Celebrating Israel Through Cinema and Song

Written by Malka Goldberg on . Posted in Arts & Entertainment

This weekend offers two opportunities in Rockville, Maryland, to combine the spirit of Shabbat Shira (the Shabbat of Song) with celebration of the State of Israel. On Saturday evening, Jan. 27, Tikvat Israel will screen the Israeli film “Harmonia,” a modern take on the biblical love triangle among Avraham, Sarah, and Hagar, set against the backdrop of the Jerusalem Philharmonic. On Sunday afternoon, Jan. 28, the Foundation for Jewish Studies will present “LeArtzi Yesh Yom Huledet” (“My Land Has a Birthday), a concert featuring Chazzan Dr. Ramón Tasat, accompanied by five guest musicians, at Kol Shalom.

Cinema of Israel

Tivkat Israel’s movie event, Israel Presents: Two Nights of Israeli Film, is now in its 13th year. On Jan. 20, over 120 people attended the screening of this year’s first movie, “The Women’s Balcony.” The comedic drama portrays how a structural accident in an Orthodox synagogue leads to social fracturing in the tight-knit Jerusalem community. Following the screening, Lisa LeBourgeois, cultural affairs officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., led a discussion about the film and its meaning.

The second film, “Harmonia,” will be shown Saturday evening, Jan. 27. The movie tells the story of a childless couple who work for the Jerusalem Philharmonic — Avraham is the conductor and Sarah is the harpist. When a new horn player named Hagar joins the orchestra and strikes up a friendship with Sarah, her offer to have a child for the couple leads to family turmoil. After the screening, LeBourgeois will once again lead a discussion about the film.

Songs of Israel

The next day, Sunday, Jan. 28, is the “LeArtzi Yesh Yom Huledet” concert, and the timing of the event is no coincidence. “We envisioned this event to help kick off a year of celebration for Israel’s 70th birthday. We chose this date specifically as it connects with ‘Shabbat Shira,’ the Sabbath of Song (this Saturday),” explained Rabbi Gordon Fuller, executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Studies. “Additionally, we didn’t want to add to the crowded field of events that are likely to be taking place come spring!”

During the concert, Tasat will perform a selection of Israeli songs that tell the story of Israel’s evolution over the past seven decades. The concert will offer “a panoramic vision of what has transpired in Israel from the First Aliyah (wave of immigration to Israel), all the way through today,” according to Tasat.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and musically trained in five different countries, Tasat now calls Montgomery County, Maryland, home. But Israel has always been close to his heart, and he’s noticed a dramatic difference in the way Israel is celebrated in various places. He recalled that as a child in Buenos Aires, 50,000 people would pack a stadium for an hours-long Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) celebration. “As a participant, it was exhilarating. In other countries, the experience was less passionate,” Tasat said.

Tasat hopes to bring a spark of that elation to the Greater Washington Jewish community. Sunday’s performance will feature his brand-new arrangement of songs interspersed with narration, designed to “give a sense of the longing, the hope, and the exhilaration of having a country, and also the sadness for the cost that Israel got into in order to be alive and well,” in honor of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

See the community calendar on page 47 for the specific times and locations of these events.

By Malka Goldberg

 Malka Goldberg is the Community News editor for Kol HaBirah.