“Why was it,” she asked herself, “that animals can sometimes subdue their predatory ways in only a few months, while humans, despite centuries of refinement, can quickly grow more savage than any beast?”

– Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper’s Wife, pg. 239



Incredibly moving, and beautifully filmed, The Zookeepers Wife is based on the true story of Jan and Antonia Żabiński, a husband and wife who were keepers of the Warsaw Zoo.

In September 1939 with the invasion of Germany into Poland, the raining of bombs on Warsaw also rained on the zoo. Many animals were killed. Following the bombing, animals that were considered valuable were transported to a reserve close to Berlin to be cared for and protected. Those deemed not valuable were killed – shot as sport by the Nazi soldiers. Though these scenes are heart wrenching to watch – there is added depth of horror as the parallel between the plight of these animals and the plight of the Jews by the Nazi’s is evident.

Jan and Antonia were part of the Polish underground and sheltered 300+ Jews (all, but  two, of whom survived). Some were hidden, in the empty cages and their basement, for a few days, and others for years. In occupied Poland, when even handing a Jew a drink of water was punishable by death, the courage of Jan and Antonia is even more astounding.

For animal lovers, the tender scenes of interaction between Antonia and the animals warm one’s heart and is a touching witness of chesed (kindness) so needed in todays world.

The musical score is especially moving and the “Mah Nishtanah” coupled with the scenes of the burning of the Warsaw Ghetto on Passover Eve 1943 is particularly memorable.

Powerfully capturing the terror of war-torn Warsaw, the makers of this film were extremely sensitive as the majority of the violence is off-screen. But even offscreen, the brutal rape of a young girl, Ursula, by two Nazi soldiers is hard to bear.

Following the film’s theme of chesed, we are given glimpses of another inspiring, heroic man, Dr. Janusz Korczak. Dr. Janusz Korczak was a man who devoted his life to children and was the director of an orphanage in Warsaw. Refusing sanctuary, Dr. Korczak stayed with his children and was deported with them to the death camp of Treblinka.

The Zookeepers Wife tells a story of human kindness amidst unimaginable  evil. Highlighting healing, kindness, and compassion, it is a story that the world needs to hear.

On September 21, 1965, Yad Vashem – the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem – recognized Jan Żabiński and his wife, Antonina Żabińska, as Righteous Among the Nations.

~ review by Cindy

To purchase or rent via Amazon Videos you can click here: The Zookeeper’s Wife

BODY AND SOUL: The State of the Jewish Nation

This film was necessary to make as a way to understand the centrality of Israel to the Jewish identity…

The campaigns to erase Jewish history are getting stronger, and even though their arguments make no sense, if its repeated enough people will buy it.*

PosterBody and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation
Gloria Greenfield
Sound track by Sharon Farber,

Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation, is an informative and inspiring film that recounts the story of the Jewish people, the Land of Israel, and their undeniable connection. Featuring commentary from over three dozen historians, archaeologists, lawyers, religious leaders, and diplomats, Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation recounts the 3500 year saga of residency, exile, and return.

Palestinians were given a fictional national identity, a national identity invented solely for the purpose of destroying a true one … Many people subscribe to this mad narrative who are not irrational or haters of Jews, but believe in justice. They believe lies, that illegality is law. Many millions have been fed a big lie.**

Addressing misinformation, propaganda, and outright lies that are being spoken and accepted as truth, this short film (65 minutes) sets the record straight. Though it may not contain anything new, per se, to those who are lovers of Israel and the Jewish people, there is value in hearing the truth spoken clearly and succinctly. This documentary goes a long way in strengthening those of us who stand with Israel against gales of ignorance and Anti-Semitism.

Understanding that we live in an ahistorical society,  Body and Soul: the State of the Jewish Nation is an invaluable film to share with those who have gained their understanding of history from the media and Hollywood, or who have been indoctrinated elsewhere with the pseudo-historical anti-Israel narrative.

Eventually this valuable film will be for sale via At this time, you can buy or rent Body and Soul: The State of the Jewish Nation via iTunes or visit Body and Soul The Movie in order to purchase this important documentary.

Enjoy the trailer for Body and Soul: The State of Jewish Nation below.

In order to construct a society you need a land … Jews have lived on every corner of the globe in 4000 years … Only in one place have they ever been able to do what every other nation takes as an elementary right – to construct a society according to their own values and that is Israel.
~ Rabbi Sacks

~ Review by Cindy

* Gloria Greenfield as quoted by Maya Shwayder in The Jerusalem Post, ‘Body & Soul’ – New documentary on history of Jews receives warm reception in New York
** Melanie Phillips, British journalist and political commentator


You came to us when we needed you most, during those hard and uncertain days of our 1948 War of Independence. You gave us not only your experience, but your lives as well. The People of Israel and the State of Israel will never forget, and will always cherish this unique contribution made by you – the volunteers of Machal.
– Yitzchak Rabin

above and beyond

Produced by Nancy Spielberg
Directed by Roberta Grossman

In May of 1948 the nascent State of Israel found itself fighting an onslaught of well equipped armies and air-based forces from 5 Arab States. The Arabs vowed to finish the job that Hitler had started.

At that time volunteers – individuals from other nations known as the Machal (mitnadvei chutz l’Aretz – meaning “volunteers from overseas or out of the Land”) joined Israel in their fight for survival.

Above and Beyond tells the amazing story of a group of these machal – specifically, those who formed the first IAF – Israel Air Force – a unit forged in the heat of battle.

Al Schwimmer

Al Schwimmer * – known as the father of the Israeli Air Force –  was a Jewish American WWII vet. He defied the unlicensed arms trade provision of 1939 Neutrality Act by smuggling cast off aircraft to Israel. He called a few of his buddies, who rallied around, and these friends became the first IAF volunteers.

AboveandBeyond3 **

The first IAF planes were WWII surplus ‘junk’:

“We kept them together with wire and spit and prayer. Every time we flew, we had some kind of a problem.” – Harold Livingston

Of the 33 IAF fliers killed or missing during the War of Independence, 19 were Machal.***

In Above and Beyond you will meet these heroic men through interviews and archived material.

An outstanding documentary with remarkable footage that brings to life the bravery and sacrifice of these volunteers and the difference they made to the reborn State of Israel.

Totally engrossing, deeply moving, incredibly inspiring, the best of the best of documentaries I have seen in a long while. A real David versus Goliath story, to which one can only respond:

Am Yisrael Chai!
The Nation of Israel Lives! Praise be to 

You can watch Above and Beyond for free at Netflix and Amazon Prime.  It is also available to rent (or purchase) via amazon.comAbove and Beyond

Watch the movie trailer below.

* Al Schwimmer was indicted and lost his voting rights, veteran benefits, and was fined $10,000. In 2001, President Clinton gave Schwimmer a presidential pardon.
** Picture from
*** Jewish Virtual Library

~ review by Cindy


fill the void

Written and Directed by Rama Burshtein

Fill The Void is a beautiful, heart stirring film that tells the story of 18 year old Shira* Mendelian, a Hasidic girl who lives in Tel Aviv. During the joyous celebration of Purim Shira’s family experiences the shattering tragedy of death. Esther, Shira’s older sister, dies in childbirth leaving behind a heart broken husband (Yochay), an anguished family, and Mordechai, a newborn son who needs a mother.

One day Yochay’s mother approaches Shira’s mother (Rivka) with the possibility of Yochay remarrying, for the good of Mordechai. The proposed ‘bride to be’ lives in Belgium and Yochay plans to take Mordecai and move there. Rivka, distraught at the thought of loosing Morchechai, conceives a plan for Yochay and Shira to marry.

In her director’s notes, Burshtein wrote, “I love Jane Austen. She’s romantic, intelligent, and full of humor. … The parallel is also quite obvious in that ‘Fill the Void’ takes place in a world where the rules are rigid and clear. The characters are not looking for some way to burst out of that world. Instead, they are trying to find a way to live within it.”** For fans of Jane Austin, you will see her influence in this moving film where one young girl is asked to fill the void.

Fill The Void with it’s quietness and depth is not a film that you watch, but one that you experience. One caution – keep a box of Kleenex handy.

For those of us not quite as fluid with Hebrew, no worries – the film has English subtitles.

You can rent Fill The Void at Fill The Void or purchase it here from to enjoy over and over again Fill the Void

Recommended by Keren “The film is beautiful, visually and in it’s meaningful portrayal of a Hassidic family in Israel and the reality of life choices we all are faced with in one form or another. It leaves one with much understanding and also many questions, which is always a good thing! It’s one to watch many times over.”

Review by Cindy

*Shira means a song
** Peter Canavese, Pleasanton Weekly, quoted at


shalom Sesame Street

 Shalom Sesame Street – Shalom Rechov Sumsum
רחוב שומשום שלום

Shalom Sesame is a co-production between Sesame Street and its Israeli counterpart, Rechov Sumsum. The series was conceived as an attempt to bring Israeli life and Jewish culture to American audiences… and was targeted at an older age group than either Rechov Sumsum or Sesame Street, approximately 6 to 12.* Filmed in Israel, this series was broadcast on American television in the late 1980’s to 1990.

Having met the characters of Sesame Street 25 years ago with my daughter I have a special affection for the cast and it is wonderful to meet these familiar faces again. On Rechov Sumsum we meet Kippi Ben Kippod, a big porcupine and a counter part to Big Bird, Moishe Oofnik, a cousin of Oscar the Grouch, Benz, Bert, Arik, Ernie, Kermit Tzefarde, Kermit the Frog, and of course Barvazoni, Rubber Duckie. The Israeli virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman is a frequent guest.

Each of the five DVD’s come with a downloadable teaching guide providing key vocabulary, background information, discussion points, suggested activities, and the English, transliteration, and Hebrew of each song — so you can easily sing along.

These teaching guides truly do provide a wide range of material appropriate for pre-school to adult and have everything from coloring pages to Rabbinic teachings and midrashim (homiletic tales). Shalom Sesame Street was well titled ‘The Muppet Beit Midrash‘ by New York newspaper, Jewish Week.

Taking place at the time of the Gulf War and out of concern for the American and Israeli performers, the final three shows of Shalom Sesame Street were filmed at Sesame Street’s New York production facilities.

If you are new to Hebrew (and even not so new) it is a wonderful and organic way to pick up some of this beautiful language – and to introduce the Land and the language to your children or grandies! A timeless set available at Shalom Sesame The Beloved Jewish Children’s Classic

~ Cindy

Disk 1
The Land of Israel
Tel Aviv

Disk 2
The People of Israel

Disk 3
Sing Around the Seasons

Disk 4
Journey to Secret Places
Aleph-Bet Telethon

Disk 5
Kids Sing Israel

*Friedman, Thomas L. “U. S. May See Israeli Sesame Street.” The New York Times. February 26, 1985, quoted on Muppet Wiki

USHPIZIN – Special Guests



Ushpizin [oosh-pee-zeen] — who are special guests in the sukkah — is a classic Israeli film written by Shuli Rand.  I (Keren) watch it as part of my Feast of Tabernacles tradition every year and I enjoy it afresh each time.  With hilariously funny moments, and with glimpses of Israeli culture and tradition that might be unfamiliar to most, it is at heart a warm and human film that confronts key life challenges and conveys deep values.

Shuli Rand and his real-life wife, Michal, star as Moshe and Mali Bellanga, a down-on-their-luck Chassidic couple devoted to each other and to G-d. They’ve been married five years, are still childless and long for a child. We first meet them shortly before the joyous holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). They can’t afford to pay their bills, let alone prepare for the upcoming celebration. That’s when the miracles begin.

A friend of Moshe’s offers him an abandoned sukkah, which is not really abandoned, Moshe and Mali receive a monetary gift, and they even get some unexpected, although not altogether welcome, ushpizin to share their sukkah.

ushpizin 2

Moshe uses the money to pay bills, buy holiday supplies and to purchase a very fine etrog (a citron fruit) — a 1000 shekel etrog! Moshe reassures his wife that the etrog is “a blessing for having boys.” The etrog, as the “heart” of the four species – the lulav (waved as an offering to the Lord in gratitude for the harvest) – plays a very important part in this movie and at one point it causes Moshe to face an ultimate test.

Ushpizin is a warm-hearted, humorous, and extremely touching film with a running theme of repentance and forgiveness. It’s a film that reflects a heart of true humility and love for G-d and portrays with raw honesty one man’s grappling with his faith.

For those of us who are not familiar with the Chassidic community, Ushpizin is a precious glimpse into the life of an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish couple — a couple whose life isn’t always easy, but who are learning to trust and rely on G-d.

The movie is realistically filmed on location in the Ultra Orthodox, Me’ah Shearim quarter of Jerusalem. The dialogue is in Hebrew, but there are easy to read English subtitles. 


Blue Man If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy the following:
Sukkot – Feast of Tabernacles
Tikvah Means Hope
The Mysterious Guests
The House on the Roof – A Sukkot Story — Read by Keren
The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays