Woman in Gold – Movie Review

I’m not a fan of Ryan Reynolds especially after watching the disaster that was The Green Lantern and some piece of tripe he starred in with Jason Bateman. In fact, I don’t care for his acting at all, and I’m being generous when I call it acting. Helen Mirren, on the other hand, is brilliant, fabulous, and classy even if the movie she stars in is horrible and disintegrates around her.

When I saw that Ryan Reynolds had been graciously cast opposite Helen Mirren in the movie Woman in Gold, I cringed wondering if even she could carry the dead weight of Reynold’s flat acting and bleating voice. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she didn’t have to.

Woman in GoldWoman in Gold tells the story of Maria Altmann, a young Jewish woman who fled Austria with her husband during World War II. Sixty years after her forced exile, Maria seeks the help of Attorney Randy Schoenberg to reclaim the famous Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. Maria and Randy take the battle all the way to the US Supreme Court with a slowly building intensity that often left me clenching my teeth as I awaited the outcome of each painful step. I won’t spoil the ending, but rather, I’ll say this is one movie that should not be missed.

What I will focus on is the impression the movie left upon me. It is hard to imagine a regime so evil that it would perfect the practice of hatred to the level that the Nazis did. And yet, one can hardly turn on the news or surf the Internet without seeing this same type of barbarism taking place today all over the world. God forgive us that we are allowing it to happen again.

Equally chilling is the arrogance and indifference with which these acts of terror are met. Of course, it is absolutely criminal that personal property is stolen, but more important are the lives that are being destroyed. As Helen Mirren portraying Maria Altmann said regarding the restitution of the stolen art, it will not bring them back. Still, it is a small step toward acknowledging and righting the wrongs committed.

Then the problem becomes how do we stop the crimes that are occurring now as we make restitution for the past while preventing the evil from raising its ugly head in our future? I believe the answer lies within each person on a daily basis. What will you chose to do today? Acts of good or deeds of evil?

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To Struggle With Forgiveness

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In a previous blog post involving my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, and his two Jewish friends, Reuben and Hannah Wise, I mentioned that the three were divided on the issue of forgiveness as it related to the Holocaust. For reasons that I’ll save for the publication of my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, each of them comes to the table with a different perspective on how the situation should be handled.

When I first wrote the storyline involving the Wises and Dr. Welles, everyone ended up forgiving everyone else with hugs and smiles all around. I admit that I wrote these scenes fast and furiously for NaNoWriMo without having done my research and because I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted the storyline to take.

Then two of my aunts attended a program on women Holocaust survivors and brought me some information on the subject. After reading the materials they gave me, I knew the scenes I wrote concerning the Wises and Dr. Welles were completely inaccurate, and therefore, unbelievable. I had to step back for a moment to analyze where my perspective of forgiveness came from and examine my knowledge of the Holocaust.

Everything I learned about the Holocaust came during my school years, and I can tell you that for the purposes of writing a novel, the knowledge was slim compared to what I found when I conducted my research. I realized I was too far removed from the facts because I was too young to have experienced it firsthand and didn’t have a relative who either perished or survived the concentration camps. My original scenes were trashed, and I set about rewriting the story.

Once the details of time and place were corrected, I worked on an aspect of my story that took me by surprise: the concept of forgiveness as understood by Jewish people who practice Judaism. My experience with forgiveness as I was taught might have influenced Dr. Welles but would seem ridiculous to Reuben and Hannah Wise. By applying my faith based instruction to the overall story, I denied my Jewish characters a single ounce of reality.

The questions that kept going through my head, those that drove my characters, included 1) Do we forgive but not forget? 2) Can only God truly forgive? 3) Must the perpetrators of the crime repent and ask for forgiveness before it can be bestowed? 4) If the criminals are dead, can forgiveness take place? 5) Should we forgive no matter what for every offense committed against us?

There are many articles on the internet about forgiveness written from many different perspectives. I chose to draw on those based in Christianity and Judaism when writing my novel and peppered the views found there with heavy dashes of my characters’ own attitudes and viewpoints.

The following article, “Can You Forgive Hitler?” written by Stewart Ain, September 22, 2006, for The Jewish Week, is the article that helped me the most when deciding how to have my characters react to the difficult questions and trying situation with which they struggled.

It’s easy to say what I would do until faced with the death of my loved ones at the hands of evil people. Still, I wonder about Holocaust survivors who do forgive and maintain their faith regardless of the hell they endured versus those who refuse to forgive and lose their faith because of the hell they endured. It scares me to know that because of the condition of our world today, many are challenged with these same questions.

By Bread Alone

1433270193628Forgiveness is a tricky concept. It is easily applied to a situation when the transgression is minor. A forgotten birthday, a word misspoken in haste, a misunderstanding of perceptions; forgiveness is willingly doled out in each of these instances.

But what about the attempted genocide of an entire people? Or searching one’s own soul in an effort to release a lifetime of guilt? Who is responsible to bestow forgiveness to the offenders when these are the circumstances? Man and/or God?

These are the questions that trouble the minds of Reuben and Hannah Wise and Dr. John Welles after they dine together one January evening in 1955. All three are divided in their opinions concerning the particular events that generated their questions. While they remain polite toward each other, a wedge has been driven into their friendship, especially between Hannah and John.

I chose to have Reuben serve challah bread during the Shabbat meal to which he and Hannah invited John for two reasons. For one, challah is traditionally served during the observation of Shabbat. More importantly, though, the presence of bread during this significant meal drew attention to the many references of bread in the Bible as well as underscored the differences between the Wises and Dr. Welles.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the challah Reuben made in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I hope you will enjoy this lightly sweet, rich, and delicious bread with your meals.

Reuben Wise’s Challah Bread

1 ½ cups warm water

2 tablespoon yeast

½ cup olive oil

½ cup sugar (or honey) (I used raw sugar)

3 eggs (2 for the recipe and 1 for the wash)

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups flour (slightly packed)

In a Kitchen Aid mixer add 1 ½ cups lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons yeast. Mix gently and allow the yeast to foam.

Add ½ cup sugar (or honey), ½ cup olive oil, 2 eggs, and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well, approximately one minute or so. Add the six cups of flour one at a time and mix thoroughly with a bread hook. You may need to add ½ cup of flour if the dough is very sticky.

Remove from the mixing bowl and divide the dough into two halves. Divide each half into four pieces and roll each piece to about 12 – 14 inches in length. Braid the pieces of dough. (You can find instructions for braiding challah on the internet. I chose a four-strand braid for my bread.)

Brush each braided loaf with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little water to thin it). Place the braided loaves on a non-stick cookie sheet with parchment paper or a cooking mat on it and sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or slivered almonds. Let the loaves rise until about 1/3 larger in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the loaves for 23 – 25 minutes. Loaves should be golden and firm when finished.

This recipe can also be mixed and kneaded by hand.

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The traditional blessing over the bread as spoken by Reuben Wise:

HAMOTZI – Blessing Over the Bread

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, Ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.

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Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who brings forth bread from the earth.

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