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January 2, 2009

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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 2, 2009 0000ocumentary on Dylan's Christian phase somehow humanizes him New documentary about Bob Dylan merely mentions in passing that Jesus found the singer when he was a lost soul in the late 1970s. By Jay Michaelson NEW YORK INEXT- BOOK) Inatellingmoment in Joel Gilbert's new docu- mentary "Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years." an interviewee says that when Dylan became aborn-again Christian. in two short years he went from being an American Jewish hero to the "greatest apostate of the 20th century." Surely this is right. I know my mother has never forgiven tiim, and I suspectmany other Jewish mothers haven't either. What abetrayal. It's as if San@ Koufax pitched on Yom Kip- pur or Adam Sandier recorded Christmas songs, but worse because Dylan embodied a specific kind of liberal, American Jewish hope that someone would speak truth to power, and that the world would listen. These Were very Jewish dreams, and Dylan fulfilled them for a while. But then. again and again, he dashed them. To be fair. it was Dylan himself who said"don't follow leaders." Dylan never wanted to be the voice of a genera- tion. and he certainly never asked to be King of the Jews or a vessel for our hopes and dreams. His struggle with faith was part of his being a flawed person. If during the Jesus years Dylan fell off the pedestal, it's our own fault for putting him on it. But the question remains: Why did Dylan temporar- ily convert to Christianity in 1979 and record two religious albums proclaiming the word of God? It remains an endur- ing mystery, and for many Jews, the ultimate shande far di goyim: one of "our" greatest heroes becoming one of them. Unfortunately, "Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years" doesn't answer these questions. Af- ter two hours of seemingly unedited interviews, ludi- crously amateurish clip art and cliched religious imagery, viewers emerge as unenlight- ened as we were at the outset. Widely advertised (for a docu- mentary), "Jesus Years" is an unauthorized biographical - film: Dylan didnot participate, did not grant an interview and did not even authorize the use of his music. It is, paradoxi- cally, the consummate Bob Dylan film: To reference two recent efforts, the artist is so masked and anonymous, he's not there. It's also just not a very good movie. The film cannot resist illustrating any point in the cheesiest way possible. When someone says "Jews," we get a picture of Chasidim at the Western Wall; when someone says "cops," a clip-art picture of a police car; and the less said about the pictures of biblical scenes the better. The film's director-interviewer, Joel Gilbert--mysteriously try- ing to look just like the Bob Dylan of the 1970s inserts .himself needlessly into frame after frame while giving us no reason to care about his own narcissistic journey through music studios and Hollywood homes. Art this bad can make religious people look dumb or crazy, or both. Yet "Jesus Years" nearly succeeds in spite of itself. leaving the viewer with a certain appreciation of re- ligious sentiment coupled with a puzzlement at how the religious and secular seem to speak two different languages. The film's spiritual center is Pastor Bill Dwyer of Los An- geles' Vineyard Christian Fel- lowship, who Dylan called in late 1978 seeking counseling (at least according to Dwyer). Dwyer is a down-to-earth, no- bulls--- kind of guy. At least as represented in the film. he's more interested in mat- ters of the heart than those of the hereafter, and it's no surprise that Dylan, like many other Hollywood celebrities. reached out to him. (Then again, Dwyer's answers to those m need relied heavily on the Book of Revelation, not exactly a handbook for trauma counseling.) But Dwyer is cagey; like a good pastor: He doesn't violate confidence, andwe're leftclue- less as to the exact nature of his relationship with Dylan. It's not until the very end of the film long after I would have stopped watching had I not been reviewing it--that we get any inkling of why Dylan reached out at all. Only Dylanologist A. J. Weberman mentions, in passing, that Dylan was addicted to heroin in the late 1970s, still reeling from his recent divorce and dislocation. He was. indeed, a lost soul and Jesus found him. In one of the few snippets of actual Bob Dylan footage in the film. included pre- sumably because it aired on network television and is not owned by Dylan, he says that he "'never cared too much for preachers who were just looking for a contribution." but that he found something real in Dwyer's teaching of Jesus. This is an illuminat- ing moment. Throughout his career, Dylan has embraced both sincerity and dissimula- tion; his latest incarnation. as a moustachioed journey- man musician, is made of equal parts authenticity and con. What his earnest early fans never realized is that this was true from the beginning. Here was Robert Zimmerman play- ing at Woody Guthrie or. as Todd Haynes' brilliant "I'm Not There" suggested, a minstrel version of an Af- rican-American folk singer. Subsequent roles as an acerbic hipster and airy country mu- sic crooner similarly blended directness and diversion. truth and show. In Jesus. Dylan seems to have found something au- thentic-and here is where, for me. "Jesus Years" became interesting. The film consists largely of a series of interviews with true believers, many of whom are Jews. It's discon- certing and just plain weird to hear New York Yiddish accents testify about being born again. But underneath all the weirdness, I got the sense that all the people being interviewed really do believe. They've had some kind of genuine experience, which they've interpreted according to Christian mythology and symbolism. As Dwyer eloquently de- scribes, these are people who were in great pain and came to know great love through powerful religious experi- ences. These are not vulner- able sheep taken advantage of by profiteers. They are people who were hurt and found heal- ing in Christianity. Many Jews will probably find it impossible to look be- yond this transparent attempt at outreach. We're scarred and traumatized by 2,000 years of Christian hegemony, anti- Semitism and proselytizing. We're too accustomed to the endless efforts to convert us and "Bob Dylan's Jesus Years" often seems to be one to actually listen to the message. Indeed. when Dylan himself preached from the stage in 1979 and 198 many fans felt the same way. The guy seemed to have fallen off his rocker. Of course, all fans like to imagine that they share some secret bond with their idols. With Dylan, who always seems to be in on the con when he's .not perpetrating one himself, I find myself thinking"I get it" even when no one else does. Like him, I see the hypocrisy; like him, I think I can under- stand the appeal of authentic religious experience in the context of superficiality and doublespeak. This was 1978. after all; the high-water mark of disco, post-Watergate mal- aise and post-1960s hangover. Everyone seemed to be on the make or drowning in drugs and decadence. Some of the doughy-eyed interviewees m "Jesus Years" don't seem to get it--but. I imagine. I do. Here was something real. Not surprisingly, the film spendsvery little time discuss- ingwhyDylanleftJesus and turned to Chabad-Lubavitch. no less after just two years and 2 1/2 albums. Again, We- berman sheds the only light on the subject: Dylan came to believe that his Christian advisers were exploiting him. Dwyer, too. says that he "be- came concerned" that some preachers were over-publiciz- ing Dylan's initially private conversion. What a disap- pointment that must have been: the old-time religion turned out to be yet another con. No wonder Dylan spent most of the 1980s wandering in the pop wilderness, only regaining his footing at the end of the decade, when he returned to musical basics and rediscovered the authenticity of folk music and the blues. "Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years" is more a symptom of this pattern than a study of it. exploiting Dylan's fame to get Jews like me to sit through testimonies of salvation in Christ. Its warped perspective gives the sense that Jews for "Jesus is a nationwide force rather than a peculiar outlier, and that the secular world is coextensive with aimlessness and lies. Yet in objectifying and exploiting Dylan. it also subtly manages to humanize him. Jay Michaelson is a col- umnist for the Forward, a founding editor of Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture, and the author of "God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice. " Reprinted from, a new read on Jewish culture. Ade00000000uer painting returned to Stern estate By Janice Arnold Canadian Jewish News MONTREAL--The recov- ery of a Nazi-looted painting once in the possession of former German chancellor Konrad Adenauer was an- nounced by the estate of the late German-born Montreal art dealer Max Stern at a press conference earlier this month in Berlin. Flight Into Egypt by Flem- ish Old Master Jan Wellens de Cock (1480-1527) was among the approximately 400 wdrks that Stern. then a gallery owner in Dus- seldorf, was forced to sell by the Nazis between 1935 and 1937. The heirs of the Stern estate are three universi- ties. McGill and Concordia in Montreal, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The painting's unveiling in Berlin was the first time it has been publicly presented in almost 40 years. It was not disclosed where the painting had been since Adenauer, who died in 1967. held it. Flight Into Egypt is the fifth work recovered since the Concordia-administered Max Stern Art Restitution Project, which is working with the estate, was launched in 2002. What happened to the painting after it left Stern's hands in the 1930s is not known, except that,it even- tually became part of the collection of Adenauer. who was the first chancellor of West Germany from 1949 to 1963. A native of Cologne and its one-time mayor, Ad- enauer was opposed to the Nazi regime. The estate was able to determine the provenance of the de Cock through recent research by the Netherlands Institute for Art History at the Hague. Its return was facilitated by Christie's auc- tion house and the New York State Banking Department's Holocaust Claims Process- ing Office. "We are delighted to have helped resolve this matter," said Monica Du- got. Christie's senior vice- president and international director of restitution. "This is a good example of how co-operation amongst all parties can lead to fair and just solutions to Nazi- looted art cases." The Berlin event, held at the offices of the University of Toronto. also saw the un- veiling of another painting that a U.S. appeals court ruled in November belongs to the Stern estate. The 19th-century Girl from the Sabine Mountains by Franz Xaver Winterhal- ter had been the subject of lengthy negotiations and later a legal battle be- tween the estat6's executors, headed by Montreal lawyer Robert VineberR and the 84- year-old German baroness Maria-Louise Bissonnette of Providence. R.I. Her stepfather bought the painting in 1937 for a price well below fair-market value at Cologne's Lempertz auc- tion house, where Stern had to liquidate the remaining 225 worls in his inventory before fleeing Germany. When talks with the estate broke down in 2006. Bisson- nette surreptitiously shipped the Winterhalter. which had been in her possession for almost 50 years, to Germany and asked a German court to determine its ownership. It had-remained in storage there since. The Neth6rlands Institute for Art History has also confirmed that more than 40 additional paintings b.y other Old Masters such as Brueghel, Van Dyck, Ruisdael and Teniers were among the works Stern sold under duress when the Nazis banned Jews from the art trade. "These discoveries are extremely important," said Clarence Epstein, head of the Stern Art Restitution Project. "What is most discon- certing is how many of the paintings from the entire Stern collection remain in circulation in German mu- seums, corporate offices and private collections." The project, however, only knows the whereabouts of about five to 10 per cent of the looted works, but is committed to tracking down every one of them, Epstein affirmed. Stern, who owned the landmark Dominion Gal- lery on Sherbrooke Street for decades, died in 1987. He and his wife. Iris, were childless and named the three universities as the main beneficiaries of their estate. The press conference took place on the eve of a government-organized symposium on Nazi-looted art. where the Stern estate made a presentation on its efforts to recover the Stern collection. Those works in private hands are particularly hard to locate, unless they come on the market, as the Winter- halter did in early 2005. Epstein said the ruling by the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston last month was the first in U.S. legal his- tory dealing with the forced sale of Jewish-owned art in Nazi Germany. The judge de- cided that the circumstances of the sales amounted to "de facto confiscation" by the Third Reich. The judgment will have an impact on other restitution claims, he said, because it establishes that the Stern art was, in fact. stolen and that those in possession of it today are not the rightful owners. The estate is also working closely with the Art Loss Register in London and the German government's Co-ordination Office for the Return of Cultural Property, established in 1994 to handle claims of confiscation by the Nazis or other losses during World War II.