Edmund Weisberg: From Bioethicist to Children’s Book Author

Local Philadelphia author Edmund Weisberg wears a lot of hats: science writer, bioethicist, nutritionist, editor, social activist — and children’s book author. In 2016, Weisberg realized a dream. After raising $7,600 through a Kickstarter campaign, he published his manuscript for the children’s book While You’re at School, which he had written 16 years earlier. It is a beautiful book in rhymed verse, which provides a series of quirky responses to a question raised by a little boy: “What do you do while I’m at school, Mom?”

Edmund Weisberg.

[Read more…]

First Israeli to Produce an Oscar-Winning Film Keeps Dreaming

In a year of acclaimed documentary films about the Middle East, Yael Melamede has achieved an unusual distinction: she is the first Israeli in the history of the Academy Awards to produce an Oscar-winning movie: Inocenete. The movie, which won the Oscar for best documentary short last February, is not about the Middle East. Its subject is a homeless teenager from San Diego with an outsize personality and an extraordinary artistic talent.

Melamede said:

We’ve seen such extraordinary work out of Israel in the past few years, films like Footnote, The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras, which attest to the creativity and urgency of artistic voices in the region. I’m honored to be the first Israeli producer of an Oscar-winning movie, but I know I won’t be the last.

More after the jump.
Melamede was born and raised in New York City, and her parents are both Israeli: her mother is a renowned architect who designed Israel’s Supreme Court building, and her father was a businessman and former Israeli Air Force pilot, a veteran of the Six Day War. Melamede has produced both documentaries and independent feature projects, covering an eclectic range of topics.

Like many people from the Middle East, I straddle multiple cultures. Though our work covers varied topics and places, my choices are always informed by who I am and where I’m from.

Inocente began as a project about homeless teens, which Melamede embarked on with the directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. The 40-minute film, which charts Inocente Izucar’s extraordinary life story, aired on MTV, receiving widespread media attention and rave reviews, and was screened to select audiences everywhere from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. Glamour magazine called the film “insanely inspiring.” Another of Inocente’s distinctions is to have been the first Oscar winner financed in part by an online Kickstarter campaign.

“My Architect,” Melamede’s first foray into documentaries, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004. It tells the story of the famous but elusive architect Louis Kahn through the eyes of his son Nathaniel. In addition to designing some projects in Israel, Kahn designed two buildings at Yale University, where Melamede was herself an architecture student; it was the perfect vehicle for Melamede’s transition from architect to filmmaker. In 2003, Melamede and Eva Kolodner founded Salty Features, with the goal of making “salty” films — films that were neither “sweet,” nor “sour.”

Among Melamede’s current projects is a reality television series entitled “Bad Habits,” being developed with Morgan Spurlock and inspired by the work of Dan Ariely, an acclaimed Israeli-American behavioral economist and bestselling author. Ariely’s work is also the impetus for Melamede’s directorial debut that’s currently in production: a feature documentary entitled Slippery Slopes.

During the next year, Melamede hopes to film in Israel her passion project: the adaptation of Amy Wilentz’s best-selling novel Martyrs’ Crossing, which delves into the harrowing personal struggles that result from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A friend and colleague recently told me that I seem to be drawn to stories about people doing the impossible. I had never thought about it that way but it’s true. I am a fervent idealist and realist and a lot of that comes from my particular Israeli background.  I dream of being back in the running for an Academy Award, perhaps with a film from Israel.

Streit’s Matzo Raises Money for Documentary

— by Michael Levine

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in a series of four nondescript brick tenement buildings, sits the Streit’s Matzo factory. In 1925, when Aron Streit opened the factory’s doors, it sat at the heart of the nation’s largest Jewish immigrant community. Today, in its fifth generation of family ownership, in a rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side, it remains as the last family-owned matzo factory in America. This place is filled with history and tradition, and not only in the sense that the recipe for their product is 3,000 years old.

More after the jump.
The machinery still used here to bake and pack 40% of the nation’s matzo is as old as the factory itself. The owners still sit at their great-grandfathers’ desks, declining to clear the drawers of the contents left by their forbearers. They have, again and again, refused offers by developers for their real estate, and resisted modernizing the facility, worried of the potential effects on their fiercely loyal workforce, made of neighborhood residents and immigrants from around the world, many of whom have been working there for 30 years or more.  

And yet, while in many ways Streit’s may seem a relic from another age, they continue to thrive, consistently receiving more orders than they can fill.

In a neighborhood where the Jewish immigrants have long ago moved on, in a nation where progress and profits trump all else, where manufacturing has left the cities if not the country, where family businesses are bought out by giant corporations, and workers move from job to low-paying job, Streit’s remains a Lower East Side institution, and a glimmer of hope for the American Dream.

I’ve been working in documentary film and television (Showtime, A&E, History Channel, HGTV, and numerous independent projects) for the past nine years, and having deep family roots on the Lower East Side (my father’s side settled on Rivington Street in 1910), I am truly thrilled and honored to have a chance to make this film. It has been a dream of mine, for years, to tell this story, and seeing it come together has been nothing short of amazing. And while I’m at it, let me thank you again for your support! Your belief in this project is what promises to get me through all the sleepless nights of editing ahead — I’m so excited to get this film out into the world!

I’m also thrilled to be working on this project with the my producer, Michael Green, whose long and storied career in the world of food and drink (19 years at Gourmet Magazine, appearances on Food Network, Today Show, and much more), his experience as a producer across many forms of media, and his unwavering passion for this project, have made working on this film with him an extraordinary experience.

We are joining forces to create a film, a feature-length documentary, that will tell the story of Streit’s — of the factory, of the family, of its workers, of its place in the rich history of the Lower East Side and in America. It is a story of tradition, of resilience and resistance, of the perseverance of the Jewish people, and of immigrants of all faiths, so many of whom have found home in the Lower East Side, behind the doors of Streit’s, or in the matzo they bake.

In order to make this project possible, we are raising money with Kickstarter. So far, about 300 people have chosen to support us, and we have raised close to $30,000. Please help us reach our goal of $60,000.

Theater Chat: Together We Act

— by Hannah Lee

I’ve witnessed how theater is transformational when I observed how a young family friend, petite and shy, blossomed into a singer and actor on stage, first at the Perelman Jewish Day School and later in “Ragtime” at the Papermill Playhouse, the state theater in Millburn, NJ. Somehow having a script and an audience enables people to forget their usual persona and voice.

The experience of King George VI and his struggle with stuttering was portrayed brilliantly by Colin Firth in his Academy-award-winning role in the 2010 film, The King’s Speech. How much more fun would it have been for the King had he attempted theater? This weekend, the Adrienne Theater will host two performances of “Tough Cookies,” a one-act play by Edward Crosby Wells, with actors from Together We Act, a non-profit outreach theater company that is committed to educating, motivating, and building confidence in people who stutter.

Details about this weekend’s shows after the jump.


Shinefield being interviewed on Fox 29

Together We Act’s founder and executive officer, David Shinefield, a lifelong stutterer, discovered the thrill of acting at Yeshiva University. Upon realizing that he did not stutter when on stage, he decided to create Together We Act so that all people who stuttered could have a chance to immerse themselves in the world of acting. Shinefield hopes that “the theater community will be revolutionized in a way that will cause the inclusion of all sorts of actors, no matter what “handicap” they may seem to possess.”

Together We Act raised funds through crowdsourcing on Kickstarter by offering backers tickets to the shows, an official t-shirt, donor recognition in the playbill, and a recording of the play. According to Shinefield, some other troupes for inclusion are Our Time, a stuttering group for children, and Identity Theater, both located in New York. “Tough Cookies” will be directed by Kathe Mull of New York City.

“Tough Cookies” will be performed on Sunday, February 17 and Monday, February 18, in the Adrienne Theater at 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA. Both performances will start at 7:00 PM and each will be followed by a Q&A session.

“Next Year in Jerusalem” – Documentary Film

— By Anat Kuznetzov-Zalmanson

During the Cold War the Iron Curtain was shut, leaving the people of the USSR hidden and isolated from the world. Many wanted to escape from this isolation but their rights and liberty had been taken away. The feature documentary “Next Year In Jerusalem” tells the story of a group of 15 Soviet civilians, mostly Jewish, who in 1970 had the courage to stand up and fight for their freedom. They plotted to charter a plane, throw out the pilots before takeoff, and fly it to Sweden, knowing they faced a huge risk of being captured or shot down. They proceeded in the hopes that this action would give them a platform to inform the world of the conditions behind the Iron Curtain. They were arrested near Leningrad, imprisoned in Siberian work camps and two of them where sentenced to death. However, their message got out and as a direct result of their bravery, world pressure forced the USSR to open its curtain and throughout the 1970’s 163,000 Jews were liberated from the USSR. It started with the action of a few, the few became many, and the echoes of their bravery have reverberated through history. This documentary, directed by the daughter of the group’s leaders, will tell the whole story for the first time.

More after the jump.

This documentary contains interviews with most of the remaining members of the 16 freedom fighters, but focuses mainly on Sylva Zalmanson who was the face of the revolution, and Eduard Kuznetzov, who was the leader of the group and Sylva’s husband at the time.

“Next Year In Jerusalem” tells the courageous story of an ordinary woman who became the face of a revolution. Sylva Zalmanson was raised in Riga, Latvia during the height of Communism. Sylva remembers the atmosphere in Riga and most of the USSR, “was that of fear, lies and hypocrisy. We wanted to get rid of it and live in a free country and we envied everyone who was lucky enough to leave the place.” The words spoken at Passover, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” were written on Sylva’s heart from a young age. She was the only woman tried at the Leningrad trials of 1970, and was the first to take the stand. When the prosecutors tried to bribe her with a reduced sentence in return for a pleas of Amnesty she responded by saying “If you would not deny us our right to leave Russia, this group wouldn’t exist. We would just leave to Israel with no desire of hijacking a plane or any other thing that’s illegal. Even here, on trial, I still believe I’ll make it someday to Israel. I feel I’m the Jewish people’s heiress so I’ll quote our saying “Next Year In Jerusalem” and “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill.”

The Dry Bones Kickstarter Haggadah Campaign

— by Ronit Treatman

Do you love the Dry Bones comic strip?  Yaacov Kirschen, its creator, is working on a new project.  In a culmination of a lifelong dream, he is designing a Passover haggadah.  This haggadah will feature his characters from Dry Bones.  How is this project different from all of Kirschen’s other projects?  He is getting his funding on Kickstarter, the funding platform for creative projects.  The Kickstarter Haggadah campaign will end on November 16, 2012.  If you want to have a direct impact on Yaacov Kirschen’s ability to turn out some of his work, this is your opportunity.

Sample pages after the jump.