Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yael Perlov's introduction to TJFF's screening of her father's landmark film, In Jerusalem

Right: David Perlov (photo © Mira Perlov); Below: Daughter Yael in Perlov's Diary (1973-1983),

As part of a special programme exploring the city of Jerusalem before and after its reunification during the Six Day War, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival offered David Perlov’s 1963 landmark documentary,
In Jerusalem. On behalf of the Perlov family, daughter Yael offered the following introduction to her father’s film:

David Perlov, my father, had never made serious efforts to be shown abroad: he was not a man of festivals.

When he died five years ago, the Israeli cinema critics were unanimous to speak of him as "The most important Israeli Filmmaker". Nevertheless it was only two years later that his work began to be shown abroad when the Centre Pompidou organized a retrospective of his films. Since then Diary and In Jerusalem have been invited and shown all over at international film festivals and cinematheques in France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Brazil Argentina, and more.

I would like, of course, to thank the public here, for coming and showing curiosity for a film director yet unknown in Canada.

Allow me to give briefly some milestones of Perlov's biography:

He was born in Brazil and began his artistic career as a painter. At the age of twenty he leaves for Paris, where after a short time of studies, he fell in love with cinema, worked as assistant of Henri Langlois at the Cinematheque Francaise and then collaborated with the documentarist Joris Ivens in the editing of a film on Marc Chagall.

In 1957, while still in Paris, he makes his first short film: Old Aunt China, which was supported by the British Film Institute.

He arrived in Israel in 1958. He began directing documentary films for the local authorities, yet throughout the 1960s he constantly clashed with the ideological demands of the Israeli establishment. As he himself said in an interview years later, "I wanted to make films about people, they wanted films on ideas".

In 1963 Perlov made In Jerusalem, which has become a turning point and a milestone in Israeli cinema. The film set a new, free style for documentary work in Israel.

A still from David Perlov's In Jerusalem

The structure of the film, in its 10 different episodes connected by a repeated image of a stonemason, presents the city in a poetic and fragmented way, which avoids the strong symbolic conception so often attached to Jerusalem.

As he himself said: "I filmed at street level. I have a tendency to shoot the below". He wanted to show the people living in Jerusalem as they are: on the one hand, the extreme severity of the orthodox who avoid the camera, and on the other, the warmth of those who want to participate willingly and openly in the scenes that are shot.

In the year 1963, in the official cultural atmosphere of the country, (it was the year that the Beatles were not allowed to perform in Israel because it was feared they might have a negative influence on the local youth), the film In Jerusalem created a shock: It was different, it had a strict formal conception and a lyrical rather then ideological approach.

The authorities that financed the project were determined, for example, to censor one of the sequences that bothered them most of all. It was the sequence showing beggars in the holy city, which was based on a legend stating that, before the coming of the herald Messiah, another Messiah would announce the great event and he himself would appear as a beggar. David then shows several of the beggars in the city. The Prime ministry, the Jewish agency and the national Film Service found this scene scandalous. “After all ", as David says in the interview, " the country was socialist and the producers protested: There are no beggars in Jerusalem. There are no barefoot [people] in the country.

To the establishment’s mind, people were brought to Israel and given clothes and shoes. So how could I go a around the city shooting the exceptions? “In short, they wanted me to forget the film and proposed that I make another one. "

Eventually the whole matter reached Levi Eshkol, then the Prime minister of Israel, for his judgment. He was a man [with a] sense of humor and he approved the film.

To read Uri Klein's interview with David Perlov about In Jerusalem, click here.
To visit the David Perlov website, click here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

An Interview with Cathy Randall, writer/director of Hey Hey It's Esther Blueberger


FilmMatters and Programmer
Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Hey Hey It's Esther Blueberger
is a fun and cheeky Australian comedy about a 13-year old girl, Esther (Danielle Catanzariti), who feels like an alien. The girls at her posh private school think that she is a nerd and even her mother pressures her to act “normal”. Esther chooses to break free at her bat mitzvah where she escapes her own party and befriends Sunni (played by Whale Rider’s Keisha Castle-Hughes), the effortlessly cool girl from the local public school. Pretending to be a Swedish exchange student, Esther starts going to Sunni’s school and spending time with Sunni’s hip and spontaneous mother, Mary (Toni Collette).

Randall directing Castle-Hughes and Catanzariti

The following is a director's statement from Esther Blueberger writer/director, Cathy Randall:

From Huck Finn to Holden Caulfield, from Ferris Bueller to Napoleon Dynamite, a long line of adolescent outcasts in literature and movies have traversed the grey zone between childhood and adulthood with a perceptiveness and verve that illuminates something true about life at any age. Yet, almost none of them have been girls. With this in mind I wrote Hey Hey It's Esther Blueberger, drawing from my own experience as an Australian Jew to create an outsider character that struggles to fit the social norm but through the course of her journey - a series of daring acts and foolish mistakes - learns its okay to be different.

I recently had the opportunity to interview director
Randall by email .

SUSAN STARKMAN: What made you decide to become a filmmaker?

CATHY RANDALL: I’ve always wanted to be a writer so I decided to try screenwriting, thinking that it might be a way to make money. Once I started screenwriting, I became fascinated in directing because I viewed it as an extension of the storytelling process, and another way to challenge and express myself creatively.

SS: Based on your screenplay for Hey, Hey It’s Esther Blueburger, you were awarded a scholarship to the Los Angeles Film School’s Feature Development Program. Who did you work with there and how did the screenplay evolve over that time?

CR: The course was fantastic because, although it didn’t teach filmmaking in a practical sense, I was given the opportunity to develop the screenplay and learnt a great deal about so many different aspects of filmmaking—from financing to marketing, directing and editing. The faculty was excellent and, because the school was located in Hollywood, quite often we would have guests – all kinds of industry professionals – come and give us a class. Among the most memorable were producers, Saul Zaentz and Barbara Boyle.

The fulltime faculty included Linda Cowgill (scriptwriting), Harry Clein (marketing), Gabrielle Kelly (producing), Daniele Suissa (directing), Amadeo D’adamo (directing), Donn Cambern (editing)

The screenplay evolved by becoming lighter and funnier and also the story and structure got tighter.

SS: Does the story in any way reflect your own adolescent experiences?

CR:The story is loosely drawn from my own adolescence, but warped and twisted and filtered through my imagination so, in fact, it doesn’t feel like Esther resembles me at all. But I did go to two different schools (private and public), and have a bat-mitzvah. And I do have a twin brother but I have a sister as well.

SS: How much do you think the experience of adolescence has changed from when you were in high school to when you went back to that environment as an adult director?

CR: I don’t think it’s changed very much at all. I think 13, the age I was writing about, is a fascinating age because I believe you experience things more intensely than you ever have before or ever will again. It’s that wonderful grey zone between childhood and adulthood where you start to experience puberty and break away from your parents and form surrogate families with your friends. It can be a time of intense introspection and self-exploration as you start to reform your identity as an adult and gain some autonomy separate to your parents.

SS: The film has a unique aesthetic style that you have referred to as “Esther vision.” Did you have a clear idea of how you were going to approach the visual style of the film when you were writing the screenplay?

CR: The whole time I was writing the screenplay, I was collecting images from books and magazines that I found inspiring or thought would feed into the look of the film in some way, so, quite often, my writing was influenced by the images [and vice versa]. For instance the idea of Sunni having a xylophone doorbell came from an image I cut out of a magazine.

SS: Who do you consider to be your main artistic influences?

CR: I don’t have any specific artistic influences but I’ve always known I wanted the film to have vivid colours and to have a strong sense of choreography. I think I was very much influenced by my love of musicals and dance, both modern and classical. Films like The Red Shoes and Cabaret probably had a powerful effect on me.

SS: The soundtrack is an integral part of the film. How many of the songs were written specifically for the film?

CR: The only song that was written specifically for the film was the title track which runs over the opening credits, “The Only One” by Paul Mac. There was an original score written as well.

SS: As a first-time director, how difficult was it for you to enlist such well-known actors as Toni Collette, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Essie Davis?

CR: It was actually very easy and straightforward. They all loved the script and wanted to be a part of it when they read it.

SS: The relationship between Esther and Sunni feels authentic. How much time did Danielle and Keisha have to get to know each other before filming? Was there much rehearsal time?

CR: We had four weeks of rehearsal, which was a wonderful luxury, and they were pretty intense so Danielle and Keisha got to do a lot of bonding before shooting started.

SS: Was there any room for improvisation once production on the film started or did everyone adhere to the screenplay? I am thinking particularly of the poem that Esther makes up about her name. Was any of that Danielle’s creation or was it scripted exactly like that?

CR: There was practically no improvisation at all once the shoot started—in fact, none that I can think of. Everyone adhered to the screenplay. The poem was entirely scripted although Danielle fed into the performance – for instance the hand movements she does, where she moves the imaginary letters around, were Danielle’s creation.

SS: I understand that Keisha was pregnant while filming. Was the rest of the cast aware of this at the time? How did the other teenage actors react to her pregnancy at such a young age?

CR: The rest of the cast were fully aware of Keisha’s pregnancy and were completely supportive.

SS: Hey, Hey It’s Esther Blueburger takes a refreshingly frank look at teenage sexuality. I understand that the initial cut of the film included a scene in which Esther engages in oral sex. Why was this taken out of the final cut?

CR: It was only taken out of the American cut of the film because of some feedback we got from American distributors that the film would not sell with it. The Australian cut still has the original oral sex scene, which was there to demonstrate just how far Esther will go in order to fit in.

SS: How much of Esther’s sense of alienation is due to her being Jewish in a WASPy environment? Do you see it as being the main cause or just a contributing factor?

CR: I see it as a contributing factor. Esther is an individual in so many ways – she’s got a kooky imagination and way of seeing the world, and when we first meet her, she’s trapped in an environment where individuality isn’t encouraged, where it’s all about being the same in order to fit in. I think Esther would really love to fit in but simply doesn’t know how to.

SS: Recently, two of Sydney’s most elite private boys’ schools were involved in creating an anti-Semitic page on Facebook that received a great deal of media attention. Do you think that Jewish students in Australia experience more racist discrimination than other minority groups in the country?

CR: I can only speak from my own experience and that of my friends and I would have to say no, not at all. I have never experienced anti-Semitism and nor have my friends (that I know of). The Facebook incident was shocking and very surprising.

SS: While there are other Australian films set in state schools or private schools, Hey, Hey It’s Esther Blueburger effectively highlights both systems and the vast socio-economic gulf that separates them. Was this the source of much media discussion surrounding the film? How did the educational community receive the film?

CR: As far as I can remember it wasn’t the source of much media discussion at all, although it did generate a lot of supportive feedback from the general public. And I still get into the private versus public school debate conversations with people who see the film.
The educational community received the film well and there were many teachers keen to teach it at schools.

SS: Australia has produced a number of coming age films, such as the Year My Voice Broke, Australian Rules and Looking For Alibrandi. Why do you think that so many filmmakers in Australia are drawn to the adolescent experience? Is it possible that Australian filmmakers themselves are coming of age in terms of creating a uniquely Australian brand of cinema that does not borrow from American and English traditions?

CR: I think there are a lot of coming of age films produced in every country as filmmakers and storytellers generally are drawn to the adolescent experience because it is such a fascinating time of self-discovery that produces inherently interesting stories.
Perhaps as you say, Australians filmmakers are coming of age, but we also have a strong culture of writer-directors who draw on their own experiences when writing scripts.

SS: What is next in the pipeline for you?

CR: I’m developing a couple of different ideas – primarily concentrating on writing a script (too early to talk about it in detail yet) about a young female protagonist and lots of song and dance!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Interview with Cindy Kleine, director of Phyllis and Harold

Assistant Programming Coordinator
Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Film and video artist Cindy Kleine brings her most recent documentary,
Phyllis and Harold, to the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. In this film, Kleine whimsically blends animation, family photographs, home movies and cinema verité to tell the story of her parents’ troubled 59-year marriage. Set in the vividly-recreated upper-middle class suburbs of Long Island, this tour-de-force documentary captures the values, ambitions and stifled longings of her parents’ generation of North American Jews.

You can visit Cindy Kleine’s website, by clicking here.

Filmmaker Cindy Kleine

Stuart Hands: Would you mind talking about the evolution of your film, Phyllis and Harold? How was it initially conceived?

Cindy Kleine: It started with the interviews that you see in the first quarter of the film, the ones where [my parents] are wearing their sunglasses. I interviewed them separately and asked them the same questions, and they answered with completely different perspectives. I was shooting those interviews with the intention of using them as dialogue for a fiction film. So I started editing them to make transcripts for the actors to read. And as I was in the process of cutting, I became completely enamored of how incredible these interviews were when cut together. I then ended up not doing the fiction film, because I thought you could never get actors to do this convincingly, and the material was so strong. So then I just used what I cut together for the transcript, which became a short film called Till Death Do us Part. That film was shown in 1998 and 1999. It was not shown widely because I didn’t want it to be distributed, as my parents were still alive at that point and I knew I wanted to keep working on the film. I knew I couldn’t tell the whole story while my dad was alive so I kept working on it in sections. I had this idea of making a feature-length film out of three or four short films. I then made the second section, which showed them reading the letters—that was at one time a kind of separate film—but it didn’t really stand on its own. It kind of went from there, and little by little, over twelve years, it kept growing and evolving into what it is now.

The two interviews from Till Death Do Us Part, which reappear in Phyllis and Harold

Married for 55 years, Phyllis and Harold read their love letters from their courtship

SH How much of Phyllis and Harold did your mother see before she passed away?

CK: Sadly, she didn’t see the whole finished film. She died before it was finished. What she did see was Till Death Do Us Part, the twenty-minute short of those interviews, which she loved. My father saw Till Death Do Us Part before it was completely finished, when it was a ten-minute film, but it didn’t have my mother blatantly talk about the affair she had: She sort of eluded to it in a way that, if you didn’t want to get it, you didn’t get it, and he didn’t get it. He looked at the ten-minute cut of the interviews and thought it was hysterically funny, which amazed me. He was just sitting there laughing and he grabbed my mother’s hand. I realized later that he thought it was so funny because she was saying things like, “oh those so-called love letters he sent me”, where she was being really negative. But, on the other hand, she married him and here they were sitting there fifty-five years later, still together, and somehow it struck him as hilarious. I was nervous because I didn’t know if he would be hurt by it. I had no idea how he would react, but he loved it.

SH: Have any friends or family of your parents seen the film?

CK: A lot of their friends aren’t around anymore, but there have been several of their friends who have seen it. It’s very difficult for their friends. A couple of my mother’s friends have seen it. They knew the story, knew her basic story, so it didn’t really come as a complete surprise, but I think it was very difficult for them. I realized when I showed it to them that each of us is a different person to whoever knows us in our life— your mother sees you in a totally different way than your friend sees you, and your sibling sees you differently than someone else does—so I realized that, for them, it was difficult for them to see me portraying my mother as a kind of narcissist. Nobody had any objection to my portrayal of my dad. In fact my dad’s brother just saw it recently. He watched it without me—in fact I didn’t even know he watched it—but he loved it. I was really worried about him seeing it, but he absolutely loved it and wanted to see it again. But, one friend of my mother’s—her best friend—was quite upset by it: She felt that I portrayed my mother wrongly; it wasn’t the way that she saw her. I think what happens is that people project their own issues on to it and so she saw it in her own way and we had to have some discussions about it. She is fine now, but she wasn’t thrilled about it.

SH: Over the course of your filmmaking career, did it take time for your parents to become comfortable in front of your camera?

CK: No, not at all. One of the big lucky things that allowed me to make this film is that they were completely comfortable with the camera from the first second I turned it on. I didn’t have to coax them. A lot of people asked me, how did you get them to do this? That was a non-issue. I would just turn the camera on and they would talk really freely, my mother more freely as you can see. My father is not a big talker, but they were both very happy to answer questions. The only times that they were slightly [ill at ease were when] I was filming them in their house and they are walking around in their underwear and doing their own thing: They would suddenly get self-conscious and look at me and say, “Why are you filming this? Don’t you want us to do something? Why is this interesting?” They felt funny just being filmed doing nothing. Other than that, they were fine. My mother would just light up in front of the camera—she absolutely loved it.

SH: What has been the response so far to your film, Phyllis and Harold, among American Jews of your parents’ generation?

CK: Not surprisingly most American Jews of my parents’ generation find at least a little something they can relate to. It’s only been shown at one Jewish film festival [The Boston Jewish Film Festival] and that was my best screening, because it was a huge audience which just seemed to relate to it on an even deeper level and more broadly than most others. It seemed that a lot of people were laughing at most things that I think are funny, which most people don’t get, because it’s got that dark Jewish sense of humor. Every time I’ve shown it, people come up to me and say, we lived in Long Island right near there and my marriage was exactly like that. People really relate to it, not only Jews, but many people of that generation.

SH: Were there Jewish women in the audience that could relate to the sense of being stifled like your mom was?

CK: Absolutely, I think that’s one of the things that most women could relate to. I think that whole generation of women was really stifled. They were trapped in their lives and their marriages by the cultural expectations and what it meant at that time to be a wife. It’s not just the Jews of that generation, except that I think, at least for my parents, there was a [Jewish emphasis] on family that it made it very difficult to get out of marriages— people didn’t get divorced if they were unhappy. There was a sense of having to stick with it, not wanting to destroy the family. You married someone that you didn’t necessarily love, but they were your high school sweet heart and you didn’t want to disappoint your family if you didn’t [marry them]. There was a lot of that stuff going around for my parents and their friends.

An early home movie seen in Kleine's Phyllis and Harold

SH: Despite the bitterness you must have developed toward your parents while growing up, you display sensitivity and understanding toward them in your film. How were you able to achieve such perspective?

CK: Achieving a certain perspective, I would say, is just who I am, who I grew to be. Maybe it’s from coming out of that family. From a very young age, I remember my parents screaming at each other, and I would go into my room, close the door and draw. It was as if making art was my own way of making my own world, blocking them out, deciding how I can make my own reality. Making art can be a very redemptive activity, almost like an alchemical process, where you take reality and transform it into something else, something more like you want it to be. I think there is [a kid] in every family who is just always on the outside, just observing, and that is who I was. The act of making my family members into characters in my films also allowed me to [see] them at a distance, to objectify them, to see them with more perspective and, I think, therefore, with more compassion too. I wasn’t embroiled in my own emotions toward them as much. Maybe that’s also partly why I became a filmmaker. You remove yourself and put yourself behind the camera. Maybe, in a sense, I learned that from my father, because he was always doing that—he was kind of always there but behind the camera.

SH: Was he more comfortable like that?

CK: I think he was. He even said in the film at one point, “you know me, I’m not a communicator.” He wasn’t a big talker, he didn’t talk about feelings or emotion. As kids, he adored us, but I think he felt more comfortable taking our picture than grabbing us and putting us on his lap and telling us a story. He was sort of shy and uncomfortable with children, which I think was a generational thing. I think a lot of men [of that era] were uncomfortable with children because they were off working all day while the women took care of the kids.

SH: What gifts do you think your parents gave you? What positive lessons did they teach you?

CK: [Concerning my mother], in one way, I feel her character was a study of narcissism, but on the other hand, she was trapped in her life and her marriage—but she talked about it so freely. In a way, she became my teacher, the person I learned from [in terms of] how I didn’t want to live, the kind of marriage I didn’t want to have. So her talking about all that was a gift to me. And, in a way, my father was also my teacher: He taught me how to use a camera; he was always making these gorgeous photographs, even when his subject was this family that was completely dysfunctional. He made photos that were gorgeous as well as really honest: As you see in the film, he didn’t only make my family look fabulous. He also took those bizarre pictures of my sister looking like she wanted to flush me down the toilet. He saw with an honest eye, I think.

SH: You said in a previous interview that your father as a photographer had a great sense of composition.

CK: Oh yeah, I think he was really talented. He took thousands of pictures. I had to choose from approximately 2500 slides that he shot; the amount used in the film is nothing. Actually I still have this idea of one day publishing a book of his photographs because they are really classic forties and fifties family shots. He had an amazing sense of composition. He was a really great, talented, creative guy. I once said to him, “you’re so good at [photography], you’re really talented.” And he said, “Ah, you’re ridiculous, it’s just a hobby” Anything that you didn’t make money out of didn’t seem to him as being valid. To him, work equaled money, otherwise it was just a hobby, so he sort of poo-pooed it. But he was very talented.

SH: Your short film Nana focuses on your mother’s mother. What do you feel are the differences between the marriage of your grandmother and that of your mother?

Shots from Kleine's Nana (1987)

CK: It’s an interesting question. I would say that I come from a long line of matriarchal Jewish women. They all were very powerful. My grandmother was the ruler of the roost—[her home] was her domain and she hardly ever left it. She moved around her house like my mother did around hers, but with total control. In some ways, they both married similar kinds of men: They both married men who would allow them to be the boss and let them walk all over them, be mean to them and yell at them. My nana would scream at her husband all the time. They were married for 68 years and they fought the whole time. [My mother and grandmother] had similar marriages, but the difference was generational, as my nana was a first generation Jew.

My great grandmother Rose—my Nana’s mother—came over in steerage on a boat from Europe at age 18: She was pregnant and had a miscarriage on the boat. She came over by herself because, while on the train before they got to the boat, her husband was hauled off the train by the police because he didn’t have his papers when he went to go use the washroom. So Great Grandmother Rose was pregnant, sitting on this train and her husband never came back from the bathroom. She got to the place where the boat docked and waited for him for three days, but he never showed up. So she got on the boat by herself and ended up on Ellis Island by herself, after having a miscarriage on the boat. She then found some relative on the Lower East Side, moved in with them and opened a saloon. She became a saloon-keeper—she was this tough, fierce, big lady. She single-handedly ran this saloon and would throw out drunks by herself, apparently. She had ten children and her husband, I was told, was a Talmud Scholar, so he was always upstairs studying, because he was too religious to work (that was the phrase I always heard). So my nana, from age 12, grew up working in this saloon and pouring beer for the big, drunk guys. She was very tough, had a very hard life and she never complained. I’m sure my grandmother had her issues and fought all the time with her husband, but she would never have whined and complained about it: [She felt that one had their] lot in life and you did what you had to do, and you worked very hard.

My mother, on the other hand, had a very easy life. My grandmother had enough money for my mother to go to Brooklyn College for day classes, which was a big step up in the world. My mother then married someone who had money. So she had a relatively easy life and didn’t have to work nearly as hard—if at all—like my grandmother did, but she was always complaining about her marriage. So I think there was this big difference in generation.

SH: Do you think there was a certain strength that was passed from your grandmother to your mother, but your mother had no place to use it?

CK: I think there is something to that. I think my grandmother passed a lot of things to my mother and I don’t really know a lot about them. Nana never really talked about anything personal. I never saw my grandmother cry. She was a very tightly-wound person. I can’t really imagine what kind of mother she was. The only thing I know about her was that, as a mother, she—and I think this is very generational thing—brought my mother up to be this beautiful darling that would attract the right man. It was very important that she always looked perfect—you can see that in the old home movies. She had these gorgeous outfits that Nana made her—coats with beautiful fur collars—and she always had beautiful makeup. I think she primped her like a doll. When you had a daughter at that time, you had to make them very attractive, charming and lady-like so they would get a good man who could support them. There wasn’t a sense that she would make a living or become a professional woman, because it was too early for that.

SH: I wonder if your mom hadn’t had everything done for her, had she been given a greater sense of independence, would she have been as preoccupied with this affair and the life she could have had with this other man?

CK: I don’t know if the life she had with the other man was just a fantasy that she would have needed within any marriage. I get the feeling that if she had married this lover, she still would have been unfulfilled, but I obviously could never know that.

SH: While growing up, did you feel much connection to your Jewishness?

CK: Growing up, my Jewishness was something I just took for granted because I didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t Jewish. In Long Island, my whole neighborhood was Jewish. Like other kids, I was dragged to the temple for high holidays and forced to wear new outfits. It never really meant anything to me and, in fact, it really bored me. [At synagogue] my friends and I would go into the bathroom and smoke cigarettes and stuff. I knew we were Jewish and I knew what we were suppose to do, but nobody really ever taught me what it meant to be Jewish. Then when I went to prep school, where I was one of five Jews in the whole school, I started to have a consciousness that there is something different or weird about being Jewish. But, it wasn’t until I was 40 that I started to become interested and embraced [my Jewish roots]. Two things happened simultaneously. First of all, I met the man who is now my husband Andre [theatre director, actor, playwright and painter Andre Gregory] who is the first Jewish man I ever had as a boyfriend. All my boyfriends [that lasted beyond a couple of weeks] were not Jewish. Also, when I turned forty, I started to take Kabbalah classes from this amazing Rabbi here in New York named Joseph Gelberman. He is about to have his 97th birthday and he is still teaching. He changed my life. He really became an important teacher for me, as he really taught me what Jewishness was and what it meant to me, mostly through the mysticism side of it. He officiated at both my parents’ funerals as well as married my husband and I here in New York. He’s become a very important person to me. It’s only been in the past 10 years that I’ve been into that.

SH: Did your parents attend your wedding?

CK: We had two weddings: the first was in Hawaii in the garden among the ruins of an old Sugar Mill. My parents did not come to the wedding because it was too far away, which we kind of knew and that is why we did it there. The minute I told my parents that I was getting married—they both were on the phone—it was one of the most hilarious conversations I ever had with them. The two of them were on the phone in different parts of the house and I’m in New York telling them. The reaction I expected was, “oh congratulations that is so great”. They—especially my father—[responded with], oh my god we’ve got to tell everyone, we’ve got to invite so and so…people I had never even heard of. I realized that in five minutes, they were going to insist on having this wedding with 300 people I didn’t know, and I started to panic. So we ended up going to Hawaii, where there were only 12 guests at the wedding. And a couple weeks later, we had a New York wedding for our family, where the Rabbi married us again. My parents were at that wedding, in fact they walked me down the aisle.