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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 5, 2017 ,lan5 wa Darren Curtis Eli Batalion (!) and Jamie Elman created and star in the web series 'YidLife Crisis.' By Josefin Dolsten (JTA)--It's safe to say that Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman are some of the funni- est Yiddish speakers around. Their Yiddish-English web series, "YidLife Crisis," is a modern-day, Montreal- based "Seinfeld" that would make any Jewish mother kvell ("It's in Yiddish!") and kvetch ("The sex, drugs and Jesus jokes! Oy!"). The series, which pre- miered in 2014, follows the nebbish Leizer (played by Batalion) and rebel wannabe Chaimie (Elman) as they wander around Montreal, eat at restaurants and have Tal- mudic debates about their Jewish identities. In one episode, Chaimie tries to convince Leizer to order food in a restaurant on Yore Kippur. Leizer reluctantly agrees--but insists the waitress sepa- rate the meat and dairy- based foods. In another, which takes place at a kosher sushi restaurant, the two men fight, in Yiddish, over the affection of a woman (played by "Big Bang Theory" actress Mayim Bialik), not realizing that she can un- derstand everything they are saying. Now Batalion, 36, and El- man, 40, hope to bring their brand of Yiddish humor to a larger audience. The duo is in talks with a Canadian broadcaster to create a TV show based on the web se- ries. In addition, "YidLife Crisis" received an entre- preneurship grant earlier this month from the Jewish philanthropy Natan Fund to further expand its content. The challenge facing Batalion and Elman is how to broaden the appeal of "YidLife Crisis" beyond the Jewish community without abandoning its Yiddish roots. Though the pair say they hope to remain in the main roles, the TV show would also introduce a cast of charac- ters from other religious and cultural backgrounds who grapple with similar ques- tions of identity. The series "would take a lot of the content from 'YidLife Crisis'--the chemis- try and ideas behind it--but go further down the road of multicultural Montreal, putting a few other multicul- tural characters on display as well," Batalion said, speaking with JTA on a conference call with Elman. They're not particularly concerned that a departure from the show's tight Jew- ish focus will alienate the show's most devoted fans. Batalion, who has produced, composed and written content for "horror musical" films, assured JTA that a potential TV series "would still be extraordi- narily Jewy." While the characters would speak more English on TV than in the web series, Yiddish would fea- ture as "a code language" in which Batalion and Elman's characters interact with older family members. "We love 'Transparent' as a show that at its surface is not about Judaism, but in practice it's filled with loads of Jewish content. And we think this would be the same," said Elman, whose acting credits include "Mad Men" and "Curb Your Enthu- siasm," drawing a parallel to Amazon's acclaimed series following a Jewish family as the father comes out as transgender. Working on scripts for the TV series keeps Elman and Batalion plenty busy--that means they've had to put the third season of the web series on hold. "The goal from early on was to see if we can take this to long-form, so now that we're given that oppor- tunity to try, we're putting all our eggs in that basket," Batalion said. They noted, however, that they are still making Yiddish-language videos-- including clips of Hollywood classics and holiday songs hilariously dubbed into Yid- dish-to satisfy fans hungry for content. In creating "YidLife Cri- sis," Batalion and Elman said they wanted to challenge perceptions both of Yiddish and Judaism. "We wanted to show a dif- ferent side of Judaism and a different side of Yiddish, and that Yiddish is not just a language for ultra-Orthodox Jews," Elman said. Batalion and Elman, who both learned Yiddish as teen- agers at the secular Bialik High School in Quebec, said a goal was to showcase the language and its cultural heritage. "We also felt that the Yid- dish was critical to drawing attention to what we were trying to say, or to some of the themes we were speaking to--themes of culture and how to preserve it," Elman said. "Yiddish is something that was nearly lost in the Holocaust." The pair didn't be- come friends until 2007, when Batalion was on tour with his two-man show, "J.O.B. The Hip-Hopera," which follows the biblical character Job as he is trans- ported to modern-day New York. Batalion performed with his co-producer, Je- rome Sable, in Los Angeles, where Elman was working as an actor. Wowed by the performance, Elman be- friended the pair and went on to produce a web series with Sable. Batalion and Elman later found a way to meld their friendship and professional goals, creating "YidLife Cri- sis." Though the two live on opposite coasts--Batalion lives in Montreal, Elman is still based in Los Ange- les-they film the episodes in Montreal. They have also filmed special episodes in Tel Aviv and London. When asked to describe their relationship, they draw on the two defining characteristics of the show: Judaism and humor. "Talmudic," Batalion said of the duo's connection. Elman, on the other hand, quipped that it's "not entirely kosher." Jokes aside, that juxta- position speaks to a central theme in"YidLife crisis": the tension between the pull of the Jewish tradition and the appeal of secularism. That conflict is also present in the Yiddish language, Batalion said, noting that the lan- guage is in fact largely made up of German, a non-Jewish source. "The language itself is highly honed," he said. "It speaks to and sounds like a thousand years of Dia- sporatic experience living in another culture. And that's what you get in our episodes--it's all about Jews living in a secular world." By Cnaan Liphshiz AMSTERDAM (JTA)--De- cades after her death at a Nazi concentration camp, Anne Frank's restless spirit in heaven finally finds a soulmate in Zef Bunga, an Albanian teenager who was murdered in a revenge killing. Anne, whose world-fa- mous diary recounts her two years in hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam with her family, falls in love with the Muslim boy. They kiss and they commiserate and bond over the injustice of their early deaths--Zef in the 1990s in Tirana, Anne in 1945 in the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp. This original take on the Anne Frank story is the plot line of a 2015 opera for children titled "Anne and Zef." Critical of the Nazi genocide as it is of Albanian revenge killings, the show was performed last month at the National Holocaust Mu- seum here by singers and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Based on a 2009 play of the same name, the "Anne and Zef" opera is a recent addition to a growing but controversial slew of artworks and essays that examine the Anne Frank icon outside of her historical context. As witnesses to the Ho- locaust leave this world, proponents of such adapta- tions say they are necessary to keep the message and memory of the genocide rel- evant and accessible to future generations. Yet opponents argue that such projects blur historical accuracy, obfuscat- ing, diluting and ultimately cheapening the memory of the Holocaust. After decades where she was largely thought of as the quintessential Jewish victim of the Holocaust, "in the past 20 years Anne Frank has come to symbolize the victim of all of the world's evils," said David Barnouw, author of the 2012 book "The Anne Frank Phenomenon." Barnouw is a former researcher at the Dutch Institute for War, Holo- caust and Genocide Studies. The debate on whether Frank's story should be viewed and taught as a par- ticular case of the genocide against the Jews or more generally as a story of a child victim of war is as old as the diary itself, which has been translated into dozens of lan- guages since its publication in 1947.A 1955 Broadway play and the 1958 Hollywood ver- sion were dogged by accusa- tions that their creators had made her story less Jewish and more universal. But amid rising levels of anti-Semitic hatred in Eu- rope and on social networks, appropriations of the Anne Frank symbol have rekindled the debate among scholars and activists. "Everyone took Anne Frank for their own beliefs, and with Zefit's just the same: 'Yeah, we're all victims,' etc.," Barnouw said, adding that he does "not feel comfortable with this" but despite his ob- jections, "this is the general perception today." The creeping decontextu- alization of the Anne Frank story is the main theme of a 2014 Dutch documentary featuring interviews with dozens of the roughly I mil- lion people who each year stand in line for hours to enter the Anne Frank House--the Amsterdam museum that was set up at her family's former hiding place. In the film, titled "In Line for Anne," an activist for African-American rights from Texas, Omowale Lu- thuli-Allen, compares Anne's experience to that of blacks living under segregation. "We've lived like that," he says. "In a way we have lived Anne Frank's life." Augustine Sosa, a gay man from Paraguay, says his "life is very similar to that of Anne Frank." A tearful Beatrix Marthe, an Austrian woman in her 30s, tells the filmmakers that she is crying not only for Anne but also for her grandfather, a soldier who fought in Adolf Hitler's army. Other interviewees include Tibetan monks who say Anne is the ultimate symbol for their quest for independence from China. An eccentrically dressed British mother explains that she brought her teenage daughter to the museum so she would feel more comfort- able wearing flamboyant clothes even though it makes her "excluded." Such interpretations are part of what makes the "re- ception of the Anne Frank story after the war a sad af- fair," said Yves Kugelmann, a volunteer board member of the Anne Frank Foundation, which Anne's father, Otto, founded in Basel in the 1960s and the designated heir to the family's archive, including the diary. "The bottom line is that the broad public's knowledge about her is inaccurate, de- contextualized and therefore easy to distort," Kugelmann said. "She's become an icon- ized saint instead of a real Jewish girl who was in hid- ing from the Nazis and their Dutch collaborators." He added that Anne Frank has been "transformed into a kind of kitsch and everbody uses her for anything." But the use of Anne Frank as a symbol for causes unre- lated with her life and death can amplify the lessons of her diary and the Holocaust, according to Ernst van Bem- mel van Gent, an Amsterdam lawyer with Jewish roots who visited the Holocaust museum for the first time to catch the "Anne and Zef" opera. "Seeing it here, next to a room commemorating the victims, adds another dimen- sion to my understanding of the Holocaust," van Gent told JTA. The play and opera "break from taboos on representing the Holocaust" because they present it "not as unique, but together with other forms of violence," according to Cock Dieleman and Veronika Zangl, Dutch theater scholars who analyzed the play in a 2015 essay. The opera is a relatively mild example of how Anne Frank's memory is used by artists and activists. A more controversial case is the reproduction in Am- sterdam of images of Anne Frank wearing a kaffiyeh, the checkered shawl favored by pro-Palestinian activists. Postcards and T-shirts bear- ing the image, which was first circulated on social networks and adopted by activists seeking a boycott on Israel, were sold for years despite protests by Dutch Jews who said it suggested an equiva- lence between Israel and Nazi Germany. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam also objected to the image because it is "deeply hurtful, even in 2016," the institution's di- rector, Ronald Leopold, told JTA last year at a symposium about the iconization of Anne Frank. The conference, fea- turing prominent scholars, was an attempt to understand what Anne Frank will mean to future generations. In 2006, the Arab Euro- pean League, a radical Bel- gium-based Muslim rights group, posted on its website a caricature of Anne Frank in bed with Adolf Hitler. A Dutch appeals court in 2010 fined the organization for hate speech and ordered the offensive caricature removed, but it had spread on social media, where it circulates today. And last year the Anne Frank Foundation criticized an escape room-style game in a southern Netherlands town made to look like Anne's hiding place in Am- sterdam. A more mainstream at- tempt at recontextualization came in a New York Times op-ed from August 2016 titled "Anne Frank Today Is a Syrian Girl." Columnist Nicholas Kristof likened U.S. reluctance to admit refugees from Syria to the refusal to take in most European Jews fleeing Nazism. Anne Frank "is the holy trinity of symbolism: the child, the young woman, the Jew," said Eyal Boers, an Israeli filmmaker and director of the 2009 Dutch- language documentary "The Classmates of Anne Frank." "It's not surprising that she is so attractive as an icon." But that power, he added, means that the Anne Frank story and its elements-- including Anne's Jewish identity--"will ultimately transcend any attempt to twist it."