Konstantz on the Hitler’s 128th birthday.
This is what matters. Dignity, decency and the real defence of the Jewish memory, and Jewish values, in the cases when it has been violated so cynically, not an arrogant self-promotion of another mediocre actress.
April 23, 2018.
Dr Inna Rogatchi is writer, scholar and film-maker. She is the Co-founder and President of The Rogatchi Foundation, international cultural charitable organisation that has been involved in international cultural and educational philanthropy for over 30 years.