Sunday, September 28, 2008


Actor, and seriously cool blue-eyed mensch, Paul Newman, has died at the respectable age of 83. I could write for days on his brilliant, decades-long acting career, but instead want to acknowledge Newman the humanitarian, whose Newman's Own label of salad dressings and sauces earned around $250 million for charity. Wow!

For your viewing pleasure, here's the trailer for Exodus, one of Newman's best known roles.

I reviewed Exodus for a distributor of Jewish films.
US, 1960, 208 minutes

Based on Leon Uris' sweeping novel, Otto Preminger’s star-studded epic tends to simplify and is arguably too long but as one of the few Hollywood films to tackle the creation of the State of Israel, Exodus is absolutely essential. Told from an admittedly pro-Zionist bias, the film relates the events that preceded the UN vote to approve partition of Palestine in 1948 through the exploits of Ari Ben Canaan, (Paul Newman) a member of the Israeli resistance group, Hagannah. Exodus is first and foremost a Hollywood adventure romance, but no other feature film captures the mainstream Jewish regard for the heroes of Israel’s birth. For more detail of the events of the film, check out the recently released documentary, In Search of Peace: Part One 1948 – 1967.

Monday, September 22, 2008


I have a problem. I'm a sucker for internet distractions. I've already shown you what I'd look like as a cartoon. Now (at last) I can reduce my bio to a Wordle, a representational 'word cloud' courtesy of IBM Engineer Jonathon Feinberg. Without further ado, Morey Altman reduced to 50 floating words:

Thursday, September 11, 2008


We live near the Green Line and, because of the placement of Highway 443, pass through a checkpoint every time we go to Jerusalem. Checkpoints aren't all the same. This one controls entry onto a highway restricted to vehicles with Israeli licence plates. There are many who believe that these roads are, in fact, racist. Nothing could be further from the truth, as any of the Arab bus drivers who regularly take us to Jerusalem could tell you. But, these security measures are a necessity. Critics conveniently forget similar restrictions in other countries.

Case in point: the US response to the attack on September 11, 2001.

There were not only roadblocks set up around DC, all air traffic was rerouted away from the US, and even crossing the border by vehicle was temporarily stopped. It was only after many hours that traffic started to move again. I happened to be flying to the US two days later; the trip, which would normally take 4 hours, took 24 hours because of increased security. If the US was being attacked at the rate Israel has sustained shootings and bombings over the years, I would expect entry into America to be damn near impossible.

While real, these restrictions within and out of the territories are the direct result of terrorism. When Israel acquired the West Bank and Gaza, traffic to and from was relatively easy. I crossed the border in 1978 in minutes and there were no checkpoints anywhere. We visited Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron and were welcomed (they wanted our tourist money, of course.)

And y'know, for all the bitching about the security fence (or whatever you want to call it), 10 years ago both Israelis AND Palestinians wanted more separation. A poll conducted in 1998 found 81 percent of the Israeli respondents and 63 percent of the Palestinians interviewed support(ed) a closed border. More importantly, both Israelis and Palestinians -- 77 percent and 65 percent, respectively -- said relations between the two peoples should be intensified in order to build support for peace. Ironically, one of the loudest opponents of a separation fence was Ariel Sharon, who was set against establishing any line that could be construed as a border.

Although living in Modi'in feels a little like being in the suburbs, we don't ever forget that we're also on the front lines.


crossposted to

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Summer Exodus

As we approach the end of our annual reading of Deuteronomy, I can't help but be thankful for the relative ease of our exodus to the Promised Land compared to our ancestors: Seriously, Manna from heaven! 40 years in the desert! The Golden Calf!

But did it really happen like that?

I don't mean to sound facetious here. The Exodus, and unfortunate wanderings that followed, are easy to dismiss as brilliant 'storytelling' and nothing more. And within the recorded story, there are certainly elements that demand interpretation. The Torah was meant to be read and re-read by each generation; more importantly, it was meant to be relevant and inspirational. Sometimes, it's not the literal words that accomplish these things but the dynamic between the text and our experiences and ability to comprehend. One of the things I love is the Jewish custom of re-reading Torah portions every year.

It never ceases to amaze me how time and again, a passage I've read dozens of times can suddenly leap out at me with profound meaning and clarity. Did the words change? Did the story change? Not at all. I changed. I grew through study and gained new experiences as I've aged.

Torah interpretation also allows each generation to apply contemporary values and beliefs to the understanding of the texts. A good example of this is the phrase, "An eye for an eye." (Exodus 21) The rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud, recording oral tradition going back at least centuries, could not believe that the phrase was ever meant to be understood literally; the notion was abhorrent then and now. It was
clear that the text referred to monetary compensation because that understanding was consistent with their values.

Perhaps the understanding was different 3,500 years ago. Perhaps it will change in the future. Neither of which is as important as how the words are understood and applied to our lives today. Each generation is obligated to address the fundamental concerns and values of its time and to struggle with the parameters of necessary and permissible change. Deuteronomy itself insists upon this: we must rely on the judges/priests/leaders of our time "even if they say that right is left and left is right" (Sifre on Parashat Shoftim). And as we read in Parashat Nitzavim, "[Torah] is not in the heavens."

Did the Exodus really happen? Perhaps not exactly as described, but then the historicity of the Bible isn't as important as its relevance and meaning. The Bible isn't a history book, nor should it ever be reduced to such a mundane purpose. It's much deeper than that.

(crossposted to