Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthadox community fury at Hollywood’s ‘invasion’

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The Hollywood actress Natalie Portman has been accused by ultra-Orthodox Jews of mounting a “foreign invasion” of Jerusalem while directing her first feature film in the ancient city.

Residents of Nahlaot, central Jerusalem, wrote to the city authorities in protest at the decision to allow filming in the area. Graffiti denouncing the project appeared there this week.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community is notoriously reclusive. Televisions and secular books are banned in most households, and most men study in seminaries and do not work in full-time jobs. Female visitors are advised to dress modestly.

There is no suggestion that Portman was dressed inappropriately while directing in the city.

The actress, who has an Israeli father and an American mother, arrived in the city last week to begin work on A Tale of Love and Darkness, a film adaptation of the book by the Israeli writer Amos Oz.

The memoir charts his childhood in Jerusalem under the British mandate for Palestine, and the violence that accompanied the birth of the Jewish state in 1948.

Portman, 32, who won an Oscar for her role as a disturbed ballerina in Black Swan, will direct the film, and also takes a supporting role as Oz’s mother.

Her professional success, and support for the country of her birth, have made her one of Israel’s most beloved Hollywood stars. Recent news that her French husband, the choreographer Benjamin Millepied, was converting to Judaism was met with delight in Israel.

Residents of Nahlaot complained, however, that the authorities had failed to inform them beforehand of the shoot.

“The film shooting is set to take place on several sensitive streets close to synagogues and yeshivas, and the scenes being filmed should have been examined first to make sure they don’t offend anybody’s sensitivities,” their letter to the city reads.

Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, Rachel Azaria, dismissed the protests as the work of extremists. “There is a constant tension between the desire to celebrate diverse and interesting Jerusalem and the attempts by extremist groups to prevent this,” she said.

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