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Kippas, kosher White Russians at Israeli Lebowski Fest

24 june 2011, 17:44
American actor John Goodman (L) with film director Joel Coen (R) and screenwriter Ethan Coen (C). ©Reuters
American actor John Goodman (L) with film director Joel Coen (R) and screenwriter Ethan Coen (C). ©Reuters
The White Russians were kosher, character costumes were topped off with yarmulkes, and participants were most certainly not rolling on Shabbos at Israel's first ever Big Lebowski festival, AFP reports.

The celebration of all things related to cult classic "The Big Lebowski" was a chance for Israeli fans of the movie to swap lines of dialogue and show off their skill at bowling, the preferred sport of the film's main characters.

The 1998 film stars Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey Lebowski, better known as "the Dude" -- a lovable slacker with a taste for White Russians, marijuana, and the band Creedence Clearwater Revival.

His quiet life of smoking and bowling is interrupted when he is mistaken for a businessman with the same name, the "Big Lebowski" of the movie's title, and is plunged into a world of blackmail, embezzlement and kidnapping.

Along for the ride are his friends and bowling partners, the quiet and rather dopey Donny, played by Steve Buscemi, and Walter, played by John Goodman, an aggressive Vietnam veteran who converted to Judaism to marry his now ex-wife but continues to take his new faith extremely seriously.

The movie's sharp dialogue, unlikely twists and, above all, the serene attitude of "the Dude" have inspired a fierce following among fans, who have been gathering to celebrate the film in the United States for years.

And for Israeli Jews, there is another draw: Walter's impassioned defence of Judaism, including a scene in which insists in no uncertain terms that he will not be bowling on a Saturday, the Sabbath: "I don't roll on Shabbos!"

For Eliyahu Sidikman, a musician who organised the festival after one of his bandmates suggested it, Walter's connection with the faith holds some lessons for Jews.

"Walter treats Judaism... as a system of thought, as a system of belief that is something that has value, it's not something that you can pick up and put down, and that's something that a lot of Jews are dismissive of," he said.

As fans watched the film at a bowling alley in southern Jerusalem, the 200-strong crowd reserved their loudest cheers for Walter's references to his faith.

But Evyatar Mintz, a 24-year-old musician, said he thought the movie offered something for everyone.

"We Israelis can relate to Walter, but I think the film is universal," he said. "For me, I kind of look up to the Dude, his way of life. I wish there was more people like the Dude."

Eli Ganz, 30, who helped Sidikman organise the festival, said the movie has a way of bringing people together.

"For some reason, lots of people from all walks of life appreciate the movie and the complexity of the movie. On a simple level, it brings people together."

For Frank Finver, an American living in Jerusalem, the Dude might even have something to offer the Middle East.

"In terms of lessons, you have to dig deep, but I would say he teaches that everything will come out okay in the end, so enjoy life... and listen to a lot of Creedence."

There was plenty of Creedence on offer for attendees, many of whom showed up in the bathrobes and sandals favoured by the Dude, or the bandana, aviator shades and dog-tags worn by Walter in the movie.

Sidikman and his band performed live after the film screening, while teams named for references to the movie -- "Asian-Americans", "The Johnsons" and "Pomeranians" -- battled for a bowling trophy.

Tickets for the small venue had quickly sold out, Sidikman told AFP, saying he was planning a "bigger and better" festival in Tel Aviv later this year, and is even in talks with the US cultural centre about bringing John Goodman to attend.

"He has said before that Walter was one of his favourite characters to play, so being Walter, and being in Israel... I can't see how he wouldn't enjoy that."

By Sara Hussein

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