Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival Kicks Off With “God’s Neighbors”


“God’s Neighbors.”

The 33rd season of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival will kick off tomorrow, November 2, at the Gershman Y, 401 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, with the film God’s Neighbors.

In the film, three young working-class zealots appoint themselves enforcers of the Torah in their neighborhood. The group’s dynamic is challenged when the team’s leader threatens a young woman who defies their rules, yet awakens his desire. The showing will be followed by a Skype conversation with the film’s director, Meni Yaesh.

The Festival, which will feature 18 films in nine different venues, will be concluded November 16. More than half of the showings will be Philadelphia premiers.

Full schedule after the jump.
Saturday, November 2: God’s Neighbors.
Sunday, November 3: Sukkah City.
Sunday, November 3: Rock the Casbah.
Monday, November 4: Hannah Arendt.
Tuesday, November 5: Commie Camp.
Wednesday, November 6: Red Flag.
Thursday, November 7: Koch.
Thursday, November 7: Paris-Manhattan.
Saturday, November 9: Center Piece: The Jewish Cardinal.
Sunday, November 10: An American Tail.
Sunday, November 10: Igor and the Cranes’ Journey.
Sunday, November 10: The Dandelions.
Monday, November 11: Aftermath.
Wednesday, November 13: My Awkward Sexual Adventure.
Thursday, November 14: Orchestra of Exiles.
Thursday, November 14: Upstarts – An Evening of Jewish Shorts.
Saturday, November 16: Bethlehem.

New Filmmakers Weekend to Honor Three Jewish Directors


Life in Stills, PJFF’s international award winner


Deaf Jam, PJFF’s national award winner

The Gershman Y’s Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival will close its 32nd Season with New Filmmakers Weekend, taking place Saturday, April 20 and Sunday, April 21 at the Gershman Auditorium.

Now in its 16th year, New Filmmakers Weekend celebrates the work of first-time Jewish directors for excellence in filmmaking. This season, the Festival will present three awards:

The Festival will also recognize and present the short film The Earthquake by a local new filmmaker Danielle Lessovitz. New Filmmakers Weekend will be hosted by Dan Friedman, Managing Editor of The Forward.

More trailers after the jump.
OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, local award winner

Theater Chat: Stars of David

— by Hannah Lee

I love listening to authors and artists talk about the creative process, so I’d looked forward to a lunch-and-talk program on Wednesday at the Gershman Y about Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish, which premiered at the Suzanne Roberts Theater on October 17th. Hurricane Sandy kept Abigail Pogrebin, its creator, from attending, but Warren Hoffman, Senior Director of Programming, ably undertook the role of interviewer for two notable Jews: Sharon Pinkenson, Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, and Ivy Barsky, the new Director and CEO of the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH). Then we went across the street and watched an afternoon show.

More after the jump.
Under Pinkenson’s guidance, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office brought the city revenues of $3.5 billion dollars, up from $2.1 million dollars from local movie production (statistics from interview in Philly Style Magazine). Her staff of six consists of only one other Jew, but all of her employees are taught to speak Yiddish, “starting with the ‘fa’ words,” farpatshket (messed up, sloppy), fartshadet (surprised, stunned), and fartutst (confused). The majority of her childhood was spent in Levittown, so she was comfortable with a heterogenous population and she loved arguing with the Rabbi. As a single mother, she was welcomed by Rodelph Shalom, who allowed her to pay on a sliding scale and she recalls with pride the day she was able to pay dues in full. Married for 27 years to her second husband, Joe Weiss, chairman of Electronic Ink, and the grandmother of three, she beguiled Weiss to attend Rodelph Shalom, where “the Shema is optional.”

Barsky grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where every one of her neighbors voted for George McGovern, who nevertheless lost the presidential election in 1972 to Richard Nixon. Her family was not observant, but she became “a professional Jew” through the meanderings of her career– from graduate studies in Art History at the University of Pennsylvania to almost 15 years as deputy director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. This background gives her an important perspective on the museum’s mission, as an educational institution for those without a strong Jewish foundation.

A summa cum laude graduate of Yale University and the daughter of Letty Cottin Pogrebin (the co-founder of Ms. Magazine), Pogrebin published her book, Stars of David, in 2005 (by Doubleday) in which she turned own confusion about her identity as a Jew into an ad-hoc sociological study, reaching out to prominent Jews. The musical production has a small cast of five– Nancy Balbirer as Narrator; Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, Brad Oscar, and Donna Vivino– who channel the spirit of a cross-section of influential Jews from Kenneth Cole to Norman Lear to Gloria Steinman.

My two favorite numbers were both by Vivino, in which she sang of the alienation felt by “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” in being excluded from the minyan for reciting Kaddish after the death of her mother (the day before her graduation from high school) and the way “Fran Drescher” dealt with enduring ethnic stereotyping in her acting career. Other numbers were not as effective as when “Edgar Bronfman,” prompted by his 5-year-old granddaughter’s question, “Who is God,” committed himself to the study of Talmud. An uplifting liberal message is offered by “Tony Kushner” who noted being Jewish (and being persecuted for it) was good practice for being gay and that the Jewish people have a big enough house with a room for everyone.

With our township schools closed from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I brought along my teen daughter along and we were both surprised that she enjoyed herself! Stars of David will play through November 18th; tickets may be ordered through The Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Israel Featured Nation at Equality Forum


Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren

Israel was the featured nation at the Equality Forum, a worldwide LGBT rights conference based in Philadelphia, in May 3-6, 2012.

The forum began with a VIP kickoff reception held at the Gershman Y, Broad and Pine streets. In the lobby of the Gershman, the works of Israeli photographer David Adika were displayed, as part of the 13th Annual Gay and Lesbian Art Exhibit. Titled Equator, Adika’s photographs were displayed on the north, east south, and west sides of the lobby, representing similar regions in Israel.

More after the jump.


Left to right: Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Of his photography, Adika said, “It’s about the place I come from, and I wanted to give a record from Israel.” Asked whether his sexuality affects his work, Adika says, “Yes, but it’s not my agenda. My sexuality is not my agenda, it’s part of my identity. Of course it reflects (in his works), but it’s not very particular, it’s in it, but it’s not talking about it.”    

Explaining the exhibit on the walls of the lobby, Adika said, “Here there are four walls, the south wall, the north wall, the east wall, and the west wall. Each wall are related to their (equivalents) in Israel.” The south wall, he said, shows the Dead Sea, which is in the south of Israel; “I want to show in this work,” he added, “two (opposing) forces, the one that sinks, like this, it’s a sinkhole, and the one that floats, when you’re in the Dead Sea, you float.” The opposite forces at work, added Adika, were “sinking and floating, with all the metaphor you can think of.”

Debra Blair, Chair of the Board of the Equality Forum, said of Israel as a featured nation, “We’ve had several key countries from around the world, that are in stages of Gay liberation. I think to look at Israel, amongst the number of countries we’ve looked at, it’s just timely. There’s quite a bit of controversy around  having Israel, and that’s all the better for us, because that means we’re pushing the envelope for folks to be seen in terms of what they’re trying to do to get in a better place for equality for LGBT citizens.”

Elaborating on the controversy around Israel, Blair added, “With any particular country that has extenuating issues, that may or may not even deal with the LGBT movement, there will always be folks that, when you decide to honor or feature a particular country, they look for things to say, ‘Oh, they’re doing this, they’re doing that wrong.’ We’re simply focusing on the issues of LGBT civil rights around the world. When you have folks coming in to talk about what Israel may or may not be doing in terms of their political positions, or things of that nature, that’s where we put the stops on.” The focus, said Blair is “what (Israel is) doing to move the LGBT citizen to a different place of visibility.”

What has Israel done towards LGBT equality? “They have a number of initiatives,” replied Blair, who is an Assistant Professor in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management of Temple University. “One of things we look at are those countries that are looking at (the LGBT) market as a potential tourism market. They, like many other countries around the world, are looking at the LGBT market and saying, ‘Come to Israel, we are a great destination.'” Israel, said Blair, has “challenges like every other place around the world around freedoms, but (Israel is) trying to be pro-active, to be welcoming.”

At the start of the kickoff, Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director of Equality Forum, spoke of the history of the Forum, stating that the organizers called it “a civil rights summit,” adding, “People in our own community really didn’t believe us, they thought we were engaging in hyperbola. Back when we said (the Forum) has an international focus, there was a moment in time when people were not focusing internationally, in terms of our national organizations…

“We’re (of Equality Forum) proud of our history,” added Lazin, “As you know, we co-produced (the documentary) Gay Pioneers, at a moment in time when very few in this community knew who Barbara Gittings was.” Gittings, along with Frank Kameny, were, as Lazin put it, “the father and mother of our organized (LGBT) civil-rights movement. We make the film Gay Pioneers with PBS and went out across PBS (stations) and schools across the country.”

Daniel Kuttner, Counsel-General of Israel to Philadelphia, said, “Israel resides in a rough neighborhood…but in spite of the hardship we sometimes bear, Israel is a state (with a) thriving cultural life-music, dance, theater, literature, I could go on,” as Kuttner commended David Adika, “whose photographic art is critically acclaimed throughout the world.” Kuttner gave his thanks to the University of the Arts, the Gershman Y, and Equality Forum for their work in putting together the events of the Forum.

Malcolm Lazin presented the Forum’s Distinguished Service Award to local philanthropist Mel Heifetz. “Many of you know Mel,” added Lazin, “because of his really remarkable philanthropy, there is certainly in the Philadelphia region who has been more philanthropic across the board to the LGBT community.” Heifets, said Lazin, helped to pay off the mortgage for the William Way LGBT Center, located at 13th and Spruce streets, and has donated generously to the AIDS community and to gay-friendly political candidates.