I grew up in the age of unfettered access to the television, when VHS tapes lined the living room closet, many of which were the much sought after EP versions that could fit THREE movies that you had recorded by hand on them. I remember when the feature that could distinguish between the programming and the commercials came out, freeing you up to record without having to pause every 10 minutes. With unfettered access came unfortunate choices; Aliens at age 8 wasn’t a good choice, nor was my repeated fascination with Disney’s Long John Silver.
In my family, though, Jewish films were just as important as It’s a Wonderful Life and Ghostbusters (I exaggerate on the latter, to be honest). I remember the horrifying British film Escape from Sobibor, taped on one of those VHS-EPs, making such an impression; the movie highlighted a somewhat successful escape from the Polish extermination camp, where over 300 Jews fled into the forest. We’re all familiar with Schindler’s List, but go back and watch this visceral retelling if you have the time.
Why have a Jewish Film Week? This week, someone left a potential bomb at Temple Beth-El, just down the street from my home synagogue of Emanu-El. Kanye West doubled down on antisemitic remarks, turning to Parler when other social media suspended him. Kyrie Irving was suspended for open support of conspiracy trash movies. New Jersey synagogues are on high alert due to open threats. According to the FBI, 60% of hate crimes in 2020 occurred against Jews.
We have to tell the stories of Jewish history, identity, stories of antisemitism and stories of celebration. Much like those old VHS tapes in my family’s closet, these stories are disappearing in our real world—an 8 year old who survived Auschwitz is now 85 years old. Without experiencing the horror and tragedy of the Holocaust in film, we start to lose what it means to understand oppression and genocide and its toll on a generation of people. Alongside that, we must make films that show the new side of Jewishness: the LGBTQ+ experience, gentrification forces here and abroad, the politics of Israel and Jews, and freedom of speech expressed across the board.
Here are some of the highlights of Jewish Film Week at Sidewalk that I’m looking forward to sharing with you:
Plan A: The story of Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” wasn’t original; in 1945, a group of Holocaust survivors planned retribution against the country that imprisoned and murdered their people. This is the true story of retribution.
The Chosen: What happens when the son of a vocal Zionist meets the son of a beloved Chasidic rabbi? The story of friendship and understanding one another’s place in Jewish culture–not to mention American culture–is one of the best Jewish films of the past 50 years.
Kiss Me Kosher: Love is complicated. When Shira brings Maria home to meet her family, her conservative grandmother laments “yet another Maria”–but grandma has her own secret love that will surprise everyone.
Farewell, Mr. Haffmann: French actor Daniel Auteuil gives a magnificent performance as a jeweler in 1941 Paris who is forced to hide from the Nazi occupation. After failing to flee with his family, the bargain turns against both Haffmann and the couple hiding him, as danger closes in.
iMordecai: a Holocaust survivor was born in another world, another time, and received a modern gift: an iPhone. How will he fit into this new world?
Mighty Ira: Ira Glasser was director of the ACLU for over 20 years, with a lifelong ambition of protecting free speech. But it was his vehement defense of the rights of the “Illinois Nazis” to free speech that was make-or-break for the organization, as it sought to establish a place as leading defender of the Constitution.
Sidewalk’s Jewish Film Week is November 13 – 19, 2022.
For more info on these and other great titles during Sidewalk’s Jewish Film Week series, visit sidewalkfest.com/jfw.