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May 25, 2012

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PAGE 16A " HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 25, 2012 " Amid security concerns in Tunisia, a.smaller Hiloula celebrai'00)n By JTA staff DJERBA, Tunisia (JTA)-- Two thousand years ago, a mysterious woman who was unable to talk arrived on this island. Every sick person she touched was healed. Although she died when her wooden house caught fire, her body remained intact and did not burn. That's a local legend. Another is-that the miracle worker is buried beneath the foundation stone of the El Ghriba Synagogue, one of the oldest continuously used synagogues in the Diaspor a and the site of an annual pil- grimage that typically brings thousands to Djerba seeking answers to their prayers. This year, amid political uncertainty and security concerns, the two-day cel- ebration held two weeks ago on Lag b'Omer drew more journalists and police than pilgrims. "We have about 300 people here from abroad today, but most are locals," said Rene Trabelsi, a Paris-based or- ganizer of the celebration whose family oversees the synagogue. "What's impor- tant is that we are having this event this year because last year it did not happen. I hope we can slowly increase the number of people attending each year." Last year, in the aftermath of Tunisia's revolution that overthrew the country's longtime autocrat Zine E1 Abddine Ben Ali and killed more than 300 Tunisians, the celebration was canceled. Pilgrimages in previ- ous years had attracted tlousands of visitors to Djerba. After the El Ghriba Synagogue was attacked in 2002, the pilgrimage was vastly scaled back, but the number of pilgrims.steadily increased until nearly 10,000 came in 2010. Heavy security accompa- nied this year's event, and those coming by car faced some dozen checkloints en route. Elias al-Fakhfakh, Tuni- sia's minister of tourism and a member of the center-left Ettakatol political party, attended on the second day. The crowd, which had been singing kabbalistic tunes outside the synagogue, switched to the Tunisian national anthem as al- Fakhfakh approached. Entering the El Ghriba sanctuary, al-Fakhfakh put on a kabbus, a red traditional Tunisian hat that many Tu- Pilgrims enjoy the Hiloula celebration earlier this month at the E1 Ghriba Synagogue nisian Jewish men wear as in Tunisia. a kippah. Before cameras from al- During the pilgrimage, EI mou, whose father is from pilgrims were Tunisian. most every Tunisian televi- Ghriba's sanctuary becomes Djerba, traveled from Paris Many were local Djer- sion station, al-Fakhfakh a holding place for people's for the celebration, bians; others ame from viewed both the sefer Torah wishes, which are written "I put an egg in the syna- Tunis. The remaining were andholyareawherethefoun- on paper and placed inside gogue because I am married Tunisians visiting from Eu- dation stone is believed to be. cracks of the wallsimilar and want to have ababy,"she rope, although thevisitors "It is great that MuSlims to the Western Wall in Je- told JTA. "My sister is here included a couple of French and Jews can celebrate this rusalem. Coin's are placed because she wants to meet pilgrims. occasion together," he told inside oil lamps for tzedakah, someoneand get married." "My family left Tunisia a cheering crowd before charity. The El Ghriba legend is im- when Iwas 10 years old, but heading off to a meal with Women seekingto marry portantnotonlyforTunisian Ispentalmosteverysummer local Jewish community or have children visit El JewsbutforMuslimsaswell. growing up in Tunisia," said leaders. "Afterthe Tunisian Ghriba and write their "This is a holy place for all Isabel, who came with her revolution we adopted new wishes on boiled eggs, syrn- Djerbians, notjusttheJews," husband and daughter from democratic values. We have bolizing life. Candles are lit a woman named Khalija Paris. "No one will scare a new country with a deep for those asking for good said as she was leaving the me away from coming here heritage that accepts people health and a long life. sanctuary. "I came to light because this is my country. with different cultures and A door to the foundation a candle with my Jewish IamTunisianandwillnever religions, stone, which is beneath the friend." be afraid of my country." "As a government," he ark, is opened during the Unlike previous years, Adjacent to the synagogue said, "we want to embrace pilgrimage, so the candles when the celebration at- is a building that once good relations between Jews and eggs may be placed on tracted Tunisians and non- served as an inn housing and Muslims in the newfree the stone. Tunisians from abroad, visitors, primarily Libyan Tunisia." Newlywed Vanessa Ma- nearly all of this year's JewsvisitingEIGhriba.With Filmmaker writes fromexperience for post-Holocaust drama 'Miglll:y Fine' the growth of the tourism industry and the establish- ment of vast hotels in recent years, the building is mostly abandoned year-round. But during the two-day Hi- loula, the inn becomes a center of celebration. Live traditional Tunisian music, in Hebrew and Arabic, is sung to the beat of the darbouka drum. The smell of fried brik--a flour envelope of potatoes, Tunisian hot sauce known as harissa, parsley and egg--is present in the air. Families sit together on benches and munch on fresh almonds, apricots, oranges, canta- loupe and mulberries that are sold in nearby stands. For some Tunisians who have been abroad for many years, the celebration is a chance to reconnect with Tunisia. On sale are CDs of fa- mous Tunisian Jewish singers from the community's past as well as DVD collections of recent Tunisian sitcoms. Previous celebrations have attracted many Israeli pilgrims, but this year Israel issued a travel warning advis- ing its people not to attend. Perez Trabelsi, El Ghriba's president, criticized the Is- raelis in the local French lan- guage Tunisian newspaper, Le Press, for not attending this year. According to some foreign attendees, many foreign visitors canceled after the Islamit Tunisian party Ennahda invited Youssef Al Qaradawi, a Qatar-based Egyptian sheik well known for his endorsement of sui- cide bombings, on a multi- city speaking tour of Tunisia in the week leading up to the Hiioula. By Naomi Pfefferman Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Filmmaker Debbie Good- stein has taken to heart the adage, "Write what you know." Her 1989 Holocaust documentary, "VoiCes From the Attic," recounts her mother's years of hiding in a garretwhere snow descended through slats in the roof, a baby died and food was scarce. The film also chronicles Goodstein's own journey as a member of the "Second Generation"--a daughter who inherited her mother's fear of cramped spaces as well as the drive to re-enact her. family's experience by hoarding food. Now Goodstein haswritten and directed a semi-autobi- ographical drama, "Mighty Fine,"* opening today, which explores the second half of her childhood equation: how her father's unpredictable rage terrorized the family as his garment business foun- dered-it was not until he sought psychotherapy that healing could take place. In an interview from her New York home, Goodstein, 49, said she embarked upon the film only after seeking her father's permission. "I had been intrigued by the film 'The Great Santini' because the father was such a great, complex character, and the effect he had on his children was so complicated, hor- rific, but also wonderful on another level," she said. "My father was, on the one hand, a very strong and courageous person--even the fact that he's supporting the film--but on another level he was very scared andvulnerable. He had been abandoned for a time by his parents during the Depres- sion and grew up dirt-poor with strangers," she added. "I think his rage came from a deep fear that he would not be able to care for his family in the way he wanted to, and not be the man he hoped to be." "Mighty Fine" follows Joe Fine (Chazz Palminteri) as he moves his wife (Andie MacDowell)--a Holocaust survivor--and his two daugh- ters from Brooklyn to New Orleans in the 1970s. Even as he showers his family with lavish gifts, he is domineering and manipulative, responding to perceived challenges to his authority with bouts of explo: sive temper. His edginess esca- lates as his business d.eclines and he seeks loan money from the Mafia; while his oldest daughter, Maddie (Rainey Qualley), rebels against Joe's iron fist, his younger daugh- ter, Natalie (Jodelle Ferland), internalizes his anger to the point that she becomes pain- fully introverted and fearful. Joe's wife, Stella, meanwhile, is paralyzed between support- ing her husband--the man who gave her a new life after the Shoah--and protecting her children. "It Was almost as though if she said anything against him, she'd wake up back in her hiditlg place in Europe," as Natalie says. In real life, the shadow of the Holocaust amplified the tensions within Goodstein's childhood home: As in the film, her mother viewed her father as her protector, and Debbie, also protective of her mother because of her war- time experiences, was loath to speak up lest she cause additional pain. "My mother had been so used to living with danger that the sense that anything could happen at any time was 'normal' to her," the filmmaker said. Goodstein's father never dealt with Mafiosi--that part of the film is fiction--but Goodstein did develop such an intense fear of authority figures that, as a student at Columbia University film school, she shrunk away from the visiting film luminaries. She was inspired to make "Voices From the Attic" when her aunt brought her to Poland, where a farmer hid 16 members of her family in the low-slung att.ic of a cottage, without plumbing or electricity. "It was a much more sym- pathetic tale to tell than my father's story," Goodstein said. Because "Mighty Fine" was so close to her own life story, she could tackle it only after she was married with two children and had numerous television movies under her belt. Four years ago, memories flowed onto the page, and, Goldstein said, her first draft "came out like a cork" over the course of a two-week period. MacDowell quickly signed on to play Stella and Palmin- teri to play Joe; MacDowell-- whose real-life daughter, Rainey Qualley, plays Maddie in the film--said she has been fascinated, and horrified by the Holocaust since perusing a book on the subject on the sly in her family's living room when she was 4. "I remember the images so clearly or the victims: the piles of people, the emaciated bodies, the bones," she said during an interview at the Four Seasons Adopt Films Stella (Andie MacDowell) and Joe (Chazz Palminteri) enjoy a rare moment of calm in "Mighty Fine." Hotel recently. "My own mother was bi- polar and an alcoholic, and mY role in the family was to keep the peace--I could draw on that for my character," MacDowell added. Palminteri, who told his own story of coming Of age amid Mafiosi in his play and film "A Bronx Tale," has played his share of tough guys. "I'm good at going from zeroto 60 in two seconds," he ' said of the scenes in which Joe's temper erupts. "I'd ask for a five-minute warning before each scene, and that's when I'd start working on it--I would just sit there and brood. Even in scenes where I was not outwardly angry, the rage was always there, underneath." "Mighty Fine" has already received attention for tack- ling the issue of emotional abuse and bullying within the home: Goodstein has been interviewed by a psychiatrist on MSNBC, and reviewers )raised the film during an interactive session with 100 "mum bloggers" this month. "My hope is that my fam- ily's experience can shine light on a subject that's not often enough discussed," Goodstein said. Naomi Pfefferman writes for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, from which this article was re- printed by permission.