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February 29, 2008

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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 29, 2,008 By Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA)--In Jewish Washington, it was the fraught and thorny question that inevitably came up in discussions about Tom Lan- tos: What about the Mormon thing? The late chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, who died Feb. 11 of esophageal cancer at the age of 80. was the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to Congress. And he was fiercely pro-Israel, us- ing his powerful position to advance the pro-Israel lobby's agenda. Yet his wife. Annette. also a survivor, and daughters Katrina and Annette were Mormons. What role did this play in Lantos' own beliefs? Did it affect his Judaism? The respective answers came at his memorial service last week: Apparently not much. and not at all. "Tom didn't believe in God in the way that most of us do." his widow said at the service Feb. 14 in the Statuary Hall m the U.S. Capitol building, where his family--including 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren--were present. His friend. Rabbi Arthur Schneier of NewYork, recalled staging Hebrew psalms with Lantos days before he died. He also remembered visiting with Lantos several years ago at the Budapest synagogue where Lantos had his bar mitzvah. "I presided over that won- derful, memorable celebra- tion and we sang 'Siman tov umazal tov'," a Jewish song of joy, Schneier said of that synagogue visit. His daughter, Annette, said in her eulogy that her father was a man of"profound faith" and listed his beliefs: in the U.S. Constitution. in educa- tion, in friendship, in the responsibility to change the world for the better, even in the powerofdogstoheal but notably, belief in a deity was lacking. Instead, the younger An- nette suggested, he admired his wife's beliefs but did not embrace them: "He had faith in the sustaining power of her faith in spirituality," she said. The hall, packed with most of the lawmakers who make up the informal congressional Jewish caucus and their staffs. was rapt. Lantos. first elected to Congress in 1980 as a Demo- cratic lawmaker from Cali- fornia, was remembered as a champion of human rights, from his work on the 1980s on behalf of Soviet Jewry, to recent times, defending the rights of civilians in Darfur and free speech advocates in China and promoting access to HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa. Speakers included Ban Ki-moon. the U.N. secretary- general; ElieWiesel. the Holo- caust memorialist and Nobel laureate; and Bono, the rock star and Africa advocate who led the mourning in singing "All You Need is Love" as a Valentine's Day paean to the Lantos marriage. The question of Lantos' faith had long presented a dilemma: Questions of taste and fears of Lantos' notorious wrath kept it fr6m being asked aloud while he lived. Yet he was a politician who wore his Jewish experience on his sleeve. At least three links on his congressional Web site detailed his biography as the youthful fighter in the Hungarian resistance who discovered after the war that the Nazis had killed most of his family. Those experiences perme- ated the memorial, which began and ended with bless- ings from Schneier. Lantos' longtime friend and fellow survivor, who founded the Appeal of Conscience Foun- dation, which promotes reli- gious freedoms. "You remember that. An- nette-being a step ahead of our persecutors?" Schneier asked Lantos' widow. "For- getting about our music lessons, forgetting about our ballgames," he continued. "What a journey it has been from the valley of dry bones to the heights of human achievement." A number of Jews in public life are intermarried, but Lantos' wife had not merely converted, she had embraced a faith--the Church of Lat- ter Day Saints that until the 1970s had preached the inferiority of blacks and un- til the 1990s had conducted posthumous baptisms of Jews, including Holocaust victims. Moreover, it is a culture that encourages conversion and does not easily accommodate intermarriage Annette Lantos noted dur- ing the memorial ceremony that differences of faith with her husband informed even his final days, in the finality of death Lantos embraced and the eternal life that her church preaches. She noted that Lantos likened his life to a vacation at his beloved Lake Balaton in Hungary. "But like all vacations." she said. using his words. "there must be an end to it. We have to move on." "And so he did. J do not believe in death. I do believe in dit ferent forms of life. And therefore I feel with great certainty thatTom is alive, and that he's here right now listen- ing to our farewell before he will depart into the light for a joyous reunionwith his friends and deceased family." The entire memorial ser- vice was a gentle back and forth of Jewish and Mormon perspectives on remembering Lantos. who was cremated. His daughter Katrina closed her remarks with a reading on eternal life from the final pages of the Chronicles of Narnia, the Christian allegory by C.S. Lewis. Schneier said that in Lan- tos' final days, he and his wife joined Annette and Lantos in their Washington apartment, "reciting the psalms together, and singing the Sh'ma Israel ," the Jewish invocation of God's oneness that gains special meaning when it is said close to death. Like Lantos' widow, Sch- neier also quoted the late congressman as invoking the finality of death: "He has a message for all of us." he said. "What's the message? We all go through that one- way street that leads to the grave, there is no immunity from the grave, we all have to meet our maker sooner or later. And the message of Tom: Maximize your stay on earth. and be a blessing." Tzipi Livni. Israel's foreign minister, also delivered a eu- logy. She recalledLantos's last visit to Israel last year, where they toured military instal~ lations along the northern border and heard pleas from military commanders to keep Israel safe. Afterward. they saw a film about the American failure to bomb Auschwitz. "Those same skies that did not hear the roar of the fighter's planes in time were hearing them now." she said. '~nd in my eyes. the Star of David that was just formed from a yellow Star of David on the torn clothing of a vic- tim into a shining blue Star of David emblazoned on an American Air Force jet and flown by an Israeli fighter pilot, that shining star is Tom Lantos." She finished with the Hebrew blessing, "May his memory be blessed." Oscar From page 1A the war and soon resumed his old occupation, adding the "rediscovery" of Old Master paintings to his repertoire. He died in Argentina in the 1960s. The film's ending, building on hearsay evidence, has So- rowitch after liberation toting a suitcase full of fake currency and heading for Monte Carlo. where he purposely loses the entire fortune at the gaming tables. Ruzowitzky's background and motivation is as interest- ing as the movie itself. The Viennese filmmaker's grandparents on both sides were Nazis or Nazi sympathiz- ers who. like mostAustrians of the war and postwar genera- tion. saw themselves more as victims than perpetrators, of the German atrocities. "My grandparents would acknowledge to me the facts of" the Holocaust but considered it a collateral damage to the war," Ruzowitzky said during a phone interview. One reason he closed the film with the scene at a Monte Carlo casino "was to give Sally some redemption, or atonement, at the end," Ruzowitzky said. From his considerable research on concentration camps, he concluded that "the system was designed so that the inmates would harm each other." Ruzowitzky cited one .survivor, a doctor, as saying, "If you tried to do anything good. it would lead to catas- trophe." Disappointed but not down- cast, Israeli filmmakers and their supporters vowed to come back strong next year after the country's entry "Beaufort" lost out to "The Counterfeiters" in the Oscar race for best foreign-language film. "We have shown that Israel can make very good movies and we will prove it again next time," Eli Eltonyo, one of "Beaufort's" actors, told a cheering crowd of some 350 attending an Oscar party Sun- day at the Hollywood night club Avalon. An ebullient Yaakov Dayan. Israel's consul general in Los 11, 2008 Advertising Deadline: April 2, 2008 For Further Information Call 407-834-8787 Angeles. went further, shout- ing, "We'll have a bigger party next year and we'll take the Oscar. I promise you." From its arrival three days before the Oscar ceremony, the "Beaufort" contingent became a celebratory rally- ing point for the large Israeli expatriate and general Jewish communities in Los Angeles, akin to a reception for Israeli athletes competing for Olym- pic gold. At the Oscar party, hosted by the Israeli consulate, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the StandWi- thUs organization, guests in- cluded Israeli pop idol Ninette Tayeb and 10 teenagers from Sderot here to participate in a benefit concert for the Negev town targeted by rocket at: tacks from the Gaza Strip. "Beaufort" director Jo- seph Cedar, lead actor Oshri Cohen. and producers David Silber and Moshe Edry were accompanied by more than a dozen Israeli television reporters and hosts, among them Eli Yitzpan. dubbed "Israel's David Letterman." and anchors Aharon Barnea and Gil Tamary. The intense coverage re- flected the country's pride that after a hiatus of 23 years, an Israeli film had made the list of five finalists among 63 foreign entries, as well as in the contents of the film itself, "Beaufort" depicts the windup of the first Leba- non War in 2000 not in the glory of a 1967 victory, but in an indecisive and exhaus- tive ending--a small Israeli unit evacuates the medieval Beaufort fortress. The film's strength lies m presenting its protagonists not as super warriors but rather as young men who acknowledge and face their fears. The euphoria and high hopes "Beaufort" triggered were explained partially by Israel's current mood and the apparent validation of Israel's new standing on the interna- tional film scene. "We Israelis are going through our regular manic- depressive cycle," explained Ron Leshem, who wrote the book on which the film is based. "We're hungry for good news." The good news Israelis were hoping for was that after six previous nominations, an Israeli film would finally take the top foreign-language prize. A victory this time also would have put an emphatic exclamation point on what is frequently described as the "renaissance" of the Israeli movie industry. The renaissance has been certified by a slew of awards at the most prestigious Eu- ropean and American film festivals, including Cannes, HANDYMAN SERVICE Handy man and General Maintenance Air Conditioning Electrical Plumbing Carpentry Formerly handled maintenance at JCC References available STEVE'S SERVICES Call Steve Doyle at (386) 668-8960 Berlin. Venice. Sundance and Tribeca for pictures such as "The Band's Visit." "Jellyfish: "Lemon Tree," "Walk on Wa- ter" and "Jossi & Jagger." In this year's Oscar stakes. the five finalists for the foreign-language honors were the films put forward by Austria, Israel. Kazakh- stan, Poland and Russia, but it seemed clear that the final choice would come down to "Beaufort" and the Austrian entry, "The Coun- terfeiters." Even pro-Israel partisans who had seen "The Coun- terfeiters" acknowledged it was first class. Cedar and the producers of "Beaufort" were attending the Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre and could not be reached for comment. There was some solace in the success of Jewish creative talent at the 80th Academy Awards. Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen were the big winners of the evening, cap- turing three Oscars for best picture, directing and adapted screenplay for their gritty contemporary Western. "No Country for Old Men." Britain's Daniel Day-Lewis took acting honors as the greedy oil prospector in "There Will Be Blood." Day- Lewis is the son of Jewish actress Jill Balcon and in his acceptance speech he thanked his grandfather. British film pioneer Sir Michael Balcon, as well as his wife. Rebecca. the daughter of the late play- wright Arthur Miller. The evening's host, Jon Stewart, characteristically opened the ceremonies with a Jewish gag, noting that the Oscar contending film "Atonement" caught "the raw passion and sexuality of Yom Kippur." When the remark was greeted with applause, Stew- art quipped, "Now we know where the Jews are in the audience.'"