To be or not to be… Jewish!

Liev Schreiber

A few days before Mother’s Day, Liev Schreiber fittingly kicked off the 25th Israel Film Festival Thursday by mentioning one of his muses- his mother. Speaking as he received the 2011 IFF Achievement in Film Award, the star of “Defiance,” and “Salt” said when he needed to know what to say, he had one direction to go.

“This afternoon while trying to prepare my remarks, I did what any other reasonably intelligent, mildly resourceful and deeply insecure Jewish male would do,” he told the crowd at the Paris Theater on 58th Street in Manhattan. “I called my mother.”

He said his mother’s advice was to tell the audience that it’s wonderful to be a Jew.

“Of course I immediately responded, ‘but ma, is it not also wonderful not to be a Jew?’ My mother pondered my use of the double negative for a moment and then responded with a profound existential tone… ‘How should I know?’”

Schreiber added that his career has allowed him to explore “essential questions of heritage faith and identity.”

Speaking after Stanley Donen, the storied director of such films as “Singing In The Rain,” and Israeli cinema legend Micha Shagrir, who respectively won the Lifetime Achievement Award and Cinematic Achievement Award, Schreiber said he was humbled to share the stage.

He said he was pleased to have the “opportunity to explore characters and conversations that ultimately allow me to feel more closely connected to a shared sense of what it is to be a human being.”

He continued: “So tonight I feel particularly honored that the Israeli Film Festival has chosen to recognize some of those characters and some of those conversations alongside great artists like Stanley Donen and Micha Shagrir.”

Donen said that he loved musicals since he was a little boy and he was introduced by talk show host Phil Donahue, who described the anti-Semitism that faced Donen in South Carolina in the 1930’s.

Shagrir mentioned that his wife was killed in 1980 in a terrorist attack in Paris and said that as President Obama was visiting with families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, he felt great sympathy for the families.

He added that he prayed in the future when there were references to shooting in the Middle East, it would means shooting films rather than people.

Consul General of New York Ido Aharoni began with a joke where three Israeli are at a French airport when they are asked their nationality and reply that they are Israeli. They are then asked “Occupation?’

Their response: “No thank you, we’re just here for three days.”

Aharoni talked about American focus groups who were asked to describe what an Italian house a French house or an Israeli hose might look like. When it came to the Israeli house, no colors were used, people had difficulty describing the interior and didn’t mention women.

“The perception of Israel is very far from reality and there’s a dire need for a conversation changer about Israel,” Aharoni said. “Israel’s been defined by its conflict with its neighbors for far too long. There’s a need to engage the world in a different conversation about Israel…”

Aharoni said the festival is a conversation changer. Donahue, in comments to The Blueprint before the ceremony, said he was happy bin Laden was found and hope for peace in the Middle East.

“I got very depressed before because I didn’t think it was ever going to happen,” he said. “Now please God, let’s see if we can move forward and save some babies because we’re digging too many holes in the ground irreplaceable human beings are being taken from us.”

A screening of “Intimate Grammar” followed the ceremony.

Festival chairman Meir Fenigstein said he was pleased that the films would be shown on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, for the first time at a mainstream theater.

“It will be great to see long lines side by side, one for an American film and one for an Israeli film,” he said after the event.

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